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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Iggy quietly against NDP/Bloc deal?

Interesting theory...
John Ivison: Coalition success may ride on Ignatieff, and he isn't game
November 30, 2008, 10:34 PM

Liberal leadership candidate Michael Ignatieff is unlikely to support the coalition deal being negotiated by lame duck leader Stéphane Dion - a decision that would doom the opposition parties attempt to bring down the government next week in a vote of no-confidence in the House of Commons.

A person close to Mr. Ignatieff said that any deal with the Bloc Québécois and NDP struck by Mr. Dion would be a “poison chalice” for the next leader. He said that Mr. Ignatieff has the support of more than 50 of the 77 Liberal MPs, so the success or failure of a coalition proposition will depend on how the leadership candidate views any deal.

Although Mr. Ignatieff has publicly maintained the official Liberal line that the government should fall over its handling of the economy, his supporters say any coalition deal with the left-wing NDP and separatist Bloc is fraught with risk. It would only take nine Liberals to be absent from the House next Monday for the government to survive and the source said he fully expects a number of no-shows.

Liberal attempts to reach a deal with the NDP face a number of hurdles, not least of which is the New Democrats’ insistence on a senior economic portfolio such as industry for leader Jack Layton. The Liberals are equally determined that those economic jobs should be held exclusively by them. But one senior Grit confided that the internal leadership dynamic creates even bigger obstacles to an agreement than negotiations with the New Democrats.

The source in the Ignatieff camp said Mr. Dion is making all the running on coalition talks with the NDP and the Bloc Québécois, and is not consulting with leadership candidates, Mr. Ignatieff, Bob Rae or Dominic LeBlanc.

“Dion is like Frankenstein’s monster - he’s on the slab and just had a jolt of life injected into him. He’s going full tilt ahead with this coalition but his caucus isn’t going with him,” the source said.

Mr. Ignatieff’s supporters are aware that a coalition would be shaky, and probably short-lived. The Conservatives opened their war-room yesterday, just in case the country is plunged into an election next week, and are already preparing to hammer the Liberals for striking a deal with the sovereigntist Bloc.

“Ignatieff knows he will probably be leader next May, so why not do it cleanly and properly? What’s in it for him to be part of this power grab?” asked one Conservative, who said he was also hearing from sources that Mr. Ignatieff does not want to be part of any deal.

Despite the increased likelihood that the government will survive the confidence vote, the coming week is still likely to be full of high drama.

Yesterday, the government continued its attempts to remove the irritants that provoked the crisis. The proposed ban on strikes for the public service was ditched, following the remarkable u-turn on the public funding of political parties issue on Saturday. Jim Flaherty, the Finance Minister, said yesterday that he will bring down a Budget on January 27, although he stopped short of promising the kind of stimulus package the opposition parties have been demanding.

Scott Brison, the Liberal finance critic, said that the government’s moves mean nothing. “We can’t trust anything this government says anymore. We have no faith in this Prime Minister,” he said.

The Conservatives hope that the focus of media coverage will now shift to the potential coalition partners and what the some Tories have been calling their “coup d’état”. The allegation that NDP leader Jack Layton and the Blco Québécois’ Gilles Duceppe held conversations about a coalition long before the current crisis offered the Conservatives the chance to hit back after days of being pounded over the political funding issue. They charged that the confidence vote is not about the handling of the economy or the government’s fall update, “[It] is merely a trigger to execute a long-standing secret deal between the NDP and the Quebec separatists.”

The Conservatives have alleged that the moves by the opposition parties to offer themselves up to the Governor-General as a viable alternative, should the government fall, are undemocratic. However, the Liberals retaliated by saying that Mr. Harper, Mr. Layton and Mr. Duceppe presented precisely the same proposal to former Governor-General, Adrienne Clarkson, in 2005.

The only certainty amidst the drama is that Stephen Harper has been wounded by his miscalculation. His reputation for strategic brilliance is in tatters and many Conservatives have started speculating about leadership challenges. An unoffical website called Conservatives for Jim Prentice sprung up yesterday, pointing out that Mr. Prentice has invited his opposition critics to join him at the U.N.’s global climate-change talks taking place next week in Poland. “If the government had acted more like this, while still advancing the Conservative agenda in a less agressive way, we might not be staring into the abyss,” wrote the anonymous supporter of the Environment Minister.

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