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Michael Ignatieff responds Stephen Harper's musings about the Liberal Leader resurrecting a coalition during a Montreal news conference on Sept. 10, 2009.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Stephen Harper must relish it: his own argument that the opposition harbours a hidden agenda. And to dismiss Mr. Harper's accusation that he's plotting to seize power in a coalition, Michael Ignatieff insisted he turned down the prime minister's chair.

A PM accuses rivals of hidden plot in video of Mr. Harper speaking to Conservatives at a fundraiser last week in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., shows the Prime Minister calling for a majority government, and promising to teach a lesson to Liberals who are secretly planning a coalition with "socialists and separatists."

That election-campaign preview is combined with some more unguarded partisan moments, including one where he charges that if the Liberals were still in power, they would be appointing more "left-wing ideologues" to the courts and federal agencies.

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Mr. Ignatieff said it showed a typically hidden side of the Prime Minister. "There have always been two Harpers. The real Harper always comes out when he thinks he can't be heard," he said.

Mr. Harper's claim of a Liberal hidden agenda is a twist that must seem delicious to a politician who struggled in opposition to fend off Liberal charges that he harboured a far-right hidden agenda. In his speech, he frames the next election, which could be triggered this fall, as a choice between a Tory majority or opposition coalition. "Let me be clear about this: we need to win a majority in the next election campaign," Mr. Harper said.

"I am not just saying that because we need a few more seats: you saw what happened last year. Do not be fooled for a moment. If we do not get a majority, the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc Québécois will combine and they will form a government. They will deny this till they are blue in the face in an election campaign, but I guarantee it, if we do not win a majority, this country will have a Liberal government propped up by the socialists and the separatists."

It's not clear whether Mr. Harper will be able to tie Mr. Ignatieff to former Liberal leader Stéphane Dion's efforts last December to form a coalition with the NDP, backed in the Commons by the Bloc.

Mr. Ignatieff was always cool to the coalition, and when he became Liberal Leader, he scuttled it and declined to defeat Mr. Harper on his January budget. "I could have been standing here as prime minister of Canada, but I turned it down," he said in Montreal.

Mr. Harper's speech was recorded by a Liberal who was invited to the fundraiser and bought a ticket, according to the Liberals, who provided the tape to the CBC. Mr. Harper also blasted the opposition for blocking the Tories' desire to abolish the long-gun registry.

Mr. Harper's effort to raise coalition fears could hurt his 10 Quebec MPs, because Quebeckers resented his blasts last December about "separatists" propping up a coalition.

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NDP deputy leader Tom Mulcair said Mr. Harper's comments were evidence of why he's not been trusted with a majority: demonizing those who disagree with him, and attacking the credibility of Canada's judges.

In the speech, Mr. Harper invites listeners to envision the Liberals still in office. "Imagine how many left-wing ideologues they would be putting in the courts, federal institutions, agencies, the Senate. I should say how many more they would be putting in," he said.

Mr. Mulcair said: "He's making it more difficult for judges to do their jobs, because Canadians coming before them now have no less a figure than their Prime Minister telling them, 'they don't deserve your respect.' "

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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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