Harper’s hypocrisy on coalitions

By Dennis Gruending

Stephen Harper's 2004 letter to the Governor General of CanadaStephen Harper used the first days of the 2011 election campaign to demonize the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois as plotting a coalition to replace him following an election in which he might win the most seats but form a minority government. It was both a scare and a smear tactic meant to place the other parties on the defensive before he moved on to making his first policy announcement a tax cut for families that won’t come into effect for at least four years. The three political parties did get together late in 2009 with a plan to dump Harper’s minority government and to cooperate on replacing him. He saved his skin by convincing Governor-General Michaëlle Jean to shut down parliament for several months. Harper said then and says now that it somehow borders on treason for parties representing a majority of voters to attempt to replace a party that does not.

Of course, he plotted to do exactly the same thing in a parallel situation back in 2004. The Liberals under Paul Martin had been elected with a minority government in June of that year and Harper was leader of the opposition. By September, he had held discussions with Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe and NDP leader Jack Layton about circumstances under which they could cooperate to replace Martin. The three sent a letter to Governor-General Adrienne Clarksontelling her that they were prepared to take over from Martin if and when he fell. Sounds like a coalition to me. Clarkson made no public response. The three parties did combine forces to topple Martin later that year, as it was their democratic right to do in the parliamentary tradition. 

But in the midst of his attacks this week on the evils of coalition, Harper insisted that his case was different, that his was really not a coalition. I was seeking to put pressure on the government to influence its agenda without bringing it down, without defeating it and replacing it,” he said.

I’ll let you be the judge. Read the following letter authored by Harper and the two other leaders and ask yourself if what Harper was engaged in was not a coalition:


September 9, 2004
Her Excellency the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson
C.C., C.M.M., C.O.M., C.D.
Governor General
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A1


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 that, 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.

Hon. Stephen Harper, P.C., M.P.
Leader of the Opposition
Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada

Gilles Duceppe, M.P.
Leader of the Bloc Quebecois

Jack Layton, M.P.
Leader of the New Democratic Party


The issue really isn’t a coalition. Other governments around the world frequently govern in coalitions. It is entirely normal and not in the least bit scary or anti-democratic, as Harper contends. The issues are truth, respect and arrogance. Stephen Harper is not telling the truth on this one and he thinks that he can get away with the deception. He believes, as Preston Manning once said, that he is the smartest guy in the room. He does not respect your intelligence. 

After using the coalition scare in his opening salvo, he has now shifted to announcing policy. Let’s hope he stays there. If he returns to sowing fear about coalitions, you will smell the desperation. 



7 thoughts on “Harper’s hypocrisy on coalitions

  1. I have no problem with a coalition government and trust that if it is necessary, ie Harper wins a minority, that the other three parties will in fact form a coalition. Harper is bent on “taking us into the USA” figuratively if not literally. He is attempting to destroy everything that makes us Canadian and that we are proud of. This is not the Progressive Conservative Party of years gone by, this is a Republican North party. The strong economic recovery he is so proud of was the result of Paul Martin having the strength of character to hold out against the banks. Canadians owe him (Mr. Martin) a great deal for that.


  2. This is yet more evidence that Harper is not an ideologue (as is often claimed) but a nihilist whose ONLY belief is the will to power.


  3. My guess is that to obtain power all the parties, including the two who say they would not do a coalition, would engage in a coalition.

    Not being involved anywhere, I like to focus on strategy.

    An opinion is that the media paid just enough attention to the coalition to-and-fro to bore most of the public. It’s also possible that an issue where it appears that the pot is calling the kettle black feeds a negative stereotype of politics and people withdraw. That’s round one, and no one won that one. Most voters weren’t listening anyway.

    Each party had the chance to put out something the public would listen to. Harper seized the moment first with income splitting for families. The middle class likes planning and most are struggling, so income splitting’s appealing. The middle class and the growing number of the wealthy like tax cuts on principle. That’s what – 70 to 80% of the public outside Quebec?

    The Liberals and the NDP did not highlight how they would pay for their promises, thereby losing the attention of many who actually vote. Harper took the opening so kindly provided by the opposition and jumped in with his explanation (higher taxes). So ended round 2, with a win for Harper.

    Now we wait for round 3.


  4. If Mr. Harper remains as prime minister after the election, I suggest that the Liberals and NDP disband and form a Liberal Democrat party. Harper successfully did this with the Reform and Progressive Conservatives. With the LibDems on the left and Conservatives on the right [and Bloc unfortunately] the country would be back on a two party system. This is far from a new idea as M. Chretien and Mr. Broadbent floated the idea a few months ago and it seems to make abundant good sense.


  5. I am hoping for an NDP-Liberal coalition, that way the middle and the bottom class will know there is no one there who is on their side in the class struggle.


  6. Stephen Harper is very familar with creating coalitions since he achieved a coalition between the Alliance and the progressive conservative party therefore creating a Canada wide party. No wonder he is obsessed with the same thing happening between the Liberals and NDP.


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