UPDATED: Do only winners get to head coalition governments? - Macleans.ca
 

UPDATED: Do only winners get to head coalition governments?

The 2008 coalition might have succeeded had it moved much faster


 

[UPDATED BELOW]

Let’s assume that the Liberals and NDP are not going to merge anytime soon, certainly not before the next federal election. It’s a safe bet: the leaderships of both parties categorically deny they have any interest in the idea, which you may have noticed has been discussed a bit lately.

But let’s also assume that a coalition of the two parties following the next election is a serious possibility. It’s a fair speculation: the leaderships of both parties have said it’s legitimate and left the door wide open, and the recent formation of a British coalition government seems to have made the concept less controversial.

The next question is when would such a coalition be a likely option. The most probably scenario, I’d say, would be a Liberal minority win after which the NDP signals that it would offer consistent support in the House only in return for a formal role in the government. That would be novel in Canada, but now not all that surprising.

There is, at least in theory, another path to coalition, one that would be contentious. In this scenario, the Conservatives win, but not by much, and the Liberals and NDP move right away after the votes are counted to form a coalition that might either defeat the Tories swiftly or never allow them to form a government in the first place.

In his joint news conference last week with British Prime Minister David Cameron, in the garden of 10 Downing Street, Prime Minister Stephen Harper went out of his way to declare that such a coalition, led by the second-place party, just wouldn’t be right.

“Winners are the ones who form governments,” Harper said. “In the end, the coalition in Britain, and I think it’s important to point out, was formed by the party that won the election.” (Of course, the second-place Labor party had also negotiated with the third-place Liberal Democrats about a possible coalition. It just didn’t work out.)

So is Harper’s winners-only dictum correct? It’s obviously in his interest for it to become an accepted convention, since his Tories have no obvious coalition partner among Canada’s three left-tilting opposition parties. By saying only winners get to head coalitions, he’s effectively saying, no coalitions if we have the most seats.

But that does not seem to be accepted by ranking Liberals, although they mostly don’t want to talk about it. Last week I interviewed Alfred Apps, the Liberal president, for a story that appears in the issue of Maclean’s that’s out today. He reflected on the fall of 2008, when the Liberals and NDP, with Bloc Québécois backing, formed a coalition to oust the Conservatives, only to be stopped when Harper suspended the House before they could vote him down.

In theory, at least, Apps suggested a coalition might have succeeded had it moved much faster. “If following the last election the NDP and the Liberals had gone immediately to the Governor General,” he told me, “and said, ‘We’d like to form a coalition and we’d like you to call on us to form the government rather than Mr. Harper,’ and they’d had their act together to do that, that might have led to Mr. Harper being defeated right out of the blocks.”

UPDATE:

There’s been some reaction to the quote I use just above from Alfred Apps. The Conservative party is reportedly suggesting that it amounts to Apps saying Liberals should have tried to stop the Tories from forming a government after the last election.

Apps has protested that that’s not what he meant at all. He’s on solid ground making that objection. He was speaking theoretically, as I wrote, rather than lamenting a missed political opportunity.

I interviewed Apps on the question of a possible Liberal coalition with the NDP following the next election. He repeatedly circled back to his main point that the time for talking about coalitions is after the votes are counted. He suggested that what happened recently in Britain makes sense: after the UK election in which no party won a majority, both the first-place Conservative and second-place Labor parties discussed possible coalitions with the third-place Liberal Democrats.

To give more context, here’s the fuller quote from my taped interview with Apps:

“I guess my point is when people talk about coalition, I don’t know what they mean. I know what they mean when the public has decided [in an election] and the question comes [up]…

“If following the last election the NDP and the Liberals had gone immediately to the Governor General and said, ‘We’d like to form a coalition and we’d like you to call on us to form the government rather than Mr. Harper,’ and they’d had their act together to do that, that might have led to Mr. Harper being defeated right out of the blocks.

“But that’s not what happened. A government was formed. A coalition was proposed that created a backlash among Canadians. It’s not like what happened in the UK is what I’m trying to say. It looked like a coalition that was being formed to launch a coup against the government…”

I think it’s clear that Apps was comparing and contrasting the coalition attempt in Canada in the fall of 2008 with this spring’s post-election coalition talks in Britain. He did not say that, under the circumstances, the Liberals should have tried to block the Tories from forming a government in the fall of 2008.

But he was suggesting that if such a move had made sense politically, it would have been legitimate under our parliamentary system—just as presumably it would have been viewed as legitimate in Britain had Labor struck a coalition agreement with the Liberal Democrats, rather than, as it actually transpired, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats arrived at a deal.


 

UPDATED: Do only winners get to head coalition governments?

  1. 2010 Stephen Harper would tell you only the winners could form the coalition

    2004 Stephen Harper would tell you that a coalition representing the majority of Parliament seats was perfectly acceptable and legal

    • Well, to be fair, he never mentioned a formal "coalition" and his opposition has been to formal "coalitions", i.e. where there is a quasi-merger of one or more parties in government.

      Mind you, Harper and the Conservatives themselves have deliberately confused the issue by claiming the Bloc was part of the coalition thereby greatly expanding or even distorting the meaning of "coalition" (and of course, hypocritical as he was not only prepared to work out an agreement or arrangement of some sort with the Bloc short of a coalition in 2004 but he relied upon their support to maintain confidence in his first two budgets).

      • "formal 'coalitions', i.e. where there is a quasi-merger"

        No. A coalition is a partnership between or among distinct entities. A merger dissolves those entities into one. The 'quasi' qualifier is useless, given the key terms define different things.

        • My meaning by quasi-merger "in government" is that the government is formed by the two parties together, not simply one with the support of the other (like Peterson in 1985). It is not just an agreement of support and it is not a merging of the parties but it is a quasi/partial merger within the governance and cabinet.

    • 2004 Stephen Harper would tell you that a coalition representing the majority of Parliament seats was perfectly acceptable and legal

      Really. Do you have any actual evidence of such a remarkable statement that doesn't include that 2004 letter that many coalition supporters offer up in knee-jerk fashion?

      Honestly, I have never seen such illogic and desperation surrounding a political issue here in Canada. Coalition supporters will jump through hoops to justify trying to ram it down our throats.

      Again, coalitions are certainly acceptable, and Mr. Geddes offers an example of such, but the one offered in 2008 wasn't, and has tarnished the prospects of such arrangements for the foreseeable future.

      Yet don't tell that to the coalition supporters. It's like daring to utter heresy against their cult beliefs.

      • As I noted above, you are right that Harper never proposed a coalition of any kind and has even, before 2008, rejected the idea of coalition.

        However, Harper has deliberately muddied the waters and definitions of coalition. That letter clearly shows an intention to form a government based on an agreement with the NDP and the Bloc.

        That means, Harper did support (when it was in his interest to do so) the idea that:

        1. If the government loses confidence, it does not need to go back to the people in an election,

        2. the "loser" can indeed form a government if it reaches an agreement with the others,

        3. it is OK to form an agreement with the separatists to govern.

        The first and third points he clearly rejected when it became detrimental to his interest and the second is implied.

        • That letter clearly shows an intention to form a government based on an agreement with the NDP and the Bloc

          It shows no such thing. Most people don't even remember that letter because it was nothing more than a threat directed at Prime Minister Paul Martin at the time; a united show of force that worked.

          That people try to manipulate the wording of that letter for their own current purposes I find extraordinary. It truly diminishes any credibility they think they already have. I say that with all sincerity. I would never make claims about a letter like that in the way that knee-jerk coalition supporters have for the last two years. You can't make this stuff up.

          • "We respectfully point out that the opposition parties, who together constitute a majority in the House, have been in close consultation. We believe that, should a request for dissolution arise this should give you cause, as constitutional practice has determined, to consult the opposition leaders and consider all of your options"

            If Martin had lost confidence and was asking the GG for an election, what other "options" do you think Harper was proposing other than to see if Harper could form a government with the support of the socialists and separatists? What exactly do you think was the subject matter of Harper's "close consultations" with the socialists and separatists?

            Seriously and honestly, what possible other meaning could there be to what Harper has said?

          • It could have been a minority with support for a confidence motion from NDP and BLOC. Nowhere does it say 'coalition'. The letter is useful to point out that CPC has and does occasionally rely on the support of the BLOC, which renders the 'no truck or trade with separatists' argument mute. However, the letter is not useful to counter Harper's statements about coalitions.

          • Fair enough, but this works the other way too: the proposed 2008 coalition was between the Liberals and NDP.

            The Bloc was not part of the coalition – it only offered support for a confidence motion – but that didn't stop Harper from trumpeting loudly that the 2008 coalition was with the "socialists and separatists".

