Many fathers

Gilles Duceppe has apparently stepped forward to claim some authorship of the December 2008 coalition accord.

He claims firstly that Jack Layton approached him with some notion of cooperation three weeks before Jim Flaherty tabled the government’s fiscal update. That would place this meeting sometime around the first week of November 2008.

This might be the first time such a conversation—though suspicions were raised in this regard after the Conservatives released tape of an NDP conference call—has been confirmed by one of the participants. But as John Geddes and I reported two years ago, NDP strategist Brian Topp had been sent to broach the subject with Liberal Senator David Smith just days after the October 2008 election. That discussion does not seem to have immediately resulted in much, but that some degree of discussion took place before the government’s fiscal update has long been a matter of public record.

Going back to the 2004 election, the NDP had an internal “scenarios committee” charged with considering the options for post-election cooperation. Those considerations, as it has been related to me, covered the possibilities of working with both the Liberals and Conservatives. Specifically in 2008, the NDP looked at both the Liberal and Conservative platforms for areas that might overlap with their own agenda.

(Mr. Layton raised some of those issues, I’m told, in a meeting with the Prime Minister on November 13, 2008. The agenda Mr. Layton described then has been described to me as “not dissimilar” to what would come to be the coalition’s policy accord. The resulting conversation has been described to me as “frosty.” Mr. Harper met as well with Mr. Duceppe and Stephane Dion before Parliament resumed that fall.)

Mr. Duceppe further claims to have essentially brought Mr. Dion and Mr. Layton together in the wake of Mr. Flahety’s fiscal update, delivered on the afternoon of Thursday, November 27. Sorting out who called who and in what order perhaps borders on the trivial, but it would appear, at the very least, that Mr. Layton was well ahead of Mr. Duceppe in this regard. Indeed, Mr. Layton seems to have e-mailed Mr. Topp at precisely 8:14am the morning before Mr. Flaherty’s announcement—with one of the more controversial elements of that update already known—to say he would be setting up a meeting with Mr. Dion.

Finally, Mr. Duceppe claims to have had significant influence on the coalition’s policy agenda. As John and I described, there were various subcommittees from all sides meeting to discuss various matters that weekend. A full accounting of each conversation of significance is perhaps impossible, but delegations from the NDP and Liberals seem to have met on Sunday afternoon to discuss policy. In terms of that meeting, the NDP tabled its proposal first, then departed to allow the Liberals to review that proposal and prepare a counter. When the meeting resumed, there were a few hours of negotiation and then, as I understand it, a policy accord was presented to the Bloc that evening.

The resulting agreement, essentially completed that night, is here. The Bloc Quebecois election platform is here. How those two agendas compare is yours to debate.

A comprehensive accounting of that week, and everything that led up to it, remains to be written. For now, there is what John and I wrote at the time and what Brian Topp has written (also here) from his perspective. Make of all it—it being a fairly fascinating series of events, however we ultimately understand those events to have unfolded—what you will.

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