The first draft


An inside account of two bewildering weeks in Ottawa—the product of more than a dozen interviews—is now online. It was jointly reported by John Geddes and I, with John ably handling the bulk of the writing duties.

There will no doubt be much more to learn and understand in the weeks, months and years to come, but I think—if I may so—we have produced a fairly complete recounting of who did what and when.

Several additional points that either didn’t make it into the magazine or need to be emphasized.

1. It seems that, contrary to some reports, there were efforts made to keep the three Liberal leadership candidates informed of the negotiations throughout the pivotal weekend. 

2. The emotional turning point arrived on Thursday, immediately after Jim Flaherty delivered the economic update. Very little actual discussion had taken place between the parties to that point, the subject of coalition was not raised when the Liberal caucus met that morning. But even if no one quite knew where things were headed, the rousing responses that followed Flaherty—and his disregard in choosing to leave the House without listening to them—seem to have prepared everyone for what came next. 

3. There is some reason to believe opposition MPs were being courted by the government. “I received a call at seven last night asking me to meet the PM alone at Langevin,” one MP told me last Wednesday. “I said no.”

4. According to one account there were two primary points of conflict during the coalition negotiations—the make-up of cabinet and the Bloc’s exact input on the coalition government’s agenda. A settlement was eventually reached on cabinet, as detailed in the magazine piece. Whatever the contentious aspects of what the Bloc was asking for—and that isn’t entirely clear—they seem to have been rebuffed.

5. By one account, the coalition plans were well-received by Liberal caucus when the deal was first presented two Mondays ago, including endorsements from all three leadership candidates.

6. The coalition, to repeat, is not dead. One reading of what’s to come. “If you look at the arc of the last federal election, where Mr. Harper’s anger machine and his communication machine also got off to a very strong start, time doesn’t seem to be the friend of the anger machine. They can create a pop of support, but in the election they weren’t able to sustain it, which is why they failed to win a majority government and why 62% of Canadians ultimately decided they didn’t support Mr. Harper. So I think there’s a possibility that that’s the way this is going to work out too. I think Canadians ultimately are not going to see themselves in this attempt to divide the country on language lines and, in their majority, are not going to see that as something that they want to see from the Canadian prime minister whose job is to keep the country together. I think the sort of ludicrous, over-the-top language about the agenda of the coalition government will melt in front of the patent reasonableness and prudence of the good people who have helped put it together. Mr. Blakeney is not an unreasonable and irresponsible person. Neither is Ralph Goodale. Neither is Ed Broadbent. Neither is Mr. Dion. And neither is Mr. Layton. They disagree with the government on how to address the economy and are putting forward an agenda that is much more in the mainstream of the G20 than what Mr. Harper would do left to his own devices. So I think, at the end of the day, we’re the mainstream and he is not. And we speak for the majority of the people of Canada and he does not. I think we take comfort in the early days polls from the fact that the same polls point out that overwhelming majorities of our own supporters support this coalition. So we start from a good place, which is that our own supporters are supportive of what we’re doing. And yeah, we have a job to do speaking to the public and we’re facing a very formidable adversary that’s very good at getting people angry, but at the end of the day I guess we’re going to hope that hope trumps fear.”

7. Even if the coalition is dead, this attempt might be remembered as a step forward. One more reading of what’s to come. “I think we’re not used to coalition governments. I think we do not have the sophistication, I think, to know how to do that adeptly. It’s going to have to be something that the Canadian parliamentary system is going to have to learn through experience. And yet, it will be the future. The days of just ongoing majority governments are not going to keep happening. So this is our first baptism in this new way in which there’s no longer just two parties anymore, or three parties. In this new way of the future, we have to develop the skill set as parliamentarians and as leaders that know how to work coalitions. I really believe that. I’ve talked to people from all parties. There’s a real desire to try to make parliament work. Sincerely so. But we do not know how to co-operate together because there aren’t mechanisms.”


The first draft

  1. Very good account. Thanks.

  2. Number six very closely sums up my feelings.

  3. Ah, thank you! This is the kind of thing I’ve been wanting!!

    You’ve packed in a lot of fascinating and heretofore unknown (to me) information of the behind the scenes goings on. This article is worth the subscription price right there. Way to go “making sense of it all!”

    But, could I suggest a more straight time-line kind of article for NEXT week, laying out the available choices each player had at every step? So we can learn how our Parliamentary democracy works in action, in reality, and in the current times. It’s quite obvious from the postings on the Macleans boards that we really don’t understand the workings of our own government.

  4. All I can say is more! I want more of this. Keep up the good work.

  5. Excellent stuff, Mr. Wherry.

    On the coalition. Even if if it is not dead, it has changed. Ignatieff’s ascension to the Liberal throne is an event that changes everything. Just days ago the calendar of politics had been snatched away from the coalition by a desperate Harper, who proved himself willing to risk constitutional crisis and national unity for the sake of power. At his first press conference, Ignatieff pushed open the narrow envelope of political time in which Harper had hoped to seal him. Now Ignatieff holds the prospect of a coalition over Harper’s head.

    But it is clear that the dynamic and purpose of a coalition has irrevocably changed. Quite simply, events have changed and as a result, today’s threat of a coalition is not the same beast as was envisaged mere days before. It is now Ignatieff’s coalition, not at all the NDP’s. It would be well for the NDP to take stock of this.

  6. This also means that in future elections there will be many questions asked of parties regarding coalitions. This will either be a great thing or a very, very annoying thing

  7. Thanks for this great work, Aaron. Only one question — Is there any way to enter into your history the grassroots organizing that resulted in three days of rallies across Canada in favour of the coalition? In most cities the turnout was higher, and more positively spirited, than for the Tories’ events. Those in the evening began outdoors with candles and indoors they featured speakers from all levels of government as well as unions and other local and community organizations. The coalition leaders addressed the rally on Parliament Hill on the 4th. Websites like makeparliamentwork.ca, 62percentmajority.ca and depatmentofculture.ca included education, posters, petitions, and opportunities for sending messages to MPs as well as follow-up photos and videos of the rallies. This strand of the story is still alive too.

  8. Can you tell us who said the long quote in your sixth point Aaron? I hope that’s what they are thinking, surely the Cons would love an election against the Coalition and their head in the sand view of Canada/ Canadians.

    I am sure the Cons would love to run against a Coalition that is trying to sell Layton as being reasonable and mainstream and taking a ‘nothing to see here folks, move along’ attitude towards the BQ.

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