          • Yes. Which is why I said that the letter rendered his 'no truck nor trade with separatists' argument mute.

            Harper's 2004 letter is clearly inconsistent with his rhetoric about using the Bloc in a supply and confidence arrangement.

          • Good think I'm not using it to discuss coalitions and that I stated clearly I recognize that Harper wasn't talking about coalitions then.

          • That letter clearly shows an intention to form a government based on an agreement with the NDP and the Bloc

            There was no agreement, for crying out loud.

          • No of course there was no agreement.

            It was just a coincidence that the socialist and the separatist happened to sign that letter. The close consultations were, as you suggested about ordering pizza.

            There was never any agreement to sign that letter. Someone forced the socialist and the separtist to sign it.

          • Yup, you have to resort to this nonsense. I know. Lord forbid you justify even one accusation that you make regarding that 2004 letter, or anyone else for that matter. I've been confronting coalition supporters for months now daring them to prove that it says what they incredibly state it claims, and not once do they do it. Don't get me wrong. They're all proud about their claims regarding the letter, which is why they get so furious when I ask that they simply prove what they claim. And, for all their bluster and pride, they haven't been able to do it even once. This thread is just another example. But you go ahead and use misinformation to justify you coalition, ya hear?

          • This thread is just another example of your reading comprehension difficulties.

            I feel for you, I really do, and your frustrations with coalition bogeyman and strawmen.

            As for me, as is clear, I was not a supporter of the 2008 coalition and I am not claiming Harper was calling for a coalition with the joint conservative-socialist-separatist letter to the GG in 2004.

            But since logic and facts are obviously not your strong suit, I can totally understand why you keep pretending I'm talking about coalitions.

          • You feel for me, yet you're the one clearly making facts up about what that 2004 letter says or represents. Fascinating.

          • We don't know what they were consulting about. It could have been as much about a pizza party as it was about a pizza parliament. It's one of the most carefully worded letters I have ever read, which is why it must so frustrating for many of you. You have to change what it means.

            All the letter asks is that the GG consult with the opposition before granting any request for an election. Which she probably would have done anyhow.

            No coalition talk. No formal agreement. Nothing.

            Yet here you are two years later basically lying about what the letter says, as are so many knee-jerk cult followers of the coalition.

            You can't support the coalition on its merits, so you have to make up a story about what happened in 2004. This is what you think is good for Canadians, do you? No wonder they rejected you so loudly back then, and will do so if you come even close to trying it again.

            They want honesty, not the garbage that coalition supporters have to create to justify a power grab.

          • I'm not talking about coalitions so I don't know why you keep going to that dry well.

            There clearly was an agreement, just not a formal written detailed agreement about what would happen in exchange for support.

            There were indeed "close consultations" between the Conservatives and the "socialists and separatists" and Duceppe has been on the record stating that the Conservatives had discussed with the separatists the possibility of getting their support to form a government without an election. There were tentative discussions about what kind of conditions would have to be satisfied and they did not go further than explore each others minimum conditions. The sense was that they agreed there was sufficient scope to reach some sort of detailed agreement and enough to ask the GG to consider alternatives to an election.

            You are entitled to your interpretation on the inferrence of the letter. But claiming it had no meaning is ridiculous. Just because Harper wasn't talking about a coalition doesn't mean he was just talking about nothing. Harper wanted Martin out at all costs. That is the critical point behind this letter.

          • If there was an agreement, where in the world is it? Do you even know how to read English, or is misinformation your only goal with respected to that bloody coalition? Geez.

            Like I said, zombies.

          • Poor Dennis. Thinks that an agreement is only an agreement if it is in writing, with section numbers, and definitions and terms and conditions and it explicitly talks about a coalition and has a signing line for all parties.

            "Do you even know how to read English?" Do you? Don't answer. It's a rhetorical question.

            a·gree·ment (-grmnt)
            n.
            1. The act of agreeing.
            2. Harmony of opinion; accord.
            3. An arrangement between parties regarding a course of action; a covenant.

          • I never said that agreements had to be in writing, genius. Who can't read again? But I do expect that people who claim agreements exist can actually point to evidence of such – in writing or otherwise. Why is this so hard for you zombies? Oh yeah, because no such evidence exists! Except in your biased ideological minds, of course.

          • So you think that the right winger, the socialist and the separatist didn't reach an agreement on anything? What? Did Harper hide the words of the letter and tell them they were signing a pledge to get Britney Spears off the air? That is just so absurd it boggles the mind. And you are calling others zombies. LOL.

            They obviously had an agreement. Duceppe confirmed that later. Did their agreement mean a coalition? Obviously not. Did they reach an agreement on all their policies? Of course not.

            But did they reach an agreement to take Martin down? Obviously. Did they reach an agreement on making Harper PM if approached by the GG? Absolutely though with conditions.

          • Oh, so your proof of an agreement is the letter! Brilliant!

            But did they reach an agreement to take Martin down? Obviously. Did they reach an agreement on making Harper PM if approached by the GG? Absolutely though with conditions.

            Again, completely fabricated. You are literally making this up as you go along, aren't you, and shamelessly, too. What motivates such deliberate fabrication of facts?

          • "No wonder they rejected you so loudly back then"

            Actually I can honestly say I've never lost a single election in my life. Next.

            "They want honesty" Yes we do, which is why the majority of Canadians still do not and never will support Harper and only a small minority do support him. Next.

          • The majority of Canadians never supported Liberals either, but what does that have to do with your outright falsehoods regarding that letter in 2004? Unbelievable.

          • Uh, yes they did.

          • Sigh. Can you tell me when Liberals have recently received more than 50% of the vote. Thanks. Next.

          • Denis…..Tom Clark used that letter yesterday on Power Play and tried to get Kenny to acknowledge that it was evidence that Harper was prepared to enter into a coalition. I expected Kenny to reject that interpretation but he sat their all mealy mouthed and didn't challenge Clark at all. What gives.

            The letter simply says one thing to the GG and only one thing. Consult the opposition parties before you (GG) make your decision to see if there is an alternative arrangement. To impune any other motives is disingenous. However, it is not surprising.

          • Clearly the misinformation campaign has had some effect, even on Kenney, which is why its perpetrators on here get so furious when I dare to point out the facts about that stupid letter in 2004. Nevertheless, politicians can't be as forthright and truthful as we can, right?

          • So Kenney isn't forthright? Truthful?
            Or maybe Kenney sees the rationale behind the question and finds it awkward..

            The spirit and intent of the letter is very clear.

          • Oh, now YOU'RE an expert on its spirit and intent, rather than its ACTUAL CONTENTS. lol. I'm sorry, but this is laughable. Too bad its so pervasive among leftist coalition supporters.

            I mean, if your agenda isn't about the truth, then just what is it about?

          • and Dennis you are a practitioner of deflection and calumny.

            We believe that, should a request for dissolution arise this should give you cause, as constitutional practice has determined, to consult the opposition leaders and consider all of your options before exercising your constitutional authority.

            What are her "options" Dennis? Is one of them presenting the opportunity for the opposition to join forces as a majority voting block and present an alternative government? Could Stephen Harper…. somehow have known….. that …But how? Is he, like… um…. really smart?

            save some laughter for your old age, you never know when you might need a boost.

          • We don't know what her options were because, wait for it, NONE WERE PRESENTED TO HER. duh.

          • as constitutional practice has determined, to consult the opposition leaders and consider all of your options

            Harpers own words – he is well aware of her options.

            Your interpretation is disingenuous and is not strengthened by your YELLING or use of big words like duh

          • Yes, consider all options. It's her job. They just reminded her of it, which was a shot across Paul Martin's bow. I've never seen such a blatant misrepresentation of events for the sole purpose of justifying the unjustifiable.

          • Don't sell yourself short.

          • Here I am knocking knee-jerk types, and what do I get? A knee-jerk response. Congrats. Next.

          • A careful, cunning and calculating chess player like Stephen Harper has no deeper motive?
            Do you really believe that hollinm?

          • So, we have to rely on your characterization of Harper's motives rather than THE CONTENTS OF THE LETTER!. Good Lord.

          • The contents are crystal clear.

            The Conservatives and the socialists and the separatists were in "close consultation" and, before the GG calls an election, they want her to talk to them and consider "all her options".

            Hmmm. If the Liberals have lost confidence of the House, and the opposition don't want her to call an election, whatever could they be thinking?

            Maybe secretly they are all anarchists and they wanted her to consider not forming any government at all. Yeah. That's it.

          • If the contents are crystal clear, then why doesn't it contain an answer to your questions? It's like debating grade school students. Even worse. They'd be fare more humble than this, and less of an embarrassment to themselves.

