Stephen Harper used the first days of the 2011 election campaign to demonize the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois as plotting a coalition to replace him following an election in which he might win the most seats but form a minority government. It was both a scare and a smear tactic meant to place the other parties on the defensive before he moved on to making his first policy announcement a tax cut for families that won’t come into effect for at least four years. The three political parties did get together late in 2009 with a plan to dump Harper’s minority government and to cooperate on replacing him. He saved his skin by convincing Governor-General MichaÃ«lle Jean to shut down parliament for several months. Harper said then and says now that it somehow borders on treason for parties representing a majority of voters to attempt to replace a party that does not.
Of course, he plotted to do exactly the same thing in a parallel situation back in 2004. The Liberals under Paul Martin had been elected with a minority government in June of that year and Harper was leader of the opposition. By September, he had held discussions with Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe and NDP leader Jack Layton about circumstances under which they could cooperate to replace Martin. The three sent a letter to Governor-General Adrienne Clarksontelling her that they were prepared to take over from Martin if and when he fell. Sounds like a coalition to me. Clarkson made no public response. The three parties did combine forces to topple Martin later that year, as it was their democratic right to do in the parliamentary tradition.
But in the midst of his attacks this week on the evils of coalition, Harper insisted that his case was different, that his was really not a coalition. “I was seeking to put pressure on the government to influence its agenda without bringing it down, without defeating it and replacing it,” he said.
I’ll let you be the judge. Read the following letter authored by Harper and the two other leaders and ask yourself if what Harper was engaged in was not a coalition:
September 9, 2004
Her Excellency the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson
C.C., C.M.M., C.O.M., C.D.
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A1
As leaders of the opposition parties, we are well aware that, given the Liberal minority government, you could be asked by the Prime Minister to dissolve the 38th Parliament at any time should the House of Commons fail to support some part of the government’s program.
We respectfully point out that the opposition parties, who together constitute a majority in the House, have been in close consultation. We believe that, should a request for dissolution arise this should give you cause, as constitutional practice has determined, to consult the opposition leaders and consider all of your options before exercising your constitutional authority.
Your attention to this matter is appreciated.
Hon. Stephen Harper, P.C., M.P.
Leader of the Opposition
Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada
Gilles Duceppe, M.P.
Leader of the Bloc Quebecois
Jack Layton, M.P.
Leader of the New Democratic Party
The issue really isn’t a coalition. Other governments around the world frequently govern in coalitions. It is entirely normal and not in the least bit scary or anti-democratic, as Harper contends. The issues are truth, respect and arrogance. Stephen Harper is not telling the truth on this one and he thinks that he can get away with the deception. He believes, as Preston Manning once said, that he is the smartest guy in the room. He does not respect your intelligence.
After using the coalition scare in his opening salvo, he has now shifted to announcing policy. Let’s hope he stays there. If he returns to sowing fear about coalitions, you will smell the desperation.