Fail Harper's coalition assertion: 'They tried it before'
By Keith Boag,
At the core of Stephen Harper's argument that the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc will form a coalition if the Conservatives win only a minority this election is his assertion that that is what they tried to do in 2008. In his words, "they tried it before."
There is a serious problem with that argument. It simply isn't true. The three parties did not try to form a coalition in 2008.
What really happened in 2008 began, just weeks after the election that year, with the Conservative's fall fiscal update. It contained a commitment to end public subsidies for political parties.
All parties get the subsidy, which is based on the votes they receive in the previous election, but ending it would hurt the opposition parties most and leave them severely weakened for elections to come.
It was such a threat to their viability that the opposition parties decided their only defense would be to defeat the government in the House of Commons.
Rather than force another election, though, the Liberals and the NDP decided to form a coalition to replace the government. They called it a co-operative government.
The leader would be Stephane Dion, who had just suffered one of the worst electoral defeats in his party's history.
He described the proposed government this way:"There will be a Liberal-led government, in collaboration with the New Democratic Party and with the support of the Bloc Quebecois."
Notice he spoke only about having "the support" of the Bloc Quebecois.
It is a vitally important distinction.
Clearly spelled out
In spite of what Conservatives said then and say now, the Bloc was never a part of the coalition government.
The evidence of that is plain. It is in the actual agreement called An Accord on a Co-operative Government to Address the Present Economic Crisis.
It is an agreement between the Liberals and NDP only. It does not include the Bloc. It also spells out that the cabinet will comprise 24 ministers, 18 from the Liberals and six from the NDP.
Again, no Bloc members.
It says "the two parties agree they will work together on a no surprises basis." Note: two parties, not three.
The only mention of the Bloc Quebecois is where the Liberals and NDP promise their government will consult on a permanent basis with the Bloc. Obviously, that promise to consult wouldn't be necessary if the Bloc were actually a part of the government. But all Duceppe was agreeing to was to support the coalition in Parliament for 18 months.
At the bottom of the agreement there is space for only two signatures: Dion's and Jack Layton's. Duceppe was not invited into the coalition and has consistently maintained he would never join a governing coalition.
But from the outset the Harper government has asserted that the Bloc would be part of the government.
An indignant Harper told the House of Commons on December 2, "Not a single member of this House, not even a member of the Bloc, received a mandate to have a government in which separatists would be part of the coalition."
That was no accidental slip of the tongue. It was deliberate and considered and the prime minister repeated it when he made a scripted TV address to the nation before proroguing Parliament to avoid defeat in the House.
"Let me be very clear," he said referring to the possibility of a coalition government, "Canada's government cannot enter into a power-sharing coalition with a separatist party."
That important little distortion of the truth was greatly aided by the coalition itself when it committed one of the all-time great communications blunders.
The three opposition leaders sat together in front of the television cameras and put their signatures to a document. It was a powerful image and has been repeatedly portrayed as the three leaders signing the accord to create the coalition.
It was not. But they should have known that was how it would look.
Supporting a government
What the three leaders signed was "A Policy Accord to Address the Economic Crisis."
It was an outline for a stimulus package to address the recession that had suddenly seized the global economy. A package that agreed on deficit spending, changes to bankruptcy laws, immigration reform and other things.
That accord was the basis upon which the Bloc agreed to support a Liberal-NDP government. It was necessary to have a document signed by the Bloc so that the coalition could prove to the Governor General, if necessary, that it had the support of a solid majority of MPs in the House of Commons.
Sure the Bloc supported a coalition government. But supporting a government is not the same thing as being in a government as the Conservatives well know.
After all, the Conservatives have enjoyed the support of the Bloc on many occasions, including to survive a confidence vote on their first budget in 2006.
Then, and many times subsequently, they have been happy to have the Bloc's votes.
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