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Harper has no choice but 'to put water in his wine,' Ignatieff says

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and his wife Zsuzsanna Zsohar arrive in Saint John on April 20, 2011.


Michael Ignatieff says a re-elected Conservative minority would face a "new world" after voters cast their ballots on May 2.

The Liberal Leader argues that whoever leads a minority government will have to show far more compromise than the Conservative approach to governing over the past five years.

Rather than back away from his comments Tuesday that the Liberals could form government after May 2 even if they don't win the most seats, Mr. Ignatieff went on the attack over Conservative Leader Stephen Harper's latest comments on minority government.

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Mr. Ignatieff's approach indicates he wants Canadians to be well aware that a Liberal government could still be possible if the Conservatives win a minority at the polls but fail to win support for a budget and Throne Speech in the House of Commons.

When asked Wednesday if a re-elected minority Conservative government would temper its budget and Throne Speech to win opposition support, Mr. Harper replied that he didn't accept the premise of the question. He suggested compromise would be pointless, because the other parties have already decided they will defeat him.

"There are few remarks that illustrate more clearly the difference between him and me than that one," said Mr. Ignatieff. "Who does he think he is? This is a parliamentary system. If he comes back and has more seats and has to present a budget to the House of Commons, what does he think he is, the king here? Of course he has to put water in his wine. We all have to put water in our wine, provided you don't sacrifice basic fiscal responsibility to the country, provided you don't sacrifice basic principle."

Mr. Ignatieff said Mr. Harper continues to display an "arrogant" approach to Parliament, which is why Canadians are now in the midst of a federal election campaign.

"It's my way or the highway the whole time. Well, welcome back to a new world after May 2 were he to be in a minority situation," he said. "He has an obligation to present a budget that has the confidence of the House of Commons and I have the same obligation."

Mr. Ignatieff was speaking to the national media for the first time since he outlined in detail Tuesday how the Liberals could form government even if the party fails to win the most seats. The Liberal Leader initially appeared to be playing down the issue.

He began by noting that he was simply stating the constitutional rules of Parliament, as he has since the first day of the campaign. He also spoke about his announcement of the day - an open letter to Conservative leader Stephen Harper asking him to explain past comments about private health care.

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However as his daily question-and-answer session with reporters was winding down, Mr. Ignatieff suddenly became animated when asked about Mr. Harper's comments earlier in the day.

"He must show a spirit of compromise," Mr. Ignatieff said. "That's parliamentary democracy. It's completely arrogant to say the opposite. ... There's a clear division between our positions. I'm ready to work in Parliament in an atmosphere of respect, and he's saying: 'my way or the highway.'"

Mr. Ignatieff said Tuesday that if a Conservative minority is defeated in Parliament, the Governor-General will have the option of asking another party if it can win the confidence of the House of Commons.

While procedurally sound, it is a scenario that is virtually unheard of in Canadian history - largely because minority Parliaments are relatively rare. However Canada has now had minority governments since 2004 and it appears the parties currently in opposition are prepared to test those constitutional provisions.

As a general rule, politicians tend to avoid responding to hypothetical scenarios. However Mr. Ignatieff said Wednesday he feels it's important to lay them out before Canadians. "My obligation is to talk about these hypothetical [scenarios]for a single reason," he said, "and that's to give Canadians a clear choice."

With a report from John Ibbitson in Rivière-du-Loup, Que.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More

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