OTTAWA — Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is vowing not to form any coalition with the NDP or Bloc Quebecois — a move aimed at reassuring voters wary of another opposition pact as an election looms.
He’s also dismissing Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s warning that the Conservatives need a majority to stop the Liberals from forming a coalition with the “socialists and separatists.”
“Let me be very clear. The Liberal party would not agree to a coalition,” Ignatieff said Friday. “We do not support a coalition today or tomorrow.”
He made the statement as the country stands poised for a possible election just a year after the last one.
Ignatieff announced last week that we will no longer prop up the minority Conservative government, which could fall as early as next week unless the NDP or Bloc vote to keep it alive.
Conservatives blithely ignored Ignatieff’s promise, insisting that he is still refusing to rule out a coalition.
They argue he can’t be believed, noting that his predecessor, Stephane Dion, and NDP Leader Jack Layton ruled out a coalition during last fall’s election campaign. Less than two months later, the two forged a coalition pact, propped up by the Bloc Quebecois, to topple Harper.
Harper’s office circulated quotes Friday that Ignatieff made shortly after he became leader last December, in which he affirmed he was “prepared to form a coalition government and to lead that government.”
But Ignatieff pointed out that he killed the coalition idea when he decided to support the government’s recession budget in January.
“I have a certain credibility on the coalition issue. I could be standing here as the prime minister of Canada (but) I turned it down,” he said.
Ignatieff accused Harper of treating “political adversaries as enemies” and promised a better approach.
If he found himself at the helm of a minority government, he said, he’d reach out to other parties and find ways to make Parliament productive and stable, as former Liberal prime ministers Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau did without forming coalitions.
The Liberal leader bolstered his argument that Harper can’t be trusted to work with opposition parties by releasing an independent cost analysis of a Liberal plan to enhance employment insurance.
The report by the parliamentary budget office pegs the Liberal plan at $1.15 billion — far less than the $4 billion claimed by the Tories.
The budget office analysis was conducted at the request of the Liberals, after the Tories refused to consider Ignatieff’s proposal for single national EI eligibility threshold. They dismissed the idea as unaffordable.
But in the analysis, the budget office calls the government calculations “flawed” and “overstated.” It says a more “reasonable” estimate is about one quarter the Tories’ price tag.
Currently, there are 58 different thresholds for qualifying for EI benefits across the country, ranging from 420 to 700 hours of work depending on local unemployment rates.
Ignatieff wants to set a single national requirement of 360 hours of work.
As part of an eleventh-hour deal to avert a summer election, Ignatieff and Harper agreed last June to set up a bipartisan working group to explore the Liberal proposal and other possible EI reforms. But the group quickly became mired in squabbling and produced no results.
The Liberals finally walked away from the negotiations last week, shortly after Ignatieff denounced the talks as a “charade” and declared that Liberals will try to topple Harper’s minority government at the earliest opportunity.
The government, which made no detailed proposals throughout the summer-long negotiations, has since announced it will introduce EI reforms to help long-tenured workers as soon as Parliament resumes next week.