Some important elements within my own caucus and wider party were dead set against any coalition with either the Liberals or the Conservatives. The NDP would lose its purity and its principles, the argument went, and would do better to vote on a case by case basis in the House, leaving the Tories to govern.
But the majority view that emerged was that a public agreement between the NDP and the Liberals, based on clear objectives and timelines, would be a better option than the Russian roulette of a minority government living by its wits day by day. My own sense was that we had to decontaminate the notion of a minority parliament being synonymous with instability, and show people that the legislature could work better.
The Accord that was negotiated was not a coalition, but a working partnership. The government gave up the right to declare votes of confidence whenever it wanted, limiting itself to budget bills. It would accept a loss on anything else. The deal would last for two years, and the government committed itself to a series of measures – on pay equity, labour law reform, social housing, environmental legislation, the protection of medicare and many others, all within a framework of fiscal responsibility – with timelines clearly set out. A management committee of both parties would meet regularly to monitor the progress of the agreement.
The Lieutenant Governor was kept fully informed about the discussions. The Conservatives insisted on meeting the House and bringing in a Throne Speech, but their defeat followed soon after and a new government was sworn in without a constitutional crisis. The Accord government worked effectively and efficiently, and passed the laws it said it would.
There you have it.
Realpolitiek and pragmatism have a home in Canada, too. Your name does not have to be Cameron or Clegg or begin with a "C" in order to take a hardnosed, realistic view of the political equations that apply, do the math, and give voters a better government.
Not easy to do, but worthwhile. Just ask all the Canadians who are denied a progressive governement in Ottawa because of the reluctance of Layton and Ignatieff to put Canadian's interests ahead of the interests of these two party leaders.