I was posting a comment on Accidental Deliberations' blog post this morning which was about the issue of the so-called 'coalition' and it got me thinking about his issue again. This is the great boogie-man that promises to be dragged out continually in the next election by the CP who are desperately trying anything to demonize the opposition which they are happy to label with any epithet from "taliban friendly" to "treasonous." So besides questioning people's patriotism and calling them names, the Harper regiem will continually bring up the threat of a 'coalition' that could replace his government after the next election. The Conservative strategy is born out of both a real fear on their part and the hope that the prospect of a coalition will frighten voters away from the Liberals. The Conservative fear is based in part on their own actions in the past when they formally 'reminded' the GG that when a presiding government loses the confidence of the house, the GG can ask the opposition to attempt to form a viable government rather than have to call a new election. And given that Haper has already presided over two minority governments, if he failed to get a majority in the next kick of the can and then loses the confidence of the House, it is reasonable to assume that the GG would offer the opposition an opportunity to form a government if there was reason to believe it could be viable.
However, given all these variables we would do well to remember John Baird's rather cryptic comments on the last time there was a threat that his government would loose power. Harper and his cronies made what was, ironically, essentially a treasonous suggestion that they could "go over the head of the Governor General." They also blatantly said that it would be "illegal" for another party to form a government if they hadn't won the plurality of seats. This is, of course, boarders on treasonous in as much as they knew for certain that this wasn't true and they were attempting to misrepresent the fundamental operations of the government in order to maintain their own power.
Anyway, what strikes me as interesting now is that if you put all the pieces together, it is not at all clear that, despite warning us of the dangers of a 'coalition' (formal or informal), they would actually give up power if they were faced with the prospect. Baird's words surely leave some doubt in any reasonable mind. As I have said before, Prime Minister William Pitt lost a vote of confidence and simply ignored it. He stayed in power because in the Parliamentary system there is no clear way to oust a Prime Minister if he simply refuses to go. The Parliamentary system is based upon conventions rather than straightforward statute and if a Prime Minister simply ignores convention it is not clear what the opposition can do about it. For a dissolution of the House to take place the PM essentially has to "ask" the GG for the dissolution. Without this request the dissolution dosen't take place. If Harper lost a vote of confidence and didn't request a dissolution of the House there is really very little the opposition could do, at least in the short term. It may seem odd, but one doesn't need to be a constitutional expert to understand the the opposition's options would be very limited. If a PM refused to abide by a vote of no-confidence the first thing that an opposition party could do is ask the speaker for a ruling of contempt. But even if the speaker granted this ruling, the possibility for any legal action based on such a ruling are vague and could be a long time coming. Furthermore, short of the speaker instructing an officer of the law (and which one he could instruct is unclear) to arrest the Prime Minister, a contempt order would be purely symbolic. In the long term, of course, it would be difficult for the PM to rule without the explicit support of the GG. But given Haper's long history of manipulating the system regardless of the legality of his position, it is not beyond the pale to imagine that Harper could convince the GG that the opposition was acting illegally or in bad faith. Let me say that I don't think this would happen because David Johnston has demonstrated that he understands that the Government is independent of the PMO. In the long run a vote of no-confidence would force Harper to dissolve parliament at some point, short of martial law. However, I do believe that Harper might ignore a vote of no-confidence for a while in order to attempt to sway public opinion toward the notion that an opposition party forming government without the plurality of seats would constitute some kind of coup, thereby hoping that the GG would call an election rather than offer the opposition a chance to govern. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if the CP already has TV spots ready for just such an eventuality which would attempt to demonize the opposition as attempting to illegally takeover the government.
Over all, I simply believe that it is irretrievably naive to think that, given his history, Harper would simply ask for a dissolution of parliament if he genuinely thought that the GG would offer government to the opposition party. The present Conservative leadership is a ruthless group of people and they have demonstrated this time and time again. If there were any conceivable way for them to hold on to power they would take it and run with it, so to speak.
Idle speculation at this point, but prior to any such event a few people speculate idly about these kinds of things and everyone is still surprised when it happens.