Ignatieff swears off coalition

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff chose a symbollic location for his first campaign remarks, standing with Liberal candidates in front of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill.
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff stands with Liberal candidates as he launches his campaign on Paliament Hill, March 26, 2011. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff started the first official day of the campaign by ruling out a coalition government with other parties, while trying to strike a contrast between his party and the Conservatives.

He was joined by a small group of Liberal candidates as he made his opening remarks of the campaign in front of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill Saturday.

"Today is a beautiful spring day, a little chilly, but you can feel spring is coming. The Harper winter will soon be over," Ignatieff said.

The setting for his remarks was symbolic and deliberate.

"We're here in front of a symbol of our democracy. And we're here to start our campaign … because yesterday in this place behind us for the first time in our history, a prime minister was found guilty by the House of Commons of contempt for our parliamentary institutions, and that's why we're having an election," Ignatieff said.

Ignatieff said the election is about contrasts.

He lashed out at Conservative policies on fighter jets, corporate tax cuts and prisons, a trio of items voters can expect to hear repeatedly through the Liberal campaign. Ignatieff said he'll raise corporate tax rates back up to 18 per cent, the level prior to a January cut.

"That rate is already competitive on a global scale," he said, adding the party would use the money to pay down the deficit, fund support for family care givers and put cash into education and training.

"That is our choice and it makes a clear contrast with the current government which wants to give goodies to the corporations, buy $30-billion in fighter jets and build prisons that will cost billions of dollars. We will not increase taxes for ordinary Canadians," Ignatieff said.

The Liberals said they were launching two TV election campaign ads. The English ad, beginning Saturday, compares the Conservative priorities of fighter jets, corporate tax cuts and personal attacks with the Liberal's focus on pensions, health care and jobs.

The French ad, set to launch Sunday, has Ignatieff talking about his "love" for Quebec and its people, the Liberals said.

Rules out coalition

Earlier in the day, Ignatieff moved to pre-empt further questions from the media — and criticism by Conservative Leader Stephen Harper — over whether he would seek a coalition with the NDP and Bloc Québécois, by releasing a written statement about 45 minutes before his campaign kick off on Parliament Hill.

"We will not enter a coalition with other federalist parties," Ignatieff said in the statement. "In our system, coalitions are a legitimate constitutional option. However, I believe that issue-by-issue collaboration with other parties is the best way for minority Parliaments to function."

"We categorically rule out a coalition or formal arrangement with the Bloc Québécois."

Ignatieff said if Canada faces a minority parliament after the election, he'll work issue by issue with other parties.

The Conservatives have tried to frame the opposition parties as part of a coalition, seizing on public reaction to the Liberal and NDP coalition attempt in 2008.

That coalition would have been supported by the Bloc Québécois, a factor that many Canadians found distasteful. Ignatieff, NDP Leader Jack Layton and Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe have all been asked whether they would try once again to form a coalition government, but Ignatieff had so far dodged the question.

In a minority government situation, Canada's constitution allows for the leader of the Official Opposition to form a coalition with other opposition parties if the party with the most MPs loses the confidence of the House of Commons.

Ordinary Canadians Liberal priority

At a rally in downtown Ottawa Saturday afternoon, Ignatieff took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves and told the overflowing crowd that Canadians long for decent, honest government.

"We've got the priorities of ordinary, hardworking Canadians," Ignatieff said. "We've got to know in this election who we serve. And you know the answer. It's your neighbour. It's your friend. It's your mom. It's your dad. It's the Canadian people."

Ignatieff also held a conference call with candidates across the country. Saturday night he will head to Montreal.