In Britain to visit the new coalition prime minister, Stephen Harper offers his interpretation of what the Westminster system, and our democracies, do and do not allow.
Terry, first of all, obviously you’re asking I think more about Canada than Britain, but I think the debate, you know, David and I were discussing this, and I think the debate in Britain on this was instructive. As you know, there was an interesting period of a few days and people discussed the various constitutional questions that were involved, the various constitutional options, but I think in the end the verdict of public opinion was pretty clear, which is that losers don’t get to form coalitions. Winners are the ones who form governments, and obviously David was able to form an innovative arrangement to give Britain…you know, I suspect the kind of arrangement it needs to deal with the kind of budgetary challenges that face the country. But I say, in the end the coalition in Britain – I think it’s important to point out – was formed by the party that won the election, and I think that’s very important. And of course, this coalition in Britain, I would note, doesn’t contain a party dedicated to the breakup of the country. And these were, as you know, the two problems in Canada. The proposition by my opposition was to form a coalition for the purpose of excluding the party that won the election, and for the purpose of including the party dedicated to the breakup of the country. So I think this is obviously a very situation, but I do think it does have some instructive lessons for Canada.
This interpretation is complicated somewhat by actual events.
First, the Liberal-Democrats, the third-place party after Britain’s last election, openly negotiated with Labour, the incumbent party that had finished second—negotiations that fell apart, it seems, because of differences between the parties, not primarily because of some sense of what was constitutionally proper.
Second, there is the small matter of the letter Stephen Harper, as opposition leader, signed alongside the leaders of the NDP and Bloc Quebecois in 2004, humbly advising the Governor General that the three parties had been in “close consultation” and should the prime minister of the day ask her to dissolve parliament, she should “consult the opposition leaders and consider all of your options before exercising your constitutional authority.”