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Iggy Coalition Climbdown Watch: Day One

Posted by padams under Election 2011, Election 2011 Campaign strategy, Election 2011 Media commentary, Media Commentary, Political Strategy

Paul Adams

Moments after the government fell this afternoon, Michael Ignatieff gave his first press conference in full election mode.

When he had been asked about the possibility of forming a coalition government earlier this week, he parried the question, saying that there is only a Red Door and a Blue Door in this election.

The issue is important because the Liberals want to argue, as Ignatieff did today, that a vote for any party but them is a vote for the continuation of Stephen Harper’s government. If Ignatieff allows that he might form a coalition with the NDP after the next election, then that seems obviously untrue. In that case, the election of NDP members could also contribute to the cause of ousting Harper.

If Ignatieff admits he might entertain a coalition, he undermines this central appeal. If he flatly denies he would consider one, however, he will discourage some of his own supporters, alienate potential Green and NDP switchers, and most importantly limit his strategic options after the election.

Most reporters thought he would have a clearer answer today, given the flak he got from the media for the Red Door/Blue dodge. But here is what the  CBC  reported about his statement today. (The full story is here.)

Ignatieff was repeatedly pressed by reporters to state “yes” or “no” to the question of whether he would seek to form a coalition government in the event of another Conservative minority, but he would only say he was focused on presenting a Liberal alternative to the Conservatives.

“If you vote for the NDP, if you vote for the Bloc, if you vote for the Greens, you will get more of this,” Ignatieff said, gesturing back to the House chamber. “More contempt for democracy, more neglect of the priorities of Canadian families.”

In the news conference some of the press gallery’s most bull-headed reporters vowed to ask Ignatieff about the coalition every day until he gives a straight response. In the twitterverse afterwards, reporters agreed he would have to answer the question eventually, some suggesting various ways to pose it — though the actual phrasing of the question is unlikely to crack the facade since Ignatieff has clearly made a strategic decision not to answer.

Some other reporters also suggested that Harper should be asked to be clear about his approach to joining a coalition or a parliamentary pact.

But it is Ignatieff who blew his first newser of the campaign on this issue; and it is he who will have to face the pack daily.

Here’s betting Ignatieff’s position “evolves”.

[Take a look at Susan Delacourt’s thoughtful look at the coalition question here.]

Paul Adams is an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton. He is a former Parliament Hill reporter and worked in the polling industry. You can follow him on Twitter @padams29