MONTREAL — If the proposed coalition of opposition parties had come to power last year it would have deeply and enduringly divided Canadians, says Michael Ignatieff.
In Montreal on Sunday to promote his most recent book, the federal Liberal leader also said the coalition came at a time when the party's right to govern would have been called into question after one of the worst election results in its history.
The party lost 19 seats and captured just 26 per cent of the vote in last October's federal election.
"I'm in politics to unify people, not to divide them," Ignatieff said.
"There was also a question concerning the legitimacy of the coalition that troubled me."
Ignatieff felt that Canada, entering into a severe economic recession, needed more certainty than the coalition could provide, comparing the tentative deal to an unstable three-legged stool.
"I felt it was very difficult to guarantee the necessary political stability during a time of crisis with three partners in a formal coalition," he said.
"That was my first doubt. I couldn't guarantee the long-term stability of the coalition under the circumstances."
As Blogging Horse notes:
...things Ignatieff used to say about the coalition he now derides:
“I think the thing that the Canadian people…have to understand is that the coalition agreement does not jeopardize the national unity of our country. No Liberal, certainly not me with would ever sign into any agreement that jeopardized the national unity of the country, that compromises the national authority of the government or sets in place unequal treatment of provinces." – Michael Ignatieff, "Mike Duffy Live", 5 December 2008
“I support the [Coalition] 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.” – Michael Ignatieff
In fact, Ignatieff was so opposed to the coalition accord he now considers more divisive than Stephen Harper, that he was only willing to sign a petition to the Governor General in favour of it...
Despite what Ignatieff was saying publicly back then, it was obvious to astute observers that he considered the coalition a non-starter. As Jack Layton put it when Ignatieff supported the Cons' budget, "Mr Ignatieff has chosen to form a new coalition with Mr Harper."
Of course, the idea that the coalition would have shattered Canadian unity is just a strawman for the politics behind the situation. The Liberals weren't ready for an election. Ignatieff would have been loathe to share power with other coalition leaders when he had just grabbed the brass ring of leadership. The Liberal party had to revamp its platform - a task it still hasn't completed. Perhaps Ignatieff should have spent less time writing a new book about his personal life and more focused on what he's supposed to be doing as leader.
The Liberal party is expected to bring out its' new and improved policies in June - a time when the Canadian public will be more focused on the last days of school and the coming days of summer. As former White House chief of staff Andrew Card said of announcing the drumbeats of war against Iraq in September, 2002, "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August." And this session of parliament will likely end with the Dhalla Nannygate scandal hanging in the air over whatever the Liberals might wish to do policy-wise.
For some unknown reason, Michael Ignatieff decided this was a good time to throw his political allies in the Bloc and NDP under the bus by backing off his previously stated support of the coalition - an idea that had broad support across Canada during very turbulent times. He might want to spend some time with a political consultant or two in between book tour appearances to learn a bit about how to win friends and influence people.