Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Is Stephen Harper getting ready to pull the pin?

We all know that minority governments are destined to fall - it's a political sure-thing. When they do, it's for one of 2 reasons: Either the opposition decided that it was time to force the government down, or the government decided it was time to go to the polls and try to get more members, or possibly even a majority.

Mainstream Media news reports over the past 2 weeks have indicated tht Stephen Harper and his inner circle may be considering this second option. Of course, the Mainstream Media loves elections, and hopes we get one every few months - this is the same media, though, that thinks a washed-up pop princess' sexual escapades and haircut are front-page news while we've got troops in combat. Today, we'll examine whether or not Prime Minister Harper SHOULD engineer the defeat of his own government, and head to the polls.

Point One: Democracy is inconvenient. The possibility for voter backlash is a real one when a government engineers its own defeat. Unless the spin doctoring in the media is expertly done, the public can decide to punish the party that triggered the election. And although the Harper Tories have some PhD's of spin in their ranks, the media aren't exactly enamoured with Steve and the Gang.

Point Two: The Conservatives are in the best possible situation they could hope for as a minority government. At this point, support from ANY of the opposition parties is enough to ensure a bill or motion passes. The only way they could be more secure in their numbers would be if they were to capture a majority of the House - a possibility that nobody, within or outside of the party, is even daring to mention, it's so preposterous with the polls where they are.

Point Three: The malaise and partisanship on Parliament Hill is gumming up the works. A fresh mandate from the people of Canada would give the Tories a green light to go ahead with their climate change initiatives, the Income Trust issue would go away ("the voters agreed with us").

Point Four: IF you fall on your legislative sword to trigger an election, you've got to make sure it's on a very popular piece of legislation. If the Tories pick something too far to the right, KNOWING it will be defeated (as an example, a ban on gay marriage), then the voters will view the defeat of the bill, and of the government, as a neccesity rather than as a simple matter of fact, and the governing party starts at a disadvantage, as the other parties can begin the campaign on the high road, saying that all Canadians need to act to keep those "right-wing nutjobs" out of office, on account of what they were trying to do before "we righteously brought them down".

Point Five: The record of "Canada's New Government" is lacklustre, at this point. They've accomplished a lot, all things considered, but except for the GST cut, none of their initiatives has been front-and-centre. They've tried to get legislation passed, and most Canadians will remember what at least a couple of their 5 Key Priorities were in the last election, but with the exception of the GST cut, most won't be able to identify if the Tories got their way or if the laws are sitting in minority parliament limbo. After a year in power, if you go to the voters asking for a new mandate, you've got to show them WHY you deserve more time, since you're just not getting a majority in this political climate.

Point Six: The sponsorship scandal is yesterday's news. The anger that the average Canadian voter felt towards the Liberal Party of Canada is gone, for better or worse. Stephane Dion may be a leadership neophyte, and there may be fresh footage from the Liberal leadership debates to illustrate their lack of unity, but the greatest impetus in the last election was not to elect the Tories, but rather to punish the Liberals. With that impetus gone, many people who voted Tory while holding their nose last time will go back to voting Liberal at worst, or stay home at best.

Point Seven: The NDP is down in the polls, but those voters aren't running to the Tories, they're running to the Greens and the Liberals. There's a chance to capitalize on the NDP drop and steal a few seats for the Tory cause, but not enough to get you a majority.

Most of these points argue against calling an unneccesary election. Prime Minister Harper announced today that he has no plans to rush into an election - and that's a wise decision. Until the Tories get their first Five Key Priorities through the House, one way or the other, coming back to the voters to ask for a new mandate is a dangerous proposition. In the meantime, the Tories should keep trotting out centrist policies (like today's HIV announcement), completely immerse themselves in the environmental and climate change dialogues, and take the chance that the Liberals might organize themselves and fundraise. Because at this point, the Tories have a lot more to fear from themselves and the voters than they do from the other parties in an impending election - and that's not likely to change for quite a while.

- ES

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