          • Can we maybe all compromise and agree that the letter did not itself propose an immediate coalition, but that it made clear the opposition parties were willing to negotiate a possible coalition/supply agreement if/when the time came? That it wasn't an offer to immediately go into government, but a statement that they reserved the option?

          • Actually, given what Harper was saying in, for example, the Solomon interview around the same time, I don't think a coalition government was ever being contemplated by Harper. Ideologically and personally, he was not the type to go as far as to share government with anyone.

            I think that it is clear though that he wanted to oust Martin without an election and form government with the tacit short/medium term support of the socialists and separatists, likely in exchange for certain action items (fiscal imbalance for Duceppe for example).

          • If that was his intention, then why did he back down as soon as Paul Martin blinked in their confrontation? Why did the others back off, too?

            Revisionist history.

            It was a threat. Martin took it seriously. They all went back to their corners and went back to work.

            How you conjure up an intent to govern by Harper is a mystery to me or anyone else wanting facts about the matter.

          • Speakign for all Canadians again, eh. How typically arrogant of a Harper Conservative.

            When did he back down? When did Martin blink? When did the others back off too?

            Could you at least admit that you are "characterizing" and reading into the actual "contents of the letter" when you claim he was bluffing? could you at least show one teeny tiny bit of a recognition facts matter? that you are asking others to do with that letter what you are not willing to do? Otherwise, I see no point in reading or responding to your zombie repetitions.

            Actually, regardless, there is no point. Good bye

          • You made the rather miraculous claim that Harper was ready to govern in 2004. Where in the world did that come from? Your astrologist? Holy cow. Certainly not that letter, or any other thing we generally like to consider EVIDENCE or FACT.

          • They were willing to negotiate something, but the letter doesn't say what. Like I said, it could have been a pizza party.

            The intention of that letter wasn't to propose a governing arrangement to the GG, it was to scare the heck out of Paul Martin, and it worked.

          • And I quote the, cough cough, eminent Dennis_F in response:

            "So, we have to rely on your characterization of Harper's motives rather than THE CONTENTS OF THE LETTER!. Good Lord. "

          • I'm not the one making specific claims about the letter based on intentions. I'm not saying that the letter was a specific threat to Martin. You zombies are saying that it represents a coalition agreement of some kind. Oh, I'm sorry. In your case, an "intent to govern" or some other absurdity.

          • As Reagan once said, "There you go again".

            No one here is claiming the letter was demanding a coalition, Dennis. You'll have to take that strawman out of your ears.

            You say non-Conservatives are not allowed to talk about the intentions of the letter but are can only rely on the specific contents of the letter… and then characterize it as a bluff. Ah yes, once again, conservatives – our principles don't apply to us.

            I think in fact pretty much everyone but you and John G are looking only at the contents of the letter "close consultation" and "other options" and trying to figure out what Harper means, what the actual "contents of the letter" mean. We believe he meant what he said.

            You on the other hand seem to have some magical ability to see inside Harper's head and are the one trying to tell everyone else that he meant something else, that we should ignore what he actually wrote because he had something else in mind entirely.

            What an absurdity.

          • No one here is claiming the letter was demanding a coalition, Dennis. You'll have to take that strawman out of your ears.

            Let's see, the very first post by danby in this thread reads as follows:

            2010 Stephen Harper would tell you only the winners could form the coalition

            2004 Stephen Harper would tell you that a coalition representing the majority of Parliament seats was perfectly acceptable and legal

            Who has a problem again with reading comprehension again?

            Constantly, on here and elsewhere, knee-jerk supporters of the coalition use that stupid 2004 letter as proof that Harper supported COALITION back then.

            I know you zombies have to resort to this. You can't support coalition otherwise. I get it. It's very sad, but I get it. Loud and clear.

          • Well there you go, you found the one.

            But clearly most here are not claiming there was a call for a coalition in that 2004 and most clearly I am not claiming that.

            Yet you continue continue to show yourself to be a zombie and regurgitate the one talking point you've been allowed to regurgitate, regardless of what anyone says.

            And again have to resort to saying I am saying the opposite of what I actually write to support your arguments. You can't support your arguments otherwise. I get it. It's very sad, but I get it. Loud and clear.

          • Oh, the one comment that I was specifically responding to and that started this thread. Gee, silly me. So, if it doesn't reference a coalition, then what in the world is your point? Wow.

          • But a pizza party would have no bearing on the GG's constitutional duty to call an election or appoint a new PM with the support of the Commons. I will agree with you that it is not a formal coalition agreement and it may just have been setting the stage for Harper to later negotiate a supply agreement with the Bloc and NDP, but saying that it is just a polite notice to the GG that the parties are going to get together and have some pizza if she wouldn't mind is being intentionally obtuse.

          • I am saying that that is a perfectly legitimate interpretation of the letter because it was worded very carefully and meant more for Paul Martin than the GG. It's hardly the endorsement of coalition, or even coalition agreement, that the zombie knee-jerk crowd make it out to be.

      • What did Harper have in mind then when he along with Duceppe and Layton signed that letter to the GG in 2004? Was he signing such a document no knowing what he had in mind? What are the options referred to in 2004 that a GG would have at their disposal rather than accepting a request for dissolution? A government of losers, isn't it what Harper had in mind, be it a formal coalition or an arrangement to provide a stable government?

        I'll challenge anyone here to show me a published article, a report published during the 2004 campaign mentioning that the opposition parties were considering a government of 'losers'. I doubt you would find such a thing. Political leaders would consider this only after the results of an election were known.

        What Ignatieff and Layton have signified is that they are willing to work together to provide a stable government to Canadians, something that Harper is incapable or unwilling to do.

      • that doesn't include that 2004 letter

        The letter is what indicates Mr Harper's acceptance of the way our system works:

        the opposition parties, who together constitute a majority in the House, have been in close consultation. We believe that, should a request for dissolution arise this should give you cause, as constitutional practice has determined, to consult the opposition leaders and consider all of your options before exercising your constitutional authority

        This is not Law and Order, and you have no basis by which you can reject Mr Harper's views at the time.
        knee jerk fashion surely applies to your adamant exclusion of the letter.

        Yes, coalitions are acceptable. The one in 2008, while unpalatable, was also acceptable. Mr Harper tried to frame it as being illegal, which it was not. I think the GG made the right decision, but I also think she missed a golden opportunity to publicly educate Canadians that while she was granting the PM his requested prorogation, the proposed coalition was in fact not illegal.
        The difference between 2004/2010 Stephen Harper is that he respected the system in 2004 because he was in opposition and understood how the framework supported the will of the majority MPs in a minority Parliament. 2010 SH is all about consolidating and centralizing his power and will use any wedge, lever or half truth to force the issue – the system be damned.

        ram it down our throats….heresy… cult beliefs

        words from your lexicon that undoubtedly apply to your own posts

        • There is nothing in that letter that says anything about the formation of a coalition. Good God.

          They threatened Paul Martin with a united show of force. It worked. Everyone forgot about it, until knee-jerk coalition supporters in 2008 and forever after.

          I'm not saying that all supporters of that coalition are knee-jerk, just the ones who come up with the flimsiest of excuses to justify it.

          • What force were they threatening to use? They were trying to dissuade the government from triggering an election, so it wasn't threat of defeat. So if not threatening to defeat the government and trigger an election, how were they threatening the government? The only other alternative would be for one or more of the other parties to form government, which would be a government of losers (according to Harper) propped up by losers. Since Harper has suggested that the Bloc agreement to provide confidence and supply in 2008 constituted a coalition agreement, any arrangement where one of the opposition parties formed government and relied on the other opposition parties for confidence and supply would be a de facto coalition of losers, in Harper's parlance. Therefore, when Harper, Layton and Duceppe asked the GG to consider not calling an election in the event of a defeat of the Martin government, they were asking her to consider allowing a de facto 'coalition of losers' to form government.

            Therefore, Harper was being disingenuous then, or in 2008 through present. That is, he is a hypocrite, or changed his mind about coalitions since 2004.

          • My recollection is that Martin wasn't even trying to call for an election. The letter was nothing more than a combined show of force. It says nothing about a coalition, nor does it say anything about Harper's support of a coalition, but your types will keep on stating otherwise. I guess you have to do it, for whatever reason. You have to keep misrepresenting the contents of that letter for lord knows what.

          • Again, and briefer: what force were they threatening to use? If it was merely to defeat the government and go to the polls, then I'd say a letter to the GG is highly unusual not to mention totally unnecessary.

            What force were they threatening to use?

          • The threat was a united opposition that wasn't going to bow down to a minority government. In fact, it was the exact same threat that the coalition of 2008 had until they decided to pursue things further and grab power outright.

