Monday, September 24, 2007

Will there be a Fall Federal Election?

This is from the Star.
Both the Bloc and the NDP appear to be clearly committed to voting against the Tory Throne Speech. The Liberals want a commitment to the Kyoto protocols and the vastly amended environmental act to come back before parliament but surely neither of those two things will happen. I really don't see how the Liberals can escape voting against the speech. Dione is probably better off going before the electorate now than waiting until Spring while his party pecks away at him and his performance. I would not be surprised if he did quite well actually. Unless the public really buys the Tory ostensible drift towards the center as something more than a vote-getting tactic the Tories are unlikely to pick up much steam. Surely by now Harper's puffery about the environment and his leadership role on the environment must reveal itself as full of sound if not fury and signifying little. In a word: hot air.

Sep 24, 2007 04:30 AM
Chantal Hébert


With only weeks to go to a confidence-testing Speech from the Throne, election fever is running at an all-time high within the ranks of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's minority government.

Fresh from taking the seat of Roberval-Lac-Saint-Jean from the Bloc Québécois and finishing a close second in Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot, the Conservative cabinet has turned into a nest of election hawks.

This would seem to fly straight in the face of national polls that place the Conservatives a fair distance from majority territory.

And while the by-elections did bode well for the party in Quebec they also underscored one of its lingering liabilities.

In Outremont – the only urban riding at play last Monday – the Conservatives finished a distant fourth, with less than 10 per cent of the vote.

An election this year could find Harper once again shut out of Canada's big cities.

But for the Conservatives, those two significant caveats are offset by the changing dynamics of the opposition.

Both the Bloc and the Liberals are reeling from the by-elections results.

Harshly criticized for his support of the minority government, Gilles Duceppe is in damage control mode, scrambling to put more distance between his party and the Conservatives.

As for the Liberals, the anecdotal evidence on the ground is that their support is too soft for comfort.

With an emboldened NDP going aggressively after Liberal votes in the next campaign, Harper also stands to benefit from the gift of a divided left.

Still it is one thing for the cabinet to feel that the fruit of an election is just about ripe and another to reach out for it.

Whether the election comes now or later, Harper is going to be campaigning on a centrist platform. That means that the Speech from the Throne will be designed to expand his party's base not narrow it just to give the opposition a compelling reason to defeat the government.

Of course, given the lines in the sand that have already been drawn by the opposition parties, the government may not need to go to any great length to set itself up for a fall.

Fresh from its victory in Outremont, the NDP leader may be at least as anxious as the Conservatives to go to the polls while the Liberals are wounded. Jack Layton is not about to stop calling for an immediate Canadian pullout from the south of Afghanistan and that is clearly not in the cards.

The Bloc has no appetite for an election but no stomach for continuing to extend the life of the government. As for Dion, in a CBC interview 10 days ago, he listed a resurrection of the Clean Air Act – as rewritten by the opposition parties to meet the objectives of the Kyoto protocol – as one of his absolute conditions for supporting the government next month.

The chances of that happening are virtually non-existent.

Since then, Dion has toned down his election rhetoric somewhat. But if he props up the government this fall, what will he do when Harper brings in an election budget in the spring?

With an eye to his future electoral prospects, the Prime Minister has no compelling interest to make it harder for the opposition parties to support the Oct. 16 throne speech, but nor does he need to make it easier for one of them to do so.

Chantal Hébert's national affairs column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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