MONTREAL - If the proposed coalition of opposition parties had come to power last year it would have deeply and enduringly divided Canadians, says Michael Ignatieff.

In Montreal on Sunday to promote his most recent book, the federal Liberal leader also said the coalition came at a time when the party's right to govern would have been called into question after one of the worst election results in its history.

The party lost 19 seats and captured just 26 per cent of the vote in last October's federal election.

"I'm in politics to unify people, not to divide them," Ignatieff said.

"There was also a question concerning the legitimacy of the coalition that troubled me."

The power sharing deal between the Liberals and New Democrats, with support from the Bloc Quebecois, was not undemocratic, Ignatieff told the crowd of some 150 Montrealers gathered in a downtown theatre, but it would nonetheless have given Canadians the feeling that the parties had "in some sense or another stolen power."

Last November, the opposition parties were prepared to topple the minority government over a Tory fiscal update that failed to include any significant economic stimulus measures, and proposed a governing coalition instead.

But Ignatieff felt that Canada, entering into a severe economic recession, needed more certainty than the coalition could provide, comparing the tentative deal to an unstable three-legged stool.

"I felt it was very difficult to guarantee the necessary political stability during a time of crisis with three partners in a formal coalition," he said.

"That was my first doubt. I couldn't guarantee the long-term stability of the coalition under the circumstances."

Ignatieff - at the time a candidate for the party's leadership - was publicly ambivalent about the power sharing deal, saying in December he would only support the coalition if necessary.

As for the boost in popularity for federal Liberal party in Quebec, Ignatieff says the province seems to have turned the page on the sponsorship scandal that has dogged the party in recent years.

"I almost never hear the words sponsorship scandal when I'm in Quebec," he said.

"I don't wish to sweep anything under the rug. I'm just saying, in terms of what I encounter when I meet Quebecers is that it's not at the centre of their preoccupations. It was important in recent years, but since I've toured the regions, when I'm in Montreal, in Quebec City, no one asks about that matter."

On May 5, a Canadian Press-Harris-Decima survey gave the Liberals under Ignatieff a five-point lead on the slumping Conservatives.

In Quebec, the Bloc at 38 per cent held only a three-point lead on the Liberals, while the Conservatives were in the single digits.

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