          • You're dodging. Uniting is not a show of force unless they were backing it with credible threat of action. If the action was to defeat the government and trigger an election, a letter to the GG is unnecessary and highly irregular. What other action were they threatening?

            In 2008 the threat only became credible when it became clear that the Libs and NDP would form a coalition. Only then did the CPC suggest they might back down. Had the three opposition parties 'united' to say they disagreed with the CPC but would not defeat the government it would have been no threat at all, it would be business as usual. Unity without action is not unity at all.

          • If the action was to defeat the government and trigger an election, a letter to the GG is unnecessary and highly irregular.

            Precisely, which is why "the action" wasn't to defeat the government and trigger the election.

            Regarding 2008, you can form a coalition agreement, and do all you can to pose a serious threat to the power of a prime minister presiding over a minority government. Indeed, you can do so in response to an item in the budget that would have taken away public funding from the opposition parties. Yet, once Harper heeded that threat, and restored the funding, the crisis was essentially over. Job done. The coalition's decision to keep going served to expose its intent to grab power at all costs, which rather ironically thwarted any further chances of a coalition actually attaining power.

          • Dennis, you sound like you've been well trained in not deviating from the talking points no matter how much rational argument is presented to you.

          • Name one "rational argument" that I haven't responded to. You're more than welcome to add your own. I have no fear of defending my position on this, which is that the 2004 letter is an absurd example of coalition building.

            Like I said, zombies.

      • Oh please. 'Do you have any actual evidence of such a remarkable statement that doesn't include the actual evidence of such a remarkable statement?'

        The only thing unacceptable about the 2008 coalition was that they specifically said they would not form a coalition during the election campaign. That's it.

        • OK, please state how the 2004 letter in any way constitutes the remarkable statement you swear by. Man. It's like some of you are a bunch of zombies with this coalition thing. Honestly. Can't you get elected in a more honest and forthright way?

          • Yes. Why aren't the opposition parties trying to bribe Conservative MPs for their vote, breaking election finance laws, avoiding telling Canadians what you will do in government, and outright lying about the opposition the way the Conservatives have done so successfully the last two elections? That is the way to get and keep government.

          • Yes, we know you're an ideological and partisan opponent of Harper, which is why you have to misrepresent the letter of 2004. Thank you for proving my point.

          • Finally, we agree on something.

            I am indeed ideologically opposed to bribery, routine law breaking for partisan gain, attacks on Canadian democracy and Canadian unity, abuse and waste of taxpayer dollars for partisan gain at the expense of us taxpayers, lack of accountability, and those who think they are above the law but should be entitled to govern.

            I'm so glad that proves your point.

          • So that's why you're making things up about that 2004 letter? Your utter dislike of the Harper government drives you to it? Well, thanks for finally admitting that, and for proving my constant point about the matter.

          • Tedbetts quotes the relevant passage somewhere else on this thread, so I won't do so here. I appear to have the damn thing memorized anyway. What Harper said in the letter (paraphrased) was "we advise you to look at ALL OPTIONS". All options, without an appendix listing out definitions, must be taken in the plain meaning of the words. And the plain meaning of ALL options is EVERY option. It doesn't mean, "we advise you to look at some of the options, not including a coalition with the socialists and separatists"

          • Yes, and ALL OPTIONS also includes a pizza party, bar mitzvah, and double feature matinee.

        • That's one piece. The other unacceptable parts were:

          1) CPC had won a confidence motion only a few weeks before. They had the demonstrated confidence of the House.

          2) The coalition required 3 parties to always vote together for it to be stable.

          3) The proposed Prime Minister was interim and didn't even have the support of his own party, let alone the House.

          Coalitions a la UK are fine. Just don't give me that rickety 2008 contraption. If NDP+LIB>155 then go nuts with the coalition building.

          • 1 and 2 and irrelevant, and 3 has no constitutional bearing.

            1: You have confidence until you don't, and when you don't, you get the boot.
            2: If they can make it work, it's valid. If they can't, we go to the polls.
            3: As I said, this has no constitutional bearing.

            I'd also say it's entirely valid for the Libs to try governing without LIB+NDP>155 if the Liberals have a similar number of seats as the CPC. If LPC has 120 seats and CPC 125, I don't see how it is illegitimate for the Libs to attempt to govern, with or without coalition partners. It comes down to whether they can maintain confidence, by any mechanism necessary or sufficient.

        • "The only thing unacceptable about the 2008 coalition was that they specifically said they would not form a coalition during the election campaign. That's it."

          That's kind of a big deal – people voted accordingly less than 2 months earlier. You make it sound like it's a minor detail.

          • Yeah, you're right. I didn't mean to, and I do think it's a big deal.

            It's a big deal the same way people voted accordingly regarding Income Trusts, or Accountability. Which doesn't excuse it, of course, but it does give me pause regarding the righteous indignation I read (into?) your post. To be fair, I expect I also used some righteous indignation on the Income Trust or Accountability issues.

            No, they are all a big deal, and we are right to be indignant about them all.

  2. The problem with the 2008 coalition was that until the Economic Update came out the other parties, including the Liberals, had accepted the outcome of the election. There had even been a vote of confidence in the House of Commons on the Throne Speech, which the government won.

    Most Canadians would have zero problem with the concept of a coalition if the combined number of seats between the Liberals and NDP is more than that of the Conservatives. That is what makes the situation in the UK so different from that in Canada.

    • Exactly exactly right.

      Add to that: the Liberal leader had resigned and there was a clear leadership question mark about that coalition, and even the coalition wasn't enough to form government so they needed a non-aggression pact with the Bloc. Very shaky at the outset of troubled economic times.

      • That's a big part of why a Labour/Lib Dem agreement didn't work in the UK – Labour would by all rights have been able to name the PM in such a government, but had no one to put up.

        I wonder what the public would have thought of a Liberal/NDP government led by Layton instead of Dion or Iggy. Anyone remember if there was any polling on that question?

    • Confidence in the House is only as good as the last vote. They were going to lose their next confidence motion, so they shut down our democracy for two months.

      • It is important to remember that when the House did meet, the government continued to operate with the confidence of the House. If the coalition members had really wanted to challenge the government once they had sobered up, they would have called for a vote. The leader of the Liberal Party made abundantly clear that he had no intention of so doing.

        • Sorry, this doesn't cut it. Ducking a vote of no confidence, no matter how ill-advised, is a mortal threat to Canadian democracy. Once you let that slide, where does it stop? For two months, we had a quasi-legitimate government continue to hold the reins of power, spending public money and representing Canada on the world stage. I was absolutely appalled, and I think everyone else ought to be as well, regardless of how they felt about the coalition. If it was as rickety and hopeless as critics suggest, it should have been permitted to fail spectacularly. We would now a conservative majority if that were the case. Now, we're stuck with a precedent where governments can avoid imminent defeat for up to one year through prorogation.

          • Tell that to Paul Martin who actually lost a vote of confidence and then ignored it.

          • This statement is unmitigated crap.

          • If it's such crap, why'd you post it?

          • Very clever :)

            I assume you all know what I meant.

          • Give us the facts please, not fairy tales.

    • "Most Canadians would have zero problem with the concept of a coalition if the combined number of seats between the Liberals and NDP is more than that of the Conservatives." Agreed. In fact, given 2/3ish are progressives, they wouldn't just jave no problem they would be enthusiastic. Especially in the heightened atmosphere immediately post-election.

  3. “If following the last election the NDP and the Liberals had gone immediately to the Governor General,” he told me, “and said, ‘We'd like to form a coalition and we'd like you to call on us to form the government rather than Mr. Harper,' and they'd had their act together to do that, that might have led to Mr. Harper being defeated right out of the blocks.”

    What a pipe dream. After the last election, the combined Liberal and NDP seats didn't even represent a plurality, let alone a majority, and the Liberals had just suffered one of the worst electoral defeats in the history of that party.

    • Exactly. Could never have happened with the current configuration of Parliament. Jean must have gone to Harper first as the party with 70 more seats than any other party, as well as the incumbent. Obviously given results of the last election Harper must be given first crack at forming a government.

      If they had wanted to do something like this, they would have had to defeat Harper's Throne Speech. They did not.

      Now if Lib+NDP were to add to a majority, or at least exceed the Conservative seat count, that's a different story. In a case like that I don't think there would be anything to stand in their way.

      • Did the Conservatives + the NDP form a majority in 2004?

        No.

        In other words, having an agreement among the losers to form a new government without an election was OK for Harper.

        No different now.

        • No, which is why they didn't try to shove a bloody coalition down our throats like what happened in 2008. Kumbayah!

