Stephen Harper’s constitution

Peter Mansbridge interviewed Stephen Harper today—on a hockey rink no less—and, as expected, the conversation turned to the spectre of opposition parties uniting in some way to defeat the sitting government and form a new government.

Here is the exchange that follows Mr. Harper’s insistence that, short of a Conservative majority, the “other guys” would try to form government.

Mansbridge: But they have the absolute right to do that, do they not?

Harper: Well, we can have a constitutional, theoretical discussion. I think it’s important the people of Canadian understand these are the choices. Becuase I do think most Canadians would still be very surprised if they elected a Conservative minority and found out they had some completely different kind of government. I think that would be a big shock to people. I don’t think…

Mansbridge: But they would have that right.

Harper: I don’t think people know where such a government would lead. You know, we can point to tax increases they all agree on, a few other things, the reopening the constitution…

Mansbridge: No, I appreciate all that, but they have that right.

Harper: Well, that’s a question, a debate of constitutional law. My view is that the people of Canada expect the party that wins the election to govern the country. And that’s what I think people expect. And I think anything else, the public will not buy. That’s my personal view. 

Mansbridge: Well, they bought it in Ontario in ’85, when the second-place party formed with the third-place party and became government. When the first-place party didn’t win the confidence of the House.

Harper: Well, Peter, we shall see. I think you’ve got an unusual situation here that such a government would rely on the Bloc Quebecois, which is a party dedicated to the break-up of the party, in order to govern. And you’d be effectively in a position where instead of the party winning the election governing, the Bloc is effectively picking the government, which I think is enormously problematic for the country down the road.

Mansbridge: What if the situation was reversed and Mr. Ignatieff or Mr. Layton was in first place, with the most seats.

Harper: They will form the government.

Mansbridge: They will form the government?

Harper: Yes. 

Mansbridge: And they…

Harper: I shouldn’t speculate on that because I’m in this to win and I think we’re going to win.

Mansbridge: No, I appreciate that, but you’ve raised the issue of the hypothetical situation so that’s one as well. Whichever of those two parties does not gain the confidence of the House, the Governor General comes to you, because that’s the way it has to happen, and says, ‘Mr. Harper, the second place party, the first place party couldn’t achieve the confidence of the House, I’d like you to try.’

Harper: Well, look, I think if the other guys win, they get a shot at government. And I don’t think you challenge that unless you’re prepared to go back to the people. And I think one of the reasons…

Mansbridge: So you would say no to that?

Harper: Yeah. I think one of the reasons…

Mansbridge: You’d say to the Governor General…

Harper: Yeah, absolutely.

Mansbridge: … ‘No, I wouldn’t do that.’

Harper: No, because I think one of the reasons, people don’t want another election. That’s another thing about this whole discussion…

Mansbridge: No, but that would be a way of preventing another election.

Harper: … These guys throwing up these scenarios. Where the party may win, but ‘we’re not going to let the government govern.’ We’ll be into another election before too long. That’s why I think we need a majority mandate. I think this has gone on long enough. I think we’ve got a good record, so we’re obviously appealing to the people to get behind us and let’s move the country forward. We have some pretty important economic challenges that remain in the world and this country. And I don’t think we can afford to continue to go around in circles like this, with any kind of minority.

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