Not any more

Don Martin: New Duceppe memoir icing on PM’s cake

In Canada on October 7, 2010 at 08:46

Stephen Harper has gleefully relished coalition-bashing from its inception, but to have Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe claim to be the concept’s mastermind is icing on the Prime Minister’s cake.

Mr. Harper surprisingly held his tongue in question period on Wednesday. His restraint won’t last, of course, even though the new and widely denied version of coalition events seems highly implausible.

Desperate for attention to mark 20 years of his party’s failed association with sovereignty, Mr. Duceppe hired a former journalist to endure extensive interviews before the leader’s polished answers were slapped into a vanity press paperback. 

He probably figured the media would focus on his advocacy of a Quebec military, or his claims that sovereignty’s winning conditions were being helped by Mr. Harper’s climate change inertia, securities commission plan and hawkish foreign policy.

But it was a few boastful paragraphs on Mr. Duceppe as the coalition’s catalyst and author of spending plans to help out the Liberals and New Democrats that understandably captivated reporters — and the Conservatives.

This was, after all, the first time the Bloc claimed to be anything more than a toxic stage presence during the coalition’s infamous contract signing ceremony, optics even Mr. Duceppe suggested at the time were horrible.

News that the coalition was incubating in Jack Layton’s mind weeks before Jim Flaherty’s provocative fiscal update, which ultimately brought the partnership to life, is not new.

That was acknowledged by a NDP campaign official who wrote a minute-by-minute account of the negotiations last spring, documenting its beginning as an hypothetical concept immediately after the 2008 election, to its death from the Conservatives’ emergency prorogation seven weeks later.

But there was no mention of the Bloc dictating policy, beyond requesting French language rights for federally regulated companies, which was ultimately rejected by the other partners.

Mr. Duceppe has never before disputed he was a casual bystander in coalition talks, which tells me he’s trying to rewrite history, embellishing his influence for the hometown crowd. But the truth matters not any longer.

Many, if not most, Conservatives are true believers in the need for their party to land a majority in the next election or risk a quick takedown by the terrible trio of opposition leaders. (Given Mr. Duceppe’s claim that Mr. Harper was negotiating with the Bloc to take down Paul Martin, one supposes the risk of Conservatives forming a coalition with other opposition parties after a Liberal minority victory is equally possible.)

Be it fact or fiction, Mr. Duceppe has heaped more coalition contamination on the Liberals, which will put Michael Ignatieff constantly on the defensive. That Mr. Ignatieff rejected the chance to revive the coalition and govern as Prime Minister following the 2009 prorogation will be forgotten amid accusations he’ll lead a coup d’etat at the first opportunity.

Ironically, as the second anniversary of the government’s death-defying act approaches, there’s plenty of insider opinion that Mr. Harper made the wrong call and should’ve let his government fall, the better for the coalition to botch it and clear the way for a Conservative landslide. I digress.

National Post

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