Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Deception, thy name is Harper

  • Print

Tom Flanagan, Stephen Harper's former campaign manager and chief of staff, has confirmed the prime minister himself had a plan to form what he now demonizes as "a coalition of losers" and take power without an election in September 2004.

Harper's "co-opposition accord" was "a perfectly legitimate exercise" to explore whether there was "common ground for the Conservatives to undertake a minority government," Flanagan told The National Post Monday.

Now that "the Conservative-socialist-separatist coalition" is on the official record, it should haunt the prime minister. It exposes to Canadians the man's disquieting traits: his intellectual dishonesty, his vindictiveness, his preference for personal destruction and the low blow and his disrespect for British parliamentary democracy whose tenets he uses when it suits him and abuses or tosses out when it doesn't.

The letter itself was unprecedented. It presumed to lecture then-Gov.-Gen. Adrienne Clarkson on her constitutional role and responsibilities in a minority situation before the duly-elected government had even met Parliament, let alone fallen on a confidence vote. The letter, signed by Harper, Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe and NDP Leader Jack Layton, had a mildly threatening tone:

"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 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."

Yet here was the same Harper in Brampton Sunday: "If we don't win a stable majority (Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff) believes he can get a mandate from the NDP and the Bloc Québécois even if he didn't win the election."

On Saturday, Duceppe flatly accused Harper of lying when he denied he had any intention of forming a coalition in 2004. The BQ leader said the Montreal meeting was Harper's idea, he issued the invites and he drove the agenda.

"We were called to that meeting by Stephen Harper, Jack Layton and myself," Duceppe said. "It was a very important meeting, one of the most important meetings I have had with respect to parliamentary democracy... We changed most of the rules of the house that day... We changed the way opposition days would work like the one that took place yesterday and allowed us to have that non-confidence vote... We decided as a majority that these were the new rules and (then-prime minister Paul) Martin agreed. He didn't have a choice. If there's no election, the other option is to have another prime minister. When (Harper) says that the person who does not win the election cannot become the PM, well, he wrote exactly the opposite on this paper. He lied this morning. He lied... If he says that's undemocratic, well, that's exactly what he was asking for. So let's not play games with history. He has to assume what he did in the past."

On Sunday, Layton confirmed Duceppe's comments. "What Mr. Harper was intending to do, it's absolutely crystal clear to me, was to attempt to become prime minister even though he had not received the most seats in the House," he said. "And that letter was designed to illustrate that such an option is legitimate in Canadian constitutional traditions and there was no question about it."

This country stands alone among parliamentary democracies in its antipathy to coalitions. Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand have coalition governments, as do most European democracies and Israel. Multi-party governments are more democratic as they share power more widely and equitably among a nation's citizens and regions.

Canadians' antipathy towards coalition governments may stem from the non-stop slop-over of American politics with its cut-and-dried separation of powers. But Canadian unity might be a lot less fragile if it had had more coalition governments. Certainly Canada's regional solitudes would not be nearly as impenetrable and divisive.

Harper knows the most likely election result is another Conservative minority. Will he finally work co-operatively and respectfully with Parliament? Or will he force Canada into its fifth election in seven years?


Frances Russell is a Winnipeg author and political commentator.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 30, 2011 A12

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Donny 'Golden Boy' Lalonde returns home

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A goose comes in for a landing Thursday morning through heavy fog on near Hyw 59 just north of Winnipeg - Day 17 Of Joe Bryksa’s 30 day goose challenge - May 24, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • MIKE.DEAL@FREEPRESS.MB.CA 110621 - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 -  Doug Chorney, president Keystone Agricultural Producers flight over South Western Manitoba to check on the condition of farming fields. MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

View More Gallery Photos


What should the new royal baby be named?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google