The New Democrats will look to form a coalition government with the federal Liberals if it means ousting Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives from power, says a prominent NDP MP.
Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen said that while winning a majority in this fall’s federal election is still his party’s goal, ultimately the No. 1 priority is toppling the Tories.
“The Liberal voters that I know are as fed up with Stephen Harper as anybody,” said Cullen in an interview on Wednesday.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said Thursday from Amherstburg, Ont., that his party has always seen the defeat of the governing Conservatives as a priority. He said Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has always rejected any overtures.
Trudeau did that again on Thursday when asked in Winnipeg about a formal coalition with the New Democrats.
He said there are big differences between NDP and Liberal policies on everything from child care to income-tax reform to the rules for possible Quebec separatism.
Trudeau said he would co-operate with other parties on key legislation, but any formal coalition is out of the question.
The last time the idea of a coalition government was seriously floated was seven years ago, when the NDP, Liberals and Bloc Quebecois came together to force the government out of office.
Their efforts were thwarted when the Governor General, at the prime minister’s request, prorogued Parliament, effectively putting it on pause until the new year, by which time there had been a change in Liberal leadership.
Newly chosen Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff ultimately backed out of the proposed coalition by grudgingly supporting the Conservative budget, saving Harper from losing a confidence vote and being forced to call an election.
“I think the Liberals lost their nerve last time and made a huge mistake,” said Cullen.
“But Justin Trudeau will do himself a great deal of damage with progressive voters if he wants to contemplate more years of this Harper government.”
Coalition governments are relatively common in other parliamentary democracies, such as Germany, but they occur far less frequently in Canada, where the first-past-the-post electoral system favours the formation of majority governments.
Cullen said voters’ hunger for change would overcome any potential discomfort with the relatively unfamiliar political arrangement.
“Canadians are going to reward those parties that are willing to work with others and work on behalf of the country first,” he said. “Our eyes are focused on our opponents, and our opponent is Stephen Harper right now.”
Voters are expected to go to the polls on Oct. 19, as per Canada’s fixed-election-date law. However, nothing prevents the prime minister from asking the Governor General to dissolve Parliament and send Canadians to the polls earlier.