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Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff speaks on Parliament Hill on March 26, 2011, on Day 1 of the May 2 federal election campaign.

BLAIR GABLE/The Canadian Press

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff launched his campaign for the May 2 election Saturday by ruling out forming a coalition government - an issue that had threatened to dog him during the campaign - and by attacking Conservative Leader Stephen Harper's approach to governing.

The party that wins the most seats on election day will form the government, Mr. Ignatieff said in a statement issued just minutes before the election date was announced.

The Liberals will not seek to govern with the support of the other two parties if Mr. Harper wins another minority. Mr. Ignatieff also said in his statement he will not ask the NDP or the Bloc to serve in his government, if he is asked to form one.

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"We will face Parliament with exactly the same team, platform and agenda that we bring to Canadians during this election. What Canadians see in this campaign is what Canadians will get if we are asked to form government.

"I didn't want to spend 36 days (the length of the campaign) with any ambiguity," Mr. Ignatieff added later Saturday as he stood before the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill, surrounded by several Liberals.

"This is an election about democracy. I feel I owe it to the Canadian people to be perfectly clear so they know what they're doing when they vote for the Liberal party."

Mr. Ignatieff was asked repeatedly about the coalition issue during the campaign opening on Parliament Hill but focused a large portion of his remarks on his differences with Mr. Harper.

"The Harper Winter will soon be over," he vowed.

"For the first time in our history, a prime minister was found guilty by the House of Commons of contempt for our parliamentary institutions and that's why we're having an election.

"We will be asking Canadians to choose between a prime minister that shows scant respect for our institutions and a Liberal team that believes profoundly that the first thing you expect of a government is respect for democratic principles."

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Earlier Saturday, Mr. Harper opened his party's campaign by attacking his political rivals for toppling his government and accused them of plotting to form a coalition to replace him - which he said would be a danger to the economy and the country.

"Let me be perfectly clear: unless Canadians elect a stable national majority government, Michael Ignatieff will form a coalition with the NDP and Bloc Québécois," he said.

"Imagine a coalition of arch-centralists and Quebec sovereigntists trying to work together. The only thing they'll be able to agree on is to spend more money and to raise taxes to pay for it."

Mr. Ignatieff rejected that argument, saying he is offering Canadians "a Liberal government and not a coalition government."

The Liberal Leader had fumbled Friday - just after the government was defeated - when asked about the coalition issue when he attempted to dodge the coalition question.

The Conservatives attacked him for his evasive answers.

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The Liberals tried to get ahead of the issue Saturday, releasing the statement even before the writ was dropped:

"Whoever leads the party that wins the most seats on election day should be called on to form the government," Mr. Ignatieff said. "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."

He also described coalitions as "a legitimate constitutional option," but vowed to work with other parties on an issue-by-issue basis.

He then tried to turn the tables on Stephen Harper, asking him why he insists on "fabricating lies about an impending coalition, something he knows is false?"

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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