Michael Ignatieff says Stephen Harper has some explaining to do about what he was doing in a hotel room with "Jack and Gilles."
The Liberal Leader, meeting with reporters Sunday, was referring to the coalition controversy that has dominated the first two days of the federal election campaign. He was trying to turn the tables on the Conservative Leader, poking fun at what he sees as Mr. Harper's hypocrisy.
The Conservative Leader, campaigning in the Toronto suburb of Brampton Sunday, accused Mr. Ignatieff of lusting for power - suggesting that given the very first opportunity he would try to form a coalition government with NDP Leader Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe of the separatist Bloc Québécois.
Mr. Ignatieff fired back that the coalition issue is now Mr. Harper's problem, not his. "I don't go to hotel rooms with Jack and Gilles," Mr. Ignatieff said. "I was very clear right out of the gate. We're ruling out a coalition."
The quip was in reference to the events of 2004 when Mr. Harper, who was then leader of the official opposition, met with Mr. Duceppe and Mr. Layton in a hotel room to hash the details of their parties working together against Paul Martin's minority Liberal government.
Mr. Duceppe has accused Mr. Harper of lying outright about trying to form an opposition coalition against Mr. Martin.
"When Mr. Harper says the party that finishes second can't be prime minister, he's lying," the Bloc Leader said on the campaign trail Sunday. "When he says it's anti-democratic, it's the opposite of what he wrote in 2004. He's trying to build his majority on a lie."
The Liberal Leader agrees. "Look, the person who has got a problem with the coalition is Stephen Harper," the Liberal Leader said. "The reason that Mr. Harper keeps waving this coalition stuff around is so that he doesn't have to defend his choices."
Mr. Ignatieff may have a point. The Conservative efforts at keeping the idea of a Liberal, NDP and separatist Bloc coalition alive has distracted from other campaign issues, including the ethical troubles facing the Tories. As well, the Liberals want to get out their message about the billions of dollars being spent on new fighter jets, prisons and the tax break to big corporations.
In fact, Mr. Ignatieff was forced to issue a press release Saturday to clarify his position on the matter. He had stumbled badly Friday in a news conference just after the government was defeated, not able to clearly explain himself on the issue.
In his statement, he said that whoever leads the party "that wins the most seats on election day should be called on to form the government." And he ruled out forming a coalition with "other federalist parties" as well as with the Bloc.
"Yes, yes, I am excluding coalitions," he said when asked for about the third time in his press conference Sunday. "And I've put it writing. It can't be clearer."