The voice is soothing, but the words aren’t clear

March 31st, 2011

When Jack and Gilles (Layton and Duceppe, respectively) lined up to support Stéphane Dion for Prime Minister in 2008, Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament. Until now, it was seemingly the closest that Canada has come to forming a coalition government. In the first week of the current campaign, Harper has been focusing much attention on the idea of coalition and how awful it might be for the country, most recently at a stop in Halifax, NS. (A recent post discusses why Ignatieff might regret scoffing at the coalition option so early in the campaign.) Harper has every right to do this, but he also has the obligation to be truthful, which he has not.

As a CBS news report last Tuesday succinctly explained, the Bloc would not have been in government had Dion become Prime Minister. There would have been a cabinet of 24 members, 18 from the Liberals and six from the ranks of the NDP. Of course, the image presented to the public in a show of opposition unity was the three leaders (Dion, Layton and Duceppe) signing an agreement, but this was not an agreement for government. The only item signed by the three, including Duceppe, was a program for an economic stimulus package. A different draft agreement for government was signed by Dion and Layton, and not by Duceppe. Let’s be clear: Duceppe or any other Bloquiste would not have had a seat at cabinet and had only agreed to bring down the Harper government, not to become part of a new one. As I mentioned before, it makes no sense for the Bloc to formally become a part of the state from which it is trying to detach itself.

But Harper is presenting the 2008 tri-party agreement as one through which the Bloc would have become part of government. In doing so, he is attempting to justify the prorogation of Parliament that year by saying that he could not let separatists get into power in Ottawa. That might be a legitimate argument if it was ever true, but it never was and most likely never will be.

The sooner this historical revisionism is shown up for what it is, the sooner the country can have a good debate on possible coalitions, past, present and future.