          • I'm not talking about a coalition and I'm not claiming Harper was talking about a coalition. In fact, I made it clear that he wasn't. Do keep up please Dennis.

      • i agree with almost all of this John, except one point that you seem to imply, which is there is something special about defeating the speech from the throne (as opposed to other confidence motions). or at least that is what i infer when you say: "If they had wanted to do something like this, they would have had to defeat Harper's Throne Speech. They did not." defeating a government on any confidence vote is withdrawing confidence and has the same basic effect.

  4. I think the proposed coalition was esp. legitimate because Harper suddenly sprung a bill the other parties couldn't accept and were willing to vote non-confidence on. since the election had been only weeks ago it was impractical to go to the polls again so soon.

    Likewise, if harper gets the most seats (and seeing as he is currently the leader of gov't) the GG shouldn't let a Liberal coalition form the gov't UNLESS Harper is first given the opportunity to demonstrate confidence of the House. If he can't, a coalition may very well be teh best option.

    • Coalition is not the only option.

      In 2004, Harper was proposing to govern without going to the polls based on an agreement of support of some kind from the "socialists and separatists".

      We've been so corneredd into this focus on "coalition" because of Harper's attack campaign, that we've forgotten that there are a number of other options.

      • I agree, my use of the term coalition may have been hasty and ill-advised.

        • Everything you say is hasty and ill-advised.

    • Mike T…. I would also remind you that the offending legislation was withdrawn on that weekend. However, the NDP had already being scheming with the Bloc to get the Libs to join their coalition even before the election. When Harper proposed to cut the subsidy the Libs bought the coalition hook, line and sinker. However, it was too late. Canadians are not perpared to accept the Bloc as part of the federal government. So for any future coalition the NDP/Libs will need to have more seats than the Conservatives.

      • I didn't forget.

        And again with the magical unsubstantiated and ever-changing "it suddenly sn't allowable unless [condition X] is met!"

        • Not to mention the magical contrary-to-facts-in-the-real-world "accept the Bloc as part of the federal government".

  5. Harper isnt strictly correct nor is he strictly incorrect. The best place to look for examples of both is in Ontario when the NDP and the Libs formed their coalition.

    However, the tories were still the government as they had one the most seats, they faced the house and lost a vote, and then the LG went to the coalition that had a firm agreement that promised stability and an agenda, not just a bunch of votes from MP's. However this group was also larger than the tories.

    So Harper is right, losers dont get to be govenrment, and that included the Miller PC party, which LOST a confidence vote.

    I will say that if the conditions are the same, the Libs and Dems holding fewer seats than the tories then convention drives the GG to wait and see until the Tories lose a vote….and then the Lib Dems would, under that scenario, to say that they were proceeding on a confidence and supply basis (as we have for years). Any formal inclusion of the Bloc is nuclear outside of Quebec.

    • Actually, Harper had fewer seats than Martin in 2004 when he proposed to Jean that he could form a government. Not a coalition government mind you, but that even though he was the "loser" the opposition parties including the separatists could reach an agreement to change the government without an election.

      • And what did Clarkson (not Jean) do with that request?

        • Never had a chance to act on it because Martin never came to her to ask for dissolution until late 2005 when the opposition parties were all calling for an election.

          • Hoser has the salient point…..it didnt go anywhere, which was correct. But wasnt that letter/incident more around Martin's controversial loss/non loss of confidence? Perhaps my memory is incorrect.

            At the end of the day, there is convention along with legitimacy. Almost any combination you can imagine is "legal"….whether it is legitimate is another question. The inclusion of the Bloc, no matter who does formally, is radioactive outside Quebec, thats just reality. Just like the Labour Lib Dem coalition that would have relied on the SNP…..it wouldnt be seen as legitimate. One day maybe it will, but right now and for the forseeable future it wont. Bloc cooperation will only ever be on a confidence and supply basis, or issue by issue.

          • Look, I'm no defender of the 2008 coalition, but I am a defender of an accurate description of what it was.

            "Bloc cooperation… on a confidence and supply basis" was all that was ever agreed to in 2008. Everything else about the Bloc was pure partisan spin which permanently damaged Harper in Quebec and has damaged the ability of anyone to make Parliament work effectively. In fact, that plus the Liberal/NDP weakness in standing up to that view has, in my view, hardened Quebecers support for the Bloc.

            And relying on the support of the Bloc, as Harper planned in 2004 and as he did in 2006 and 2007, is not only entirely legal and legitimate but profoundly democratic and acceptable all across Canada. Harper's legitimacy as PM is in no way undermined for having to rely on separatist support for his early budgets.

          • Well this is where we part. I wouldnt trust any government that had to rely on the Bloc for long term survival, no matter what the Bloc promised. If you think the Bloc wouldnt find ways to harrass and continue to extract things you are more trusting than I am. There agenda is different, and recognizing that is the point. If you dont have touble with them you shouldnt have trouble with Harpers footsie with them earlier.

            So I believe your description is not as accurate as you think. It might be what was said, but believing it is another issue.

          • WTF? Now I don't "have trouble" with separatists because, what? I think they are legitimate elected representatives?

            First, I believe very strongly in the overriding importance of democratic legitimacy which is one reason I did not support the 2008 coalition but also why, as much as I know the Bloc claim they want to tear up the country, I place more importance on the fact that they are elected representatives of my fellow Canadians than I do on their stated goals. They have been decent Parliamentarians and by demonizing them we further alienate fellow Canadians who live in Quebec.

            Second, you are claiming that I don't believe what I said. I do. Harper relying upon the Bloc support to form a government in 2004 or to keep the confidence of the House in 2006 or 2007 is entirely legitimate. The fact that he had to rely upon the support of separatists to stay in power does not de-legitimize the result of the democratic election in 2006 and the democratic processes of our Constitution.

            As much as I don't like Harper, I am not claiming his government is not legitimate.

          • [cont]

            And if you think any support arrangement with the NDP or between any other party wouldn't result in that party trying to extract concessions, you are more trusting than I am.

            The solution? Get an agreement that only says they won't support a non-confidence motion. Sort of like they did in 2008. If they breach that, then we are going to the polls, and Canadians get to decide.

            I really don't see why dealing with the Bloc is to be demonized. I think it is bad for the country and one of the lasting adverse effects of Harper's reactions in 2008 to keep power for himself.

            In 2006 and 2007 he horsetraded with the Bloc for their support. I don't have a problem with that. In fact, that is a good thing because, while their written policies don't change, by doing so the Bloc are proving to Quebecers that Canada does work for them.

            As I have said, I did not support the 2008 coalition for many reasons, but relying on the confidence of the Bloc to keep the confidence of the House was not one of them.

          • I never said they arent legitimate MP's. That doesnt mean you rely on them. What do you think their agenda is and do you really think it is wise to have a government relying on them on anyting beyond an issue to issue basis.

            If you think they are MP's "commes les autres" then you havent been listening to them. They make no bones about what their interests are and that their concerns are only for French Quebecers. Their agenda is to represent french Quebec only and if possible facilitate the independence of Quebec. That doesnt give them any rights less than any other MP but it doesnt mean you would treat them like any other political party, who have committments to unified Canada at their core.

            They can be the nicest guys and gals in the world, hardworking and productive MP's but they have an agenda that is fundamentally different that should prevent any party from "marrying them", it only ends in tears and you can see it from the beginning.

          • Whose talking about marrying them? Please. Look, I'm not trying to pick a fight here with you but, please, if we are going to have a respectful discussion, kindly stop putting words in my mouth like saying I "don't have a problem" with them or I think they're "commes les autres".

            I am saying that Harper relied upon the Bloc, horsetraded with them, they participated in the setting of his agenda. And there is nothing wrong with that.

            They represent Canadians. They were elected to represent Canadians. Every PM has a choice to ignore them or find some common ground that is good for Quebecers and for Canadians or let their government fall. I think that is what Harper thinks he did in 2006 and 2007 and in the fall of 2009 in order to get Bloc support.

            He relied on their support and, with respect, I think it is profoundly undemocratic to suggest that there was anything democratically or national unity-wise wrong with what Harper did (good policy-wise is another matter).

          • Well, there are a lot of things at work here. Part of the reason the Labour/Lib Dem thing didn't work was that Labour had been the government and then lost a huge number of seats and fell into a distant second. It was clear that most of the public wanted them out. They were the losers in any reconning of the situation. Plus, the numbers didn't work out to a majority with the Lib Dems unless pretty much every minor party supported them. So it was not going to work form the gate.

            Looking forward to the next election, who is the "loser" if the Conservatives lose 20 seats but still have more MPs than the Liberals (but maybe no the Liberals/NDP combined)? Sure, the Liberals "lost" in that they came in second, but the Conservatives also "lost" in that they literally lost seats (and as the government).

