Perhaps the most surprising thing about the reckless way Prime Minister Stephen Harper all but dared his opponents to form a coalition—providing them a catalyst for colluding and ample grounds for arguing their plan is legitimate—is that he has clearly thought through coalition scenarios in the past.
The fact that he contemplated forming a coalition of some sort with the NDP and Bloc in 2004 is now beyond dispute: along with Gilles Duceppe and Jack Layton, he put it in writing. But there is also no doubt that he worried about the prospect of a Liberal/NDP/Bloc coalition much more recently, during the fall election campaign.
About one week before the Oct. 14 vote, a change of tone took hold in Harper’s campaign rhetoric. Stéphane Dion’s campaign, after being written off by many early on, was showing signs of life in the stretch run. On the hustings in British Columbia, Harper suddenly seemed to sense danger, and he turned up the rhetorical intensity a few notches.
At a new conference in Victoria on Oct. 8, he caught reporters off guard by presenting the hypothesis that Stéphane Dion might actually become prime minister, but not necessarily in the usual way. “If you get Prime Minister Dion either directly or by the opposition parties helping him take power,” Harper said, “…interest rates are going to be going up.”
Leaving that interest rates warning aside, clearly Harper was thinking about something like the scenario we now face. Which makes it all the more surprising that he allowed it, or even caused it, to unfold. If he hadn’t really considered this possibility, he’d might seem less culpable. But since he demonstrably saw in various contexts how a coalition might emerge, his strategic blunder appears all the worse, and the damage to his reputation as a parliamentary strategist that much more severe.