Can Canada's Liberals spin victory out of defeat?

Tue Apr 12, 2011 9:29am EDT
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By Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - There is still a chance that Canada's Liberals, lagging in popularity and unable to excite the voters, could end up in power after the May 2 election.

The opposition Liberal Party has pledged not to form a coalition government with other parties in Parliament. But even if the Conservatives win the most seats, the Liberals might be able to replace them, constitutional experts say.

The issue of who will form the government has come to the fore because of the difficulty of getting a majority in a four-party Parliament, and because Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made talk of a Liberal-led coalition a centerpiece of his campaign.

The Conservatives will have first crack at forming a new government if they win more seats than other parties. But opposition parties could bring them down within days if the Conservatives have a minority, as they do at present.

Canada's governor general could then ask Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff to form a government with the backing of other opposition parties, and Ignatieff would become prime minister of his own minority government.

"I think it's perfectly possible," said Ned Franks, a constitutional expert who used to teach at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. "There are scenarios that allow that to happen."

The idea of a coalition has alarmed Canadians in the past, especially those who dislike the concept of doing business with the Bloc Quebecois, a separatist party that does not believe Canada should even exist in its present form.

The Liberals nearly pulled such a union together in December 2008 under then-leader Stephane Dion, after their worst electoral showing since Canada was founded in 1867. But a high-profile signing ceremony with the Bloc and the leftist New Democrats turned into a public relations nightmare.   Continued...