Two questions remain for Stephen Harper to answer. But to this and this and this, you can add what Jack Layton wrote five years ago. In Chapter 9 of Speaking Out Louder—published in 2006—Jack Layton detailed the aftermath of the 2004 election from his perspective.
After meeting first with Paul Martin—and finding little room for cooperation—Mr. Layton met with Mr. Harper and Mr. Duceppe. Below, a few excerpts concerning those discussions.
One of the realities of minority government is that if one side isn’t interested in working with you, other arrangements are possible. I began to think about a new and different approach. Specifically, what could happen if the three Opposition parties co-operated and came up with some reforms and initiatives and then brought them to the floor of the House for action? Through a series of exploratory individual conversations, then brief joint meetings, which included tabling of proposals, Stephen Harper, Gilles Duceppe, and I were moving toward an agreement to bring forward changes to the House of Commons rules to increase the impact of all Opposition parties in the decision-making process…
The “Three Amigos” as the media dubbed us, worked on other reforms as well. Gilles Duceppe wanted all the changes we had agreed upon to be put forward in an amendment to the Speech from the Throne. As the most experienced Opposition leader, he clearly wanted to move into the driver’s seat, and successfully did so for the first couple of meetings. Forcing the Liberals to accept our recommendations as an amendment to the speech from the throne amounted to a game of parliamentary “chicken.” If the government refused, Mr. Duceppe pointed out, the three parties had enough votes to ensure its defeat. Waiting outside Mr. Harper’s office for our meeting to begin, I asked Mr. Duceppe what he thought would happen if the prime minister refused to accept such an ultimatum. He replied that a government defeat so soon after a general election meant the Governor General would then have to turn “to one of us” to form a government. We both knew that meant Stephen Harper and his Conservatives. I asked Mr. Duceppe if he could accept such an eventuality. He was not only clear that he could, but he would.
Stephen Harper, while less inclined to brinksmanship, nevertheless warmed to the seduction of Mr. Duceppe’s strategy. Under this scenario, Mr. Harper would become prime minister in an informal alliance with the Bloc. Unthinkable? Not to either Mr. Harper or Mr. Duceppe. The Bloc leader was willing to strategize for Mr. Harper to become prime minister, despite the Conservatives’ many negative policies—policies completely contrary to the desires and values of most Quebecers. While shocked, I could not say I was surprised. Mr. Duceppe and the Bloc would have been key players in any Harper coalition, demanding significant dismantling of our collective capacities as Canadians as the price for his support. That dismantling was something that would coincide nicely with Mr. Harper’s ideological and visceral distate for any federal government oversight or ability to intervene in any social or economic programs administered by the provinces but utilizing federal tax dollars.
Realizing immediately the full magnitude of what was at stake, I knew I had to walk away. I was not about to participate in any scheme cooked up by the Bloc and the Conservatives that would put the country in the hands of Stephen Harper. It was clear from the election results just three months earlier that Canadians were not ready to elect Mr. Harper as prime minister. In fact, judging from the results, Canadians were not particularly keen on any one of us being in control. None of the four parties in the House had succeeded in receiving the support of even two of every five voters. My decision made, I informed the other Opposition party leaders that I was withdrawing from the talks. The Three Amigos were down to two.
The other two Opposition parties made it clear that, with my withdrawal, the NDP had lost any bargaining leverage. But, as it turned out, the NDP proposals were included in the package of amendments. It’s just that we didn’t secure any credit for the effort. So be it.
In my judgment, shared by the NDP caucus, it was far more important to respect the wishes of Canadians. Namely, that the minority House constructed by the voters in that peculiar collective wisdom that unfolded on election day be respected and given a chance to show what it could do. And it was even more important that my party not participate in any plot to turn over the country to a difficult and potentially devastating marriage of the Conservatives and the Bloc.
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