Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said he would not attempt to form a government if another party won the most seats in the election and his party came in second place.
As part of The National's leaders' interviews series, Peter Mansbridge's full interview with Conservative Leader Stephen Harper will air at 9, 10 and 11 p.m. ET Thursday on CBC News Network, and is available on-demand on CBCNews.ca
In an exclusive interview with CBC’s Peter Mansbridge aired on Thursday afternoon, Harper said if Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff or NDP Leader Jack Layton won the election, but were unable to gain the confidence of the House, he would not attempt to try to take power.
"They will form the government," Harper said.
"I think if the other guys win, they get a shot at government, and I don’t think you challenge that unless you’re prepared to go back to the people."
Harper said he would reject an offer made by the Governor General to try to form a government
"So you’d say to the Governor General, 'No, I wouldn't do that?'" Mansbridge asked.
"Yeah, absolutely," he said, adding that people don't want another election.
Public 'would not buy' 2nd-place party governing
On the campaign trail, Harper has repeatedly warned that if his party fails to win a majority government, the opposition would work out an arrangement to take power.
But when Mansbridge pressed Harper on whether they have that right according to parliamentary rules, Harper said that’s a question of debate for constitutional law.
"I do think most Canadians would still be very surprised if they elected a Conservative minority and found out they had some completely different kind of government. I think that would be a big shock to people," Harper said.
"My view is that the people of Canada expect the party that wins the election to govern the country. I think anything else the public would not buy."
On Tuesday, Ignatieff told Mansbridge he would be willing to form a government according to parliamentary rules if Harper wins the most seats in the election but fails to win the confidence of the House of Commons.
"If the Governor General wants to call on other parties, or myself, for example, to try and form a government, then we try to form a government," Ignatieff said.
"That's exactly how the rules work, and what I'm trying to say to Canadians is, I understand the rules, I respect the rules, I will follow them to the letter and I'm not going to form a coalition. What I'm prepared to do is talk to Mr. Layton or Mr. Duceppe or even Mr. Harper and say, 'We have an issue, and here's the plan that I want to put before Parliament, this is the budget I would bring in,' and then we take it from there."
Harper again rejected accusations made by Layton and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe that he was prepared to seize power through a coalition agreement after coming second to Paul Martin's Liberals in 2004.
Duceppe and Layton have said that the three leaders got together and drafted a letter to tell then Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson that Harper was prepared to form a government if Martin lost the confidence of the House of Commons.
But Harper denied that was the intention of the letter.
"The option that I was talking about is that we were trying to influence the government's agenda, and if we want to defeat the government, we have to get our own mandate. I never suggested otherwise."
Harper addresses Carson letters
Earlier Thursday, Harper said correspondence between one of his staff members and the ethics commissioner in 2009 regarding a possible conflict of interest involving Bruce Carson demonstrated that his office follows conflict-of-interest rules.
Conservative campaign officials released two letters from 2009 late Wednesday indicating Harper's then top aide, Guy Giorno, contacted ethics commissioner Mary Dawson about Carson, a former adviser to Harper who has since been accused of unrelated lobbying violations.
The letters alerted the commissioner to a possible conflict of interest, the steps the Prime Minister's Office had taken to address it and outlined additional steps taken to remove Carson from potential conflict in the pre-budget process.
"I think what the correspondence shows is my office ensures at all times that conflict-of-interest rules are enforced," Harper said during a campaign stop in Conception Bay South, N.L.
"They were enforced in this case, the matter was satisfactorily resolved."
Harper didn't provide an answer when asked what he knew about the 2009 correspondence with the ethics commissioner
The Prime Minister's Office called in the Mounties last month to investigate allegations Carson may have illegally lobbied the government in 2010 on behalf of a water-filter company employing his girlfriend.
Carson, who had previously been convicted of unrelated fraud charges, said that he would take a leave of absence from his post as executive director of the Calgary-based Canada School of Energy and Environment while the RCMP probe was underway.
The research and educational organization announced Thursday the appointment of Richard Hyndman as the interim executive director, effective immediately. Carson was not mentioned in the news release.