Today’s National Post carries a column by John Ivison in which he advises Michael Ignatieff to rule out a Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition so as to forestall efforts by the Tories to continue raising that spectre at every turn, now and during any upcoming election.
“Failure to rule out a coalition is going to see the Liberal leader on the defensive from now until election day, as reporters justifiably try to find out whether the opposition parties are negotiating in back rooms over beer and sandwiches, once again attempting to give the Tories the boot.”
– John Ivison
There is little doubt that Canadians abhor the prospect of a government formed with formal participation of the separatist Bloc Québécois and with NDP participation in the Cabinet. This was amply demonstrated when the opposition parties threatened to do just that in 2008 and, as Ivison points out, “one Ipsos Reid poll had the Tories at 46%, twice the level of Liberal support.”
Opposition members try to blunt this Tory tactic of warning against such a coalition by reminding us of a 2004 letter Prime Minister Stephen Harper signed along with Gilles Duceppe and Jack Layton and sent to then Governor General Adrienne Clarkson. The letter asked Ms. Clarkson not to let PM Paul Martin dissolve parliament and force an election without first consulting the trio, presumable to explore the possibility of Harper forming a government with the support of the other two party leaders.
Of course, such a comparison is absurd. The Stéphane Dion-led Liberals had offered the NDP places at their Cabinet table and had a formal non-defeat agreement with the Bloc. The opposition would then use this formal coalition to defeat a newly elected minority Conservative government.
Pretty strong stuff compared with the 2004 Harper-Layton-Duceppe agreement to consult and cooperate in providing a Conservative Party (no opposition members in Cabinet) alternative to a Liberal minority government.
Lib-NDP cooperation is a long-standing tradition going back, at least, to the Trudeau years, and a possibility of more of the same, while disquieting to this Canadian, is hardly the bogeyman many seem to fear. With leftists like Bob Rae, Ujjal Dosanjh and Gerard Kennedy assured of seats in a Liberal Cabinet, I doubt we’d notice much change in Liberal policy if Jack Layton and a few of his crew were also given a place at the same table.
The real bogeyman is the likelihood that Gilles Duceppe and his Bloc members would be given a formal role in any future “cooperation” between parties to form the Government of Canada. The way I see it, having a gang of separatists formally involved in the decision making of the Government Canada is a non-starter.
A coalition that does not depend on Bloc support for its existence would be a credible, if distasteful, alternative to the Tories and would be broadly tolerated by Canadians. I do, however, believe tacit (at least) approval by Ignatieff and Layton of such an arrangement, prior to an election, would be a prerequisite to acceptance by a broad cross section of Canadians. To spring a surprise coalition with Cabinet participation and non-defeat arrangements would not go over well with most of us.