As Adam Daifallah, one of Canada’s more thoughtful conservative commentators, points out, a coalition government would short-circuit the Liberal Party’s “wilderness years”, a time of rebuilding and reflection it sorely needs in the wake of scandal and defeat. The Progressive Conservatives went through a similar process post-1993, and it worked wonders for their electability. Wilderness years are important to the Liberals, because Canada needs a solid Liberal Party. It’s political mutability makes it a party of the center, which is the only logical position from which to govern a modern, cosmopolitan state.
The Progressive Conservatives did not regenerate their electability. The Progressive Conservatives had “wilderness years” followed by slow and steady extinction. The 1993 election, along with the formation of the Reform Party and the Bloc Quebecois, killed the party and left a small electoral rump that didn’t quite realize it was dead yet, not until Peter Mackay shot it in the head in 2003 and gave the newly-birthed and much further-right Conservative party a touch of centrist respectability.
Moreover, the problem that the Liberals have isn’t a lack of ability to govern well or a lack of ability to attract voters (despite the recent electoral drubbing). The problem that the Liberals have is that the Conservatives were ready to trick out the new system of party funding before they were, and the Tories pushed that advantage as far as it could go. Worse, the Tories are willing to essentially cheat by running negative advertising well in advance of an election, the calling of which remains in their hands for as long as they’re in power. If there was no move for a coalition and Bob Rae or Michael Ignatieff or Steve Furtzwinkel became the Liberal Party leader next week, one week later you’d start seeing Tory ads on the airwaves. “Steve Furtzwinkel: Not A Leader. Not Someone We Can Trust.” And then, come the election, the best-case scenario is that people aren’t sure about Furtzwinkel’s ability to lead, and the worst-case is that they’re sure he isn’t ready.
Do not doubt for a second that the Tories – and Stephen Harper in particular – lack an understanding of the power of political narrative. Harper’s entire governing style is geared towards this method while he has a minority: govern relatively divisively and use it to your advantage, by forcing the Liberals and others to either vote against the ridiculous proposals (and then call an election, which Canadians at this point loathe) or suck it up and vote against them (and then be labeled divisive and partisan and “not willing to make minority government work”).
That kind of institutional abuse of power is difficult to defeat, so I fully understand why the left-wing parties have decided to not play Harper’s game, where their choice is always lose or lose.