No coalition? Really?

How the Liberals should respond to the coalition bogeyman

Cherry-picking our friends at the Globe website:

Norman Spector points out that, when they’re not busy getting angry at Stephen Harper for accusing them of plotting a coalition, Liberals and their admirers keep pointing out that a coalition could be an excellent idea if it would keep Harper from a third quick little term as PM. This will, I am quite sure, be a repeating theme of the debate around Harper’s allegation: the same Liberals who will say, Perish the thought, are the ones whose caucus signed a unanimous letter supporting the idea. Watch what Liberals and assorted other critics of the Harper Conservatives write in the Globe’s op-ed columns during the last 10 days of an election campaign. I’m pretty sure it won’t all be variations on, “Boy, our side had better not form a coalition! That’d be sneaky.”

Rob Silver has been getting a lot of attention today for being the first prominent Liberal to attempt a strategic response to the Harper coalition attack: take the option off the table. The party with a plurality of seats after the next election, says Rob, should be the one that forms the government. Ignatieff should foreswear any attempt to ally with third parties to outnumber the Conservatives.


Let’s say, as a lot of people were assuming before the last half-dozen horse-race polls, the Conservatives lose a bunch of seats and the Liberals gain a bunch. That’s still a very real possibility. Now say it comes out 130 Conservatives, 125 Liberals, 35 New Democrats and 18 Bloquistes. (These are nearly random numbers. I don’t know what happened to the Bloc. It’s a thought experiment. Work with me.) How happy will Liberals be if Michael Ignatieff says, “Excellent news! Moving out of Stornaway was going to be a hassle anyway?”

I think something a little more sophisticated than, “Perish the thought!” had better start coming from the lips and pens of those who were eager to see Harper replaced by a coalition a year ago. (Incidentally I’m not sure Rob Silver falls into that category, but the gentle counsel to people who might want to copy his draft Ignatieff speech remains.) It’s pretty clear that, under some circumstances, an alliance of parties to replace the Harper Conservatives would be contemplated by members of those parties. They’re going to have to develop some kind of minimally consistent discourse about what those circumstances would be. Or Stephen Harper will fill that vacuum with bogeymen.

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