What was Stephen Harper thinking in 2004?

On September 9, 2004—two and a half months after that year’s federal election—Stephen Harper appeared at a news conference alongside Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe and NDP leader Jack Layton to announce what Mr. Harper would describe as a “co-opposition” agreement. The three presented a series of reforms intended to give the opposition parties more power in Parliament as Paul Martin prepared to lead Canada’s first minority government in more than two decades.

Mr. Harper, Mr. Duceppe and Mr. Layton had also sent a letter to the Governor General—Adrienne Clarkson at the time—to suggest that, should Mr. Martin seek to dissolve Parliament, she should “consult” with the three opposition leaders and consider her “options” before exercising her authority.

Below you will find an audio recording of that September 2004 news conference in its entirety.

At the 11:20 mark, the three opposition leaders are first asked to explain their request that the Governor General consult with them—specifically whether they are prepared to form a government.

Mr. Harper dismisses the question as “extremely hypothetical.” Mr. Duceppe says the three parties are not presently a coalition and will not form a coalition in the future. Mr. Layton, while suggesting it was unlikely such a thing would happen here, raises the Liberal-NDP accord that brought about a Liberal minority government in Ontario in the mid-1980s.

None of which would seem to fully explain what “options” the Governor General was supposed to consider. If Paul Martin were to seek the dissolution of Parliament—either after losing a vote in the House or simply at Mr. Martin’s behest—what could the Governor General have done but call for an election? More specifically, what would Mr. Harper have wanted her to do? If a coalition was not possible, could Mr. Harper have governed with some other kind of arrangement? Did he hope she might send Mr. Martin back to the House under some sort of order that he cooperate with the opposition parties?

It is perhaps academic now, six years later, but in light of the current rhetoric and debate, it seems worth exploring all the same.