MSM: Opposition sets coalition terms

Dion would become prime minister until May, when his successor would take over; NDP pledges to support Liberals for 30 months, Bloc pledges 18 months.
The leaders of the three opposition parties presented their plan to topple Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s minority government at a press conference in Ottawa late Monday afternoon. The leaders of the Liberal Party, the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Québécois publicly signed a coaltion accord and sent a letter to Governor-General Michaëlle Jean saying the opposition has lost confidence in the Conservatives.

The proposed coalition government between the Liberals and the New Democratic Party would last until June of 2011, but the Bloc is only pledging support for 18 months.

Under the plan, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion would become prime minister until May, when his successor would take over.

“Canadians elected 308 members of Parliament in October, not just Stephen Harper,” Mr. Dion told a news conference with NDP Leader Jack Layton and Bloc chief Gilles Duceppe. “We are ready to form a new government that will address the best interests of the people instead of plunging Canadians into another election.”

The coalition accord stipulates that the prime minister and finance minister would be Liberals, with six of 24 cabinet positions filled by New Democrats.

Earlier Monday, the three candidates running for the Liberal leadership emerged from a closed-door caucus meeting to endorse Mr. Dion as head of the proposed coalition government, which they said would pour billions of dollars into the economy.

Standing side-by-side, Michael Ignatieff, Bob Rae and Dominic LeBlanc made clear they see no scenario in which the Conservative minority can remain in power. “There’s no turning back,” Mr. Rae said.

The three Liberal leadership candidates said there is no deal to place them in cabinet, but Mr. LeBlanc and Mr. Rae noted there are several precedents for sitting cabinet ministers vying for the leadership.

“I support the accord because it’s fiscally responsible, it provides responsible economic leadership in tough times and it also conserves the basic principles of national unity, equality, that our party has always believed in,” Mr. Ignatieff said. “We are at one, the three of us, that the only person that can lead the country is the duly elected leader of the party, Mr. Stéphane Dion.”

Liberal MP Martha Hall Findlay said that even if the Conservatives put forward an economic-stimulus package now, it would have no credibility and the opposition would reject it.

Only minutes later, in Question Period, Mr. Dion demanded Prime Minister Stephen Harper provide an opportunity for the opposition to vote no-confidence in his government.

Mr. Harper replied that it is the Liberal Leader, not he, who is playing political games.

“I think he’s about to play the biggest political game in Canadian history,” the Prime Minister said, adding that he would not want to have to govern the country in hard times while being beholden to socialists and separatists, referring to the NDP and the Bloc Québécois.

The coaltion deal includes a multibillion-dollar stimulus package for the troubled economy. Liberal MP John McCallum said the stimulus plan under consideration could include cheques for Canadian households as well as infrastructure spending and aid for the forestry and manufacturing sectors.

“One could do more there,” he said of infrastructure. “Clearly there are difficulties in the manufacturing and forestry sectors. Clearly there is the possibility of money for individual Canadians.”

Mr. McCallum also noted that a Liberal-led government would run a short-term deficit but be determined to balance the budget as quickly as possible.

Opposition sources said the goal of the opposition’s letter to the Governor-General is to inform Ms. Jean that a viable alternative to the current government exists within the current Parliament.

Mr. Harper has raised doubts about the legitimacy of a coalition government, and is expected to urge Ms. Jean to call an election in the event of a defeat in the House.

The opposition letter, in that context, is designed to persuade Ms. Jean to reject the Tory push to send Canada to the polls for a second time in three months.

“She has to be ready to say ‘no’ to Mr. Harper’s request to call an election,” an opposition strategist said. “We want to demonstrate that the new Prime Minister would have the confidence of the House.”

On Friday, Mr. Harper went before television cameras to slam a potential Dion-led government as illegitimate because he lost the Oct. 14 election.

But the Liberals and NDP said those arguments were undercut by Mr. Harper’s 2004 letter to then-governor-general Adrienne Clarkson, which requested that she turn to him if Paul Martin’s newly elected government were defeated in the Commons.

“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,” the 2004 letter stated.

The Liberals and NDP reached their deal to bring down the Conservative government over the weekend. The two parties held emergency caucus meetings Monday to lay out the plan under which the Tories would lose power to Canada’s first coalition government in 91 years.

Those meetings took place against the backdrop of frantic efforts to avert the downfall of the Conservatives, who announced they will withdraw measures that would have banned civil-service strikes for three years and eliminated the $1.95-a-vote subsidy for political parties, which the opposition relies on.

The Tories also unveiled a surreptitiously recorded tape of a New Democratic Party caucus meeting, alleging it showed a long-existing cabal with the Bloc Québécois to defeat the government — and there were rumours that as a last resort, Mr. Harper might seek to prorogue Parliament, ending the session to avoid defeat in the Commons.

With reports from Brian Laghi, Daniel Leblanc and The Canadian Press


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