OTTAWA — Michael Ignatieff is ruling out a coalition with the New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois — but Prime Minister Stephen Harper warns the Liberals are not to be trusted on the issue.
The Liberal leader says he’s open to working issue-by-issue with other parties if his party wins the May 2 election.
However, Ignatieff also says he’s “categorically” ruling out a coalition or even a formal arrangement with the Bloc.
“Whoever leads the party that wins the most seats on election day should be called on to form the government,” Ignatieff said in a statement.
“If that is the Liberal party, then I will be required to rapidly seek the confidence of the newly elected Parliament.
“If our government cannot win the support of the House, then Mr. Harper will be called on to form a government and face the same challenge. That is our Constitution. It is the law of the land.”
The statement from Ignatieff emerged from party headquarters about 30 minutes before the election date was even announced.
Later, Harper warned of an opposition coalition, dismissing Ignatieff’s statement and accusing the Liberals of harbouring a hidden agenda.
“Nobody’s going to be fooled,” Harper said in response to questions.
Ignatieff shot back later, in remarks outside the Peace Tower and surrounded by a handful of Liberals now in campaign mode.
“The Harper winter will soon be over,” he said, highlighting the fact the House of Commons found the Harper government “guilty” of contempt of Parliament in a historic vote Friday.
The Liberal leader repeated he will not form a coalition, pointing to the achievements of Lester Pearson’s minority Liberal government in the 1960s, which worked with other parties issue-by-issue rather than forming any coalition.
Ignatieff also moved to smother another Tory claim, saying that a Liberal government would improve social programs “without raising the taxes of Canadian families.” He did not rule out corporate tax hikes.
The coalition question has threatened to dog Ignatieff during the campaign as the Conservatives frequently raise the spectre of a cabal with the NDP and Bloc Quebecois.
The Tories have accused the Liberals of being in bed with the “socialists and separatists.”
Until Saturday morning’s statement, Ignatieff had been coy about a coalition. He dodged questions after the government fell Friday afternoon, repeating the line that Canadians have a choice between a “blue door” and a “red door” — a reference to the party colours of the Conservatives and Liberals.