          • We wont know until the election. Thats why we hold them.

          • Well, obviously I get that. I'm just throwing out a hypothetical situation where Harper's "losers can't form government" rule might not work as easily.

          • Well, I agree I can see situations and circumstances where Harpers wins the most seats but is "the loser". Essentially where it seems pretty clear the winds are shifting strongly…but they are case by case.

            Once again, its why we hold elections, and in the absence of it being pretty clear why you are better off to hold another election. I think the wise cousel to the Head of State is to let the people lead you, normal caveats about actual results state of the nation yada yada. But in general the safe play for the head of state or their rep is to NOT substitute their judgement for the people's.

          • I don't think you know what salient means.

          • If you disagree that it is an important point, fine, thats opinion and the essence of debate. But I am sure you have something more valuable to contribute than this.

            For your education
            http://www.synonym.com/definition/salient/

      • Keep your facts straight Ted. Harper never said or proposed any such thing. All their letter said was for the GG to consider her options if the Liberals were defeated. Harper never said he could form a government; because no one ever asked him. For all anyone knows the letter was just a political prop to scare the Liberals and might never have been acted on.

        I thought you didn't like the "super-hyperpartisan" types that make up things that other people said?

        • "We respectfully point out that the opposition parties, who together constitute a majority in the House, have been in close consultation. We believe that, should a request for dissolution arise this should give you cause, as constitutional practice has determined, to consult the opposition leaders and consider all of your options"

          If Martin had lost confidence and was asking the GG for an election, what other "options" do you think Harper was proposing other than to see if Harper could form a government with the support of the socialists and separatists? What exactly do you think was the subject matter of Harper's "close consultations" with the socialists and separatists?

          Now don't run away again and avoid the question or try to change the subject again. Seriously and honestly, what possible other meaning could there be to what Harper has said.

          • Who is running away? You just don't like the answer I proposed…which is the meaning of the letter itself might have been nothing more than a bluff to try and exact cooperation from the governing Liberals or to try and scare them out of a snap election call (was perhaps Martin at the time considering a snap election call to try and capture the momentum the Liberals got in the last week of the 2004 campaign and win back his majority? I honestly don't remember).

            If Martin had gone to the GG to dissolve Parliament, Harper may well have said "no" had Clarkson come to him and asked if he could form a government, and then we'd be in an election. Of course, we'll never find out. My point is only that Harper never said any such thing. You are inferring it because it is convenient to your narrative, even though you claim that you don't like when "super-hyperpartisans" make up things that other people didn't actually say.

            Honestly…if this letter is the smoking gun you think it is, why aren't Layton and Duceppe coming forward to tell the world what they were discussing with Harper back in 2004?

          • "Of course, we'll never find out."

            It was not bluffing and Duceppe and Layton have come out and said so. There were indeed "close consultations" between the Conservatives and the "socialists and separatists" and Duceppe has been on the record stating that the Conservatives had discussed with the separatists the possibility of getting their support to form a government without an election. There were tentative discussions about what kind of conditions would have to be satisfied and they did not go further than explore each others minimum conditions. The sense was that they agreed there was sufficient scope to reach some sort of detailed agreement and enough to ask the GG to consider alternatives to an election.

            You are entitled to your interpretation on the inferrence of the letter. But claiming it was a "bluff" is just your opinion. You admit you don't recall the details of what was going on then. Harper wasn't trying to get him to negotiate. Harper wanted Martin out. That is the critical point behind this letter.

          • Harper is lucky he was never consulted on options at the time, regardless of intent

        • And what options other than dissolution would be at the disposal of the GG to consider?

          What is your point here? What do you think Harper had in mind? Do you think Harper is so stupid that he signed this letter thinking it was a birthday wish?
          The only option other than calling a dissolution when a government is defeated is to go to the leader of the official opposition, or don't you realize that? Are you suggesting Harper did not realize that?

          • they were consulting about a pizza party

  6. The one obvious scenerio that reconciles Harper's statement is that the Libs and NDP defeat a Harper government on a confidence motion. Thus, Harper becomes a "loser" and a Lib/NDP coalition is legit.

  7. I don't think constitutional arguments matter much to Stephen Harper except for tactical purposes. Have you noticed that anything goes when it's expedient for him?

    • Actually the constitutional argument that would make the most tactical sense for Harper is that the Prime Minister continues governing until defeated by a confidence motion. That is technically what the constitution says, and there is a case of a government continuing on without a plurality of seats or a coalition (King in 1925).

      In practice, however, every other minority government in Canadian history (1957, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1972, 1979, 2004, 2006 and 2008) the governor-general appointed the leader with the most seats. This is partly because PM's winning less than a plurality of seats (Dief in 1963, Trudeau in 1979, and Martin in 2006) have always resigned.

      • Correct. They had government, for a while, and in some cases a long while, and had lost – let us say very loosely and not technically – the confidence of the people. Acting as good stewards of democracy, they recognized the tide of public opinion had turned against them and it was time for a change. And so they resigned.

        Whether King ought to have done so is a matter of interesting debate. He lost 18 seats and had fewer seats than Meighen, but he had only lost 1% in popular support and already had a working arrangement/deal with the Progressives and, as was soon very apparent, Meighen could not maintain confidence in the House either and likely could not have formed a government with Progressive support in 1925. I don't know enough about what happened immediately after the 1925 election – what discussions etc. – to really comment more than that.

  8. There are a few issues of concern in this debate.

    Firstly, how to supply/confidence pacts come in? Should they count when the governor-general is appointing governments?

    Secondly, single parties are much more cohesive and likely to last than coalitions.

    Lets say parliament looked as follows:
    Conservative: 140 seats
    Liberals: 100 seats
    NDP: 43 seats
    Bloc: 25

    Next, lets assume the Liberals and NDP propose a coalition (sans the Bloc).

    The Liberals + NDP do have slightly more seats than the Conservatives – but not a majority. The Conservatives have fewer seats and not a majority – but their 140 seats are locked up in a single cohesive party. The survival odds of a Tory government would almost certainly be greater, given that they would have more potential dance partners, and would not have to keep a coalition ally happy. This is why I think there is a prudential logic to Harper's argument.

    The governor-general should appoint the largest party (as he/she did in the case of every federal minority government except the 1925 case) – given two strong pluralities, we should prefer the more cohesive one. If a coalition is serious, then coalition members should be able to get their act together and VONC the government. The governor-general must then decide whether to call an election, or appoint a coalition government.

    She can then consider public opinion (eg. is the coalition seen as being legitimate?), the length of time since an election, and the survival odds of the coalition (eg. does the coalition command a majority of the house?).

    • The GG appoints a new PM and government only after the one in place (and it remains in place during and after an election, no matter the result) has resigned. In your scenario, Harper stays on as PM. He would have to be defeated in the House at the first opportunity, when Parliament first meets.

      • That is technically true, but in practice, PMs have resigned after losing elections. By sticking to his plurality argument, Harper may actually be setting a higher bar for himself than the constitution requires. However, Harper's argument is closer to how things have worked in practice (PMs that don't win a plurality resign).

        • "in practice, PMs have resigned after losing elections"

          I don't see any reason to believe that Harper would follow that tradition if it were in his interest to break that tradition.

          Gordon Brown broke the tradition in the UK a few weeks ago. In 2005, Paul Martin ignored a vote of no-confidence for a week before he did his 'do-over' following the Belinda Stronach floor crossing. That broke with tradition, and he did it because it was in his interest. I see no reason that Harper wouldn't similarly break with tradition.

          I'm not saying it is right for Harper to do that, but I think he would.

          • Explain how he ignored a vote of non-confidence.

          • And while at it, perhaps it can also be explained how Gordon Brown broke the tradition in the UK?

            Gordon Brown did exactly what all British PMs do, which is to wait until a clear arrangement can be had and then tender your resignation to the Queen and nominate your successor to Her Majesty. It's what Stanley Baldwin did in 1929 and what Ted Heath did in 1974.

    • Fantasy politics are useless!

      I mean, what if the Bloc Quebecois had 100 seats after expanding beyond the borders of Quebec into franocphone strongholds across Canada!? *eyeroll*

    • There is a bit of a chicken and egg here.

      Has the GG only ever appointed a new PM when they win a plurality of votes and knowing this the prior PM resigns, or has the GG only been able to appoint a new PM because the prior PM has resigned. (Other than 1925).

      We've never really had to face a dispute over this. There has not been an occasion where the old PM (or premier as far as I'm aware) has NOT resigned and the GG went with a new PM.

      Frank Miller did not resign in 1985 and the LG allowed him to be defeated and then went with the Liberals. The Conservatives were pretty outraged by this at the time, but Ontarians were not.

