Only minutes into the election campaign—shortly after voting to topple the government on Friday—Michael Ignatieff emerged from the House of Commons to take questions from reporters for the second time in two days. Unsurprisingly for everyone but Ignatieff, reporters were still grasping for clarity on his stance on a hypothetical coalition with the NDP, supported by the Bloc. Ignatieff eventually gave a concrete answer—after having two years as Liberal leader to come up with it—and the answer was a definite no.
Ignatieff, of course, isn’t the only one talking about a coalition—in fact, he’d certainly prefer not to. But Stephen Harper can’t stop from talking about it, using the word “coalition” in his speeches the way some speakers use the word “um” or “the.” The ever-helpful NDP leader Jack Layton continues to say that, if asked, the NDP are still totally open to that coalition idea, and Gilles Duceppe spent the weekend telling all and sundry that as far as Harper and coalitions go, the leader doth protest too much.
Given that Toronto was always the core of support for the idea of a coalition back in late 2008, all of this talk is more than just another example of Harper’s national fear-mongering—it might be a subtle message to cleave the Toronto vote neatly between downtown and the suburbs. Now where have we seen that before?
As issues go, the coalition has the virtue of being anything a voter wants it to be, largely because it exists only in people’s heads: for the downtown youth, academics and otherwise uncertain lefties, the coalition is a mark of parliamentary maturity and political cooperation that Ottawa sorely needs. For Ford country—those ridings that the Tories have in their sights—it’s a sign of how the grasping opposition parties will stop at nothing to force their carbon-tax-streetcars-and-bike-lanes platform down voters’ throats. “Coalition,” like “the war on the car,” is rarely seen outside of the game preserves of newspaper columns, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great wedge issue for the Tories. If only it were a more interesting one—or even slightly relevant.
If this is what Battleground Toronto is going to mean, this election can be fought in Calgary.