Friday, August 28, 2009

Jack Layton's Deal With the Devil

THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT: Will it Hold Up Without its Foundation?

At the beginning of the last election campaign, Stephen Harper focused his strategy on an "Ignatieff led" coalition.

Many in the media then began questioning the Liberal leader hard about the possibility of such a coalition if Harper failed to get a majority, while others dug up Harper's own agreement in 2004.

William Johnson mentions it in his book: Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada. He says that after the disappointing results of the 2004 election, Harper contemplated resigning, until he developed a different strategy. So over the summer he arranged several meetings with Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe, where an agreement was hammered out, and the three party leaders signed a joint letter to then Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, that should the prime minister [Paul Martin] seek to dissolve Parliament, she would first speak with them.

Harper's campaign manager at the time, Tom Flanagan confirmed the "coalition", and stated emphatically that it included the full support of the Bloc. (2)

The topic came up again during the debates, when Gilles Duceppe told the story of the meetings, and how he and Jack Layton were willing to make Stephen Harper prime minister in 2004.

Most of the alarm was that it was a deal with "separatists" something that the Harper government was using as a rallying cry. But everyone missed the obvious here.

Why was Jack Layton so keen to make Stephen Harper prime minister, knowing how hard progressives in the country fought to keep him out of office?

In fact the Council of Canadians, and other like-minded groups had questioned why Jack didn't go after Harper during the election, and started a "Think Twice" campaign, to do what Layton and the NDP refused to. According to longtime NDP supporter, James Laxer:
Maude Barlow, chairperson of the Council of Canadians, for one, told me that she felt pressure “not to critique Harper,” and that the top priority was “to win more seats for the ndp.” During the election, the Council was involved in the Think Twice coalition, made up of groups that came together to warn Canadians about Stephen Harper’s record. “If the ndp was not going to talk about Harper’s record,” Barlow said, “we felt we had to.” (3)
So did the agreement between Harper and Layton go back even before the 2004 election? Not likely. The NDP no doubt feared strategic voting as a way of keeping Harper out, would hurt their chances of acquiring more seats.

However, there was certainly one firmly in place by 2005/06. Laxer mentions receiving a call from a frustrated reporter who indicated that no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't get Jack Layton to say anything bad about Harper. (3) And some Conservative candidates in the West complained that all national ads shown in their area were against the Liberals, while their biggest threat was from the NDP.

Journalist Jacques Lemieux also questioned a Layton/Harper alliance:
Did you ever notice how apparently coordinated Mr. Harper and Mr. Layton's attacks were against Mr. Martin during the last election, as if Mr. Layton and Mr. Harper with his backroom supporters had discussed their strategies in meetings? (4)
And Paul Wells has also noticed a strange relationship, as both men worked in tandem to destroy the Liberal Party. (5)

Laxer suggests that like Harper, Layton wanted to carve out the middle, pushing for a two-party system.

Oscar Wilde wrote that there are only two tragedies: "one is not getting what one wants; the other is getting it."

I'm sure this is not how the NDP leader saw this playing out. Being the leader of the Opposition in a Harper majority, was likened recently to winning a game of Bingo on the Titanic.

So publicly Layton will probably jump up and down as the Harper government systematically dismantles our social safety net. But privately, I'm sure he'll question why he put his faith in a man that few had faith in, just for political power.

Because everything Harper does from here on in, will have Jack Layton's seal of approval. And to borrow a phrase from Linda McQuaig, he will be left "holding the bully's coat".

Back to Introduction


1. Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada, by William Johnson, 2005, ISBN 0-7710 4350-3 6, Pg. 374

2. Ignatieff 'quality guy,' Flanagan says, By: Frances Russell, Winnipeg Free Press, December 11, 2009

3. Fake Left, Go Right: An insider’s take on Jack Layton’s game of chance, By James Laxer, Walrus Magazine, May 2006

4. Jack Layton and Stephen Harper forge an apparent alliance: Progressive NDPers and other Canadian voices undermined by elitist agenda, by Jacques Lemieux. The Canadian, 2007

5. The secret plot to destroy the Liberals, by Paul Wells, Maclean’s, April 17, 2006

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