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The Saskatoon StarPhoenix
Friday, July 13, 2001

Clark confirms Tories pondering CA coalition

Pact feasible without creating new party
By Jen Ross
“Coalitions can work in opposition as well as in government and you can remain a separate entity with your own party and policy but work closely together,” said Nova Scotia Tory MP Peter MacKay.
Although there have been coalition governments in the past, there has never been a coalition opposition in Canada.
“Clark embodies the past. Many Alliance members are furious that we're even talking to him.” said veteran Alliance staffer Rob Taylor.

OTTAWA -- Although far from certain about the form it will take, Joe Clark confirmed Thursday that the federal Tories are considering some form of opposition coalition with Canadian Alliance members.

“We're talking with them about practical co-operation that would involve two entities working together,” the Tory leader said after emerging from a four-hour caucus meeting on Parliament Hill.

Clark has previously admitted to “talking” to Alliance dissidents, but his statement Thursday confirms weeks of speculation over a potential right-wing merger in the House of Commons. His emphasis on two entities working together suggests it would not necessarily mean creating a new party.

“Coalitions can work in opposition as well as in government and you can remain a separate entity with your own party and policy but work closely together,” said Nova Scotia Tory MP Peter MacKay. “Our goal is certainly to come back to Ottawa as an effective opposition party (in the fall) but we're nowhere near an end-game yet.”

The Alliance had 66 seats in the House of Commons prior to 13 dissident MPs leaving the party caucus in recent weeks. The Bloc Quebecois is second up with 38 seats. If more Alliance MPs step down, it could threaten the party's official Opposition status. The Conservatives, only 12 seats strong, now have a chance to re-enter the opposition fray after almost a decade in obscurity if they form a right-wing coalition with Alliance dissidents.

Although there have been coalition governments in the past, there has never been a coalition opposition in Canada.

But such plans are only in their infancy. MacKay said logistics such as seating, shared responsibilities, question period and strategy need to be discussed.

Moreover, Clark and MacKay could not even agree on who they are talking to. Clark insisted he is only talking to the rebel Alliance MPs, including a meeting for tea this week with B.C.'s Garry Lunn. MacKay said they are also talking to members who are still on the inner circle.

There are bound to be divisions between the two parties in a potential coalition. Veteran Alliance staffer Rob Taylor, who works currently for neutral MP Rahim Jaffer, said while they agree on fiscal policy, there is a real divide both between and within the two parties on social policy.

“There are the social conservatives and there is the Red Tory libertarian vein,” he said, adding that there are various dissidents within the Conservative party itself. “ They just have the institutional knowledge not to do it in public.”

Taylor favours the eventual creation of a united party with a new leader.

“It's clear that the balance of power sits with the Tories now; there's no question,” he said. “ But Mr. Clark and Mr. Day need to be removed because they both have vested interests. . . . A lot of traditional Tories blame the Alliance for the reality we have in front of us. . . . Clark embodies the past. Many Alliance members are furious that we're even talking to him.”

A recent Environics poll puts Clark's popularity far ahead of any other opposition leader. Twenty-one per cent of Canadians said Clark would make the best prime minister, while all leaders had support in the single digits. Support for Stockwell Day was lowest, at five per cent.