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Ignatieff's 'no' on coalition is really a 'yes,' Tories say

Michael Ignatieff ruled out forming a coalition government, but the Conservatives still charge it is his hidden agenda. They're airing new ads attacking the Liberal Leader for plotting a "reckless coalition."

The major political parties are releasing campaign-style ads as they prepare for next week's resumption of Parliament - and the Liberals have an opportunity to defeat the government on Sept. 30.

And the government's fall could come even earlier, on a ways and means motion that implements Tory budget measures, including the popular home-renovation tax credit. The Canadian Press reported yesterday that the Conservatives intend to table that motion next Friday, which would set up a vote the next week.

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The latest Conservative ads, visually similar to previous attack ads aimed at Mr. Ignatieff, say he's doing whatever it takes to get power, and warn he plans a coalition that threatens the country's economic recovery.

"With so much at stake, can Canada really afford the uncertainty of a wasteful election, and the instability of a reckless coalition?" the ads state.

The ads, and continued accusations from Tory politicians, signalled the Conservatives will still try to make the coalition accusation stick - even though Mr. Ignatieff moved yesterday to rule out taking part in any coalition.

"The Liberal Party would not agree to a coalition. In January, we did not support a coalition. And we do not support a coalition today or tomorrow," he told reporters in Ottawa.

It was clearly an attempt to neutralize one of Mr. Harper's key political weapons before an election campaign. It was the Liberals who this week leaked a surreptitiously recorded video of Mr. Harper telling Conservatives in Sault Ste. Marie he would frame the campaign as a choice between a Conservative majority and a Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition.

Former Liberal leader Stéphane Dion mounted a bid last December to unseat Mr. Harper with a Liberal-NDP coalition government that would have been propped up in the Commons by the Bloc. But when Mr. Ignatieff took over, he chose not to defeat Mr. Harper's government on the January budget.

"I have a certain credibility on the coalition issue. I could be standing here as the prime minister of Canada. I turned it down. We turned it down in January," Mr. Ignatieff said yesteryday.

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But the Conservative ads use two items from before that vote to charge that he would form a coalition now.

The first is Mr. Ignatieff's signature, along with that of all Liberal MPs, on Mr. Dion's coalition agreement with the NDP - and the document that Mr. Ignatieff pointedly signed last, to signal he was cool to the idea. The Conservative ads make it sound like that document, from last December, is freshly inked:

"Just as Canada's economy is starting to recover, He's doing whatever it takes to get power, even signing the coalition pact with the Bloc Québécois and NDP," the narrator says.

But it also includes a clip from a press conference that Mr. Ignatieff gave after he took over the Liberal leadership last December, when he warned Mr. Harper he would defeat him and form a coalition if his budget did not include stimulus spending - an attitude that he summed up at the time as "a coalition if necessary but not necessarily a coalition."

"I'm prepared to form a coalition government. And to lead that government," Mr. Ignatieff says in the clip.

While both the Conservatives and Liberals are now airing ads designed to prepare the ground for an election campaign, a new series of government ads - paid for by taxpayers - appear to echo the anti-election lines that Conservative politicians have been using.

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Tories like Transport Minister John Baird have argued that an election would slow stimulus spending of infrastructure projects. The government's new taxpayer-funded $4.1-million TV ad campaign to tout the stimulus package - purchased in August - airs commercials that include the tag line: "We can't stop now."

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About the Author
Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More

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