      In 1925, King had fewer seats but the reality was that there was already a tacit agreement if not quite a coaltion with the Progressives so on the one hand, his lower seat count is misleading, and on the other hand, it was obvious Meighen could not have gotten the confidence of the House (as he didn't the next year).

    • Your assumed seat distribution is a bit, er… how shall I put this… "out there". If the Liberals and NDP do increase their seat count its going to be at the expense of Conservative seats. The Bloc might lose a few, but not half their Caucus.
      Today's Ekos seat projections are more realistic and allow for the same sort of analysis.
      Conservative 121
      Liberal 90
      NDP 39
      Bloc 53

  9. Memo to all pundits. PLEASE do the math before embarking on post-election coalition scenarios.

    If the CPC has a plurality but not a majority, then LIB+ NDP is enough to command 155 seats ONLY IF NDP>Bloc. That is, either BLOC+CPC>155 or LIB+NDP>155. Math does not allow both to happen.

    SO, if CPC>LIB, then the only way a LIB+NDP coalition can form a majority govt is if NDP is lots ahead of BLOC. I can't see that happening. It could happen, but I can't see how.

    • You don't need a majority of seats to form a government, you just need to be able to hold confidence. As long as they had the support of EITHER the BQ or the CPC on each confidence bill, you're ok

      • So, that puts us back in December 2008. You have NDP + LIB < CPC, so you need BLOC in order to maintain confidence. I, for one, don't think that is a terribly stable government.

        If LIB+NDP>155 then go nuts on a coalition. Just don't give me a rickety-slapped together with duct tape government.

        • Why is LIB+NDP requiring CPC or BQ support any less stable than CPC requiring LIB, NDP or BQ support? Unless you're arguing that the CPC would be irresponsible and refuse to make Parliament work unless they are the government? So why ought the Liberals and NDP be held to a higher standard? If they were to be knee-jerk assumed to vote against any CPC motion, we're in the same boat, where the government must enjoy the support of the BQ.

          • For one thing, the Cnservative have 3 parties to look to for a partner on any individual vote, whereas the Lib+NDP would only have 2 choices. Or to put it another way. 3 parties have to agree to topple the Cons. Only 2 parties would have to agree to topple the Lib-NDP.

          • Electoral theory tells us this is true. The specific positions of the parties suggest that may be otherwise (since it is probably easier for the Libs/NDP to get Bloc support than for the Conservatives to get NDP/Bloc support). We won't know for certain until/unless there is a Lib/NDP coalition minority government.

        • It was stable enough for Harper to keep confidence.

          The 2008 coalition was rickety-slapped together with duct tape government, for sure, but that doesn't mean it would always be.

          That was clearly Harper's point in his letter of 2004. There are other options.

          And you are assuming that a Liberal non-coalition government with guaranteed support from the NDP couldn't get support from the Conservatives on some measures, just as Harper has sometimes relied on the Liberals, sometimes the Bloc and sometimes the NDP to get through a confidence vote.

      • Here is a fun and mathematically consistent scenario. Imagine the LIBs kick butt and finish with 128 and NDP at 30. CPC gets 105 and BLOC gets 45. So, NDP+LIB>155>CPC+BLOC. BUT, CPC is incumbent government.

        What if CPC peels off 7 blue grits who don't like the idea of Jack Layton taking the helm of L'Esplanade Laurier (ie Dept of Finance) and offers them nice jobs in government, David Emerson style? Then we have:

        CPC 112 BLOC 45 LIB 121 NDP 30.

        CPC gets BLOC support for throne speech, continues as minority government.

        Ok, this is fanciful, but at least it is a mathematically consistent scenario.

        • Then we have a CPC + BQ coalition, formal or de facto. If LIB+NDP intend to form government, count on them to vote down every confidence motion, requiring a BQ confidence and supply agreement for the CPC.

  10. The worshipers of the Temple of Macleans' Bloggers, drinking each others' bathwater, once again don't let context get in the way of their hatred by including the full quote from Harper….''The verdict of public opinion was pretty clear, which is that losers don't get to form coalitions,''…

    • He (and you) conveniently ignored that when he hailed Netyhanhu from Israel last week – he of the 2nd place party in both votes and seats, that formed a "loser coalition" with smaller parties to prevent the Kadima Party from forming the government.

      I didnt hear him questioning the Israeli Pm's legitimacy at the time

      • Yup, Canadian and Israeli parliamentary systems are soooo similar. Please try again…

        • I think the point we were all trying to make is that one should not be making sweeping generalizations in politics if one does not expect to be taken to task for them.

          • "We" huh? From the person who doesn't like "sweeping generalizations"…

        • harper was clearly talking about only canada right. i mean don't let that he was in the UK distract from spewing the talking points.

    • He takes a specific incident at a specific time with a specific context and then makes it a general principle. That's where everyone who doesn't think whatever Harper says or does thinks he's wrong.

      Losers do get to form coalitions. Those losers do not. The verdict of public opinion was pretty clear about that coalition. It was pretty clear as well about David Peterson and King as well: we're ok with it.

    • A court of public opinion is not a court of law. The verdict of public opinion does not replace parliamentary democracy.

      • Duh….any more obvious statements?

  11. Anyone, including my dog, can govern if they have the confidence of the House. Of course the Liberals/NDP could do it if they could hold confidence. The question is whether they can win the blazing PR war that the Conservatives would launch (traitors! losers! socialists! sing the anthem!). Experience from last time suggests they cannot. Without public opinion the coalition would be mighty unstable, and there's no point in forming a coalition government without stability.

  12. I disagree with Apps' assessment of the 2008 result. Harper's minority government came out of the 2008 election with an increased share of the seats in Parliament. His legitimacy to govern was greater after the election than it was beforehand.

    It was only when he triggered a crisis by trying to force an unpalatable budget that his legitimacy to govern was called into question.

    In the hypothetical example where an upcoming election sees the Liberals and NDP gain seats at the expense of the Tories, but each fall short of defeating them outright, then yes, in that instance, given all that has transpired these past three years, Harper's government would certainly be susceptible to replacement by a coalition of his opponents.

    To Apps' comment about the coalition moving faeter, what possible grounds would there have been? The incumbent PM, particularly one with an increased plurality of seats, has every right to form a government until defeated in the House on a matter of confidence.

    • I think he meant that if this coalition had formed right after the election, i.e. did not pass the throne speech and Harper never got the confidence of the house and was never able to form a new government. Also important at that time would have been the fact that Dion had not resigned so there was clear leadership.

      That would certainly have been a more legitimate government than the rickety thing from November. Don't know if it would have been a good thing or accepted by Canadians then – no one does – but it would have been in a clearly stronger position than the desperate grab a few months later.

  13. We don't elect a party, nor do we elect a Prime Minister. We elect MPs on the theory that they have good judgement and our best interests at heart, and can therefore represent us in the nation's Parliament (yes, I know this theory has become a standing joke in recent decades. Blame societal ignorance and apathy for that; we can debate the causes of these two forms of malaise.)

    If MPs decide to band together in some unusual arrangement for the purpose of passing some particular legislation or even for the purpose of upholding a particular platform, that is up to them. The Prime Minister is designated by the Governor General, and should be the MP who has the confidence of the House. Whether that confidence comes from many parties or one is irrelevant; parties are not essential to our system of government (in fact I would prefer they did not exist at all).

    Of course, citizens should take all these possibilities into account when casting our vote. There should be no protesting, therefore, when one party uses the prospect of a coalition/merger between other parties to deter the public from voting for said parties.

    • "Whether that confidence comes from many parties or one is irrelevant;"

      It is relevant if you care about stability. And the GG should care about stability.

      "If MPs decide to band together in some unusual arrangement for the purpose of passing some particular legislation "

      Does it matter to you if said MPs explicitly campaigned only a few weeks before that they WOULDN'T band together in this way? You are right that MPs constitutionally can do whatever they want. But do you not recognize an implicit democratic deal between voters and their representatives to not flip-flop on a major commitment within weeks of the election? How is supporting such flipflops good for the morale of our democracy? Dion said no coalitions repeatedly when campaigning, then built one weeks later.

      To take a BC example, many here are a touch angry that the Premier said 'no HST' during the campaign, then immediately flip-flopped. Why the anger? He is certainly constitutionally and legally able to do the HST. The problem is with the democratic legitimacy of his actions. Same thing with Dion in 2008. No legal barrier to a coalition; big democratic problems though.

      • Wow, Gaunilon may not get Monty Python, but he certainly got this one right.

