Ignatieff on the coalition and the legitimacy of his leadership

'I would not go into coalition agreements with the Bloc Québécois, period'

Ignatieff on the coalition and the legitimacy of his leadership

Q: You have defended the coalition and the association of the Liberal party with the Bloc by arguing that they’re legitimately elected parliamentarians and, while you might not like what they represent, you respect the fact that they represent a particular constituency in Quebec. Would you enter into a coalition or a similar agreement with the Bloc again?

A: My sense is I’m strongly disposed against it, but I don’t know what situations I’m going to face in the future. I thought it was legitimate to conclude an agreement because I said at the time—and have said since—I didn’t believe it would compromise the national unity of my country, and that was the bottom line for me and for every MP in my party. We’ve all learned a lesson about coalition. One of the things I took away from the experience is it awoke particularly strong feeling in the West. I’m in this country to unite Canadians, not divide them, and I took the messages from the West very seriously. There was a genuine feeling of anger on that issue, and we all have to learn from that.

Q: But the coalition wasn’t a mistake?

A: No, I’ve said that I think the coalition was not a mistake because it showed that if you messed with Parliament, Parliament would turn around and bite you and force you to take measures which this government should have taken in late November.

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Q: So a coalition with the Bloc again, if circumstances present, is a possibility?

A: I’ve made it very clear that I have deep difficulty with the very possibility. What I said is that in a future in which there is a possibility of minority governments, I would not exclude making arrangements or agreements, public, transparent agreements, with other parties that will allow me to govern. But notice I did not use the word “coalition.”

Q: I’m not clear what you’re ruling out.

A: I think it’s very difficult for me to do a deal with the Bloc. But let’s be clear why: it’s not because I doubt the good faith of Mr. Duceppe or his capacity to carry out his word. My issue is that they have different strategic objectives.

Q: But you won’t rule it out categorically.

A: I am telling you I would not go into coalition agreements with the Bloc Québécois, period. That rules it out. In a situation of minority Parliaments, Canadians have to get used to the idea that it is responsible for political leaders to envisage the possibility of creating agreements or accords or political arrangements to govern in order to secure stable government, but not with the Bloc.

Q: We’ve got a stable minority Parliament for the foreseeable future. Why not submit to a conventional leadership selection process to legitimize your position as leader of the Liberal party?

A: Well, the competitors for this job withdrew.

Q: So would you invite them to come back?

A: They’ve withdrawn, and so we are where we are. I’m not going to tell them what to do. They’ve rallied to my leadership in a very positive and helpful way, and so we’re working together every day.

Q: You haven’t come up through the ranks of the party in the conventional way. You were parachuted into a safe riding without a nomination fight. Do you not think it would help to establish you as leader if you paid your dues and went through a process like that?

A: I think I’ve paid a fair bit of dues. I’ve worked day and night for the party for three years. The question implies I kind of arranged this transition. It happened because Stephen Harper launched us into a constitutional crisis—not of my making—which required the leadership of our party to take some difficult and tough decisions, and for my rivals to make very difficult decisions—which I strongly admire—and I’ve said I welcome review and ratification of my leadership in May. I’m travelling the country constantly to sit in rooms with the rank and file to take their questions, to respond and react. This is a rank-and-file party and I can’t be a good leader unless I’m listening to them at every step of the way, and at the same time rebuilding this party as a mass-based party. I know I’ve got a lot of work to do.

Q: But were the government to fall and were you asked to form a government tomorrow, you would be coming into the office without having won a conventional leadership race, and effectively getting the leadership through a backroom deal, without having even been elected to the position.

A: Sorry, what backroom deal are we talking about?

Q: It wasn’t a conventional leadership conference.

A: It followed all the constitutional procedures for the party.

Q: I’m not arguing that. You don’t see an absence of democratic legitimacy to it?

A: Well, as I say, we’re going to have a convention in May, we’re going to have a great convention, the rank and file are going to get a chance to ratify my leadership. I have to prove my spurs to that leadership every day to the caucus, and I sit there in front of 250 people with my sleeves rolled up taking questions from anybody, and that’s the way I propose to lead. I’m aware that I have to win my spurs with my party, that I’m very aware of, and so we’re working hard on that.