        For the past several elections, by any standard definition all of the federal parties have been losers. The very concept that a government has a strong mandate by receiving votes from barely 20% of eligible voters is idiotic. The combination of minority situations and falling voter turnout makes this very clear.

        There is no apparent end in sight to declining voter interest. Arguing whether Jack, Michael or Stephen is better is ridiculous; the consensus of Canadians is quite clear… they all suck. Moreover, falling turnouts is increasing the possibility of yet another party gaining some seats with a focused effort.

        The GG will of course have to consider precedent in deciding who gets the next opportunity after a PM resigns, but the reality is that any arrangement that leads to a positive confidence vote is better than the prospect of biannual elections.

        • Exactly.

          "The very concept that a government has a strong mandate by receiving votes from barely 20% of eligible voters is idiotic."

          I always think it's like two students looking at their term paper marks – 26% and 33% – and one of them exhilerated and claiming he's smart.

      • Question: is a minority government or a coalition government more stable? The British parliment fromed a coalition for stability, so why do you think the Canadian parties would do worse with a formal agreement than the bickering that's gone on for the last 6 years?

    • There should be no protesting, therefore, when one party uses the prospect of a coalition/merger between other parties to deter the public from voting for said parties.

      When you sell the prospect of a coalition or merger as armageddon, and the only way to prevent it is to vote for you, I'd say that's worth protesting.

      Otherwise, I agree.

    • "We don't elect a party, nor do we elect a Prime Minister."

      Except that most Canadians DO in practice vote based on party or leader preference. Laws and practices should reflect reality – and indeed they can in a flexible convention-based system like ours. When there is a disconnect between how the laws are applied, and how they are interpreted by the public, you will get governments that the public does not deem legitimate. The result will be chaos and division because a democracy is not just a collection of laws, it also includes an underlying civil society.

      • Strategic voting does not legitimize the stranglehold political parties have over the democratic process. Ever time you hear about "party discipline" that's a vote against political freedom.

      • The solution is to educate the public as to how our system of government works, not to contort the system of government to fit the mistaken perceptions of the public.

        • But the people are not mistaken. We govern parliament by evolving and sometime unwritten conventions, enabling our system of laws to change in a way legalistic systems (eg. the US) can only dream of.

      • No, there are many conventions in the Canadian system, although frankly it is bizarre for a Harper supporter to be falling back on the value of conventions. In any case, there is no convention associated with having the confidence of parliament. It is simply a question of counting votes.

    • "There should be no protesting, therefore, when one party uses the prospect of a coalition/merger between other parties to deter the public from voting for said parties."

      Unless that strategy involves misleading the public, i.e. saying that a coalition is illegal/a coup, which I seem to recall was the Conservative line in 2008. No matter how ill conceived one might think that coalition was, it was in no way illegal.

      And I think it's perfectly legitimate for potential coalition partners to counter anti-coalition strategies in whatever legal and honest ways they see fit – whether that's protesting online or IRL.

      Other than this point, I agree. I mean, you're pretty much just stating facts, but it's nice to see that some people still understand how our government works ; )

  14. The only reason we are having this discussion is because the Conservatives are trying to redefine the Westminster system of government to suit their short-term needs.

    The Conservatives' entrenched power base makes it very difficult for them to be unseated in an election, at least at present. However, there is a very real possibility that the Liberals and NDP, combined, could garner enough seats to command the confidence of the House, even if they finish second and third. This is the possibility that the Conservatives are trying to cut off at the knees.

    For those of you who are screaming that it would be unjust if the first-place Conservatives were to be shut out of government – it's worth remembering that the Liberals plus NDP have always commanded, together, a larger percentage of votes than the Conservatives have. A coalition Liberal-NDP government, if it were to become reality, would more closely reflect the wishes of the majority of Canadians than a Conservative government would.

    • "that it would be unjust"

      I don't argue that it is unjust. Just that it would be unstable.

      • The main reason it would be unstable would be because the Conservatives would launch an attack blitz against it, and would say whatever needed to be said to try to whip up a storm of anti-coalition public opinion.

        Recall 2008, when the Conservatives were talking about the proposed coalition as if it were a "coup" (not true) and saying that the Bloc were part of the coalition (again, technically, not true – the Bloc just agreed not to defeat the coalition in a confidence motion).

        Advocating a Conservative government on the grounds that it would be more stable would, to me, be rewarding bad behaviour. It's like telling children to hand over their lunch money to the school bully to ensure playground stability.

  15. There is one assumption you forgot .The Canadian people would not accept a coalition if Harper wins another minority and it is safe bet he will.conservative voters represent about 38% of the voters in Canada.the only poll that counts is voting day.The NDP can depend on 21% and with the Liberals in such bad shape give them an extra 5%.The rest of the voting federally would be split between the Liberals and the Bloc.Any working coalition would have to include the Bloc in some formal agreement which would force the coalition to be compromised at every turn.The Bloc will continue to be the stumbling Bloc and the once proud center right Liberal party is now as left as the NDP pushed by two NDP ex Premiers

    • If Mr. Harper and the Conservatives are re-elected to another minority government, does that not show a majority of Canadians want something different? Why would an agreement on areas of productivity make the government any more compromised that what we've had for the last 6 years? Every piece of legistation in that time has had to woo opposition votes. Have we gotten so used to rulers with absolute power that the need to compromise and work together on common interests is viewed as evil?

      If Conservative voters represent 38% of votes, then a coalition of everyone else would represent 62% of voters. If you don't like the Bloc's power of support for Quebec, I suggest starting your own regional interest party.

      • How would Canadians voting the same reflect that they wanted something different, exactly?

  16. @Dennis_F (and hollinm) – "…Clearly the misinformation campaign has had some effect, even on Kenney, which is why its perpetrators on here get so furious when I dare to point out the facts about that stupid letter in 2004. Nevertheless, politicians can't be as forthright and truthful as we can, right?"

    Well – what do you know. Now the Conservative boosters are complaining that THEIR disinformation campaign has misled one of their own – Jason Kenney!

    Sad really!
    Oh – is this the same Jason Kenney who only yesterday was praising Olivia Chow NDP MP and spouse of the great devil?

    Poor Jason – must be a candidate for the strait jacket – slipping off message like that!

  17. Stability should come from being able to prove you can pass legislation, not from the prediction of the governor-general.

  18. I remember back when Stephen Harper actually believed in things other than Stephen Harper.

  19. I have to say that I am surprised that, with all this talk about coalitions, that no one I have read has noted that our country was founded by a coalition government. And that it was called the Liberal-Conservatives.

    Times are different, for sure, but it's a bit sad that we have such short term memories and understandings of our own political history and culture.

    • I did raise the Great Coalition in 2008 when the legitimacy of coalitions was questionned. Also, that Churchill led a coalition government through the war years – and eventually was defeated by Attlee whom Churchill had named as deputy prime minister. It takes guts to put your country ahead of your personal interests. I mean courage. Harper has guts but not the courage to put his country ahead of his personal ambitions.

      • I would even question the assertion he has guts. What major policy risk has he taken?

        I know I am out of step with Harper's critics on this, but I think the biggest problem with Harper – aside from extreme and ruthless pork and partisanship and being such an easy big spender with our tax dollars and his tendency to oppose democracy – is that he's run a rather milquetoast government that hasn't even bothered to try to deal with any significant issues. It's all small potatoes or, as Andrew Coyne put it as far back as the 2006 election campaign, not policies but "policiettes".

        And we have need for big policies.

  20. In fact, the Liberals are closer to the CPC on many issues than they are to the NDP. Indeed, the most stable coalition of all of the various scenarios could well be a CPC-Liberal coalition.

    • That's probably true but it isn't like the NDP are all that far either.

      Get rid of some bank fees and they'll climb right on board!

    • After Harper's antics in the past few years, I can't imagine and of the other parties wanting to form a coalition with him.

  21. What would Mr. Harper's answer be if asked if the Israeli coalition government is legal? Just because you wouldn't do something doesn't make it wrong.

    Every elected MP is an election winner. Political parties do not get elected to office. If any group 153 MPs were to decide that they were elected to serve their consitutants as best as possible, they would form the legitmate government of Canada. Why discriminate because of political affiliation?

  22. I could go along with their colition if they run on that platform during the election. To ask people to vote for a party that that plans to change their party beliefs if not elected is a bit of a strech for me. It must be declared before the results not after! Then people can actually vote for a party that can form a legal government.

    • What about the UK?

      Cameron didn't just say he wouldn't join a coalition, he actively campaigned very very strongly against any kind of coalition government and said it would be detrimental to the interests of the country.

      • Wouldn't it have been preferable if Cameron had been clearer in advance about his negotiation stance. For instance he could say he had X Y and Z ironclad positions (eg. no Gordon Brown).