Sunday, 20 March 2011

Is now the time for a Canadian Election?

Canada's Parliament is not working and the Government of Stephen Harper has shown disrespect for the institution and democratic traditions in general. The issue in an election would be ethics and the issue would be Stephen Harper. The Prime Minister is a highly competent man who certainly is in charge but he is surrounded by incompetence and followers who have embarrassed him again and again. He must take responsibility for the people in his Government and their actions and for his own inappropriate style of one man governing. Polls show older Canadians are offended by the disrespect shown for our democratic institutions and an election may very well lead to a change of Government and restoration of Parliamentary democracy.

On the other hand the parties are not far apart on budget issues which are the most important ones. The Harper Government when threatened by a coalition of opposition parties at the late 2008, early 2009 beginning of the recession brought in a Liberal budget and labeled it as Canada's Action Plan. Canada has done reasonably well since then but it can be argued that the stimulus is ending too soon. The social democratic NDP is close to supporting the next budget with a few demands which are mostly going to be met. The NDP is in a crisis of Principle. How can they support a Government so contrary to their values for a few scraps of concessions to help regular Canadians? Many NDP members of parliament feel they will lose their seats in an election and do not look forward to bringing down the Government and entering a risky campaign. But the NDP will face greater risk and loss of core support if they allow Harper to continue and their party appears to be lacking in principle. The NDP leader Jack Layton is the most popular national political leader in Canada but his ability to lead will be reduced over time as health issues are affecting him. He is just recovering from surgery and could use a few months before an election. Meanwhile the Harper Government is taking credit for Canada's recovery in an expensive advertising Campaign at the taxpayers expense praising the benefits of the "Action Plan". This too is an ethical lapse by the current Government who would certainly criticize such spending if they were in opposition.

The alternative to Stephen Harper right now is Michael Ignatieff, the intellectual Liberal leader and former Harvard Professor with whom Canadians are not yet comfortable, but the comfort level appears to be growing as he works to appear like a regular guy. The Conservative attack ads that Ignatieff did not return to Canada "for you" have not hurt him as they are a few years too late. He has become one of the devils we know instead of the devil we don't know. For now he may become an interim Prime Minister for two or more years until a new generation of leaders appears and Canadians are likely to find that acceptable if not ideal. There really is not an ideal choice for anyone.

Looking at the world there are serious issues in Japan following the earthquake, Tsunami and nuclear crisis. Prime Minister Harper suggested that this is no time for an election with this nuclear problem in the forefront. Now Canada has jumped into a new, popular and easily winnable war with the Government of Libya represented by the one man rule of Colonel Khadafi (whose name may also be spelled starting with a G or a Q). Even though Canada's 6 fighter planes are not likely to arrive until it is over this move is one our Prime Minister is taking full advantage of to boost his image. His appearance at a meeting of world leaders in Paris on March 19th is calculated to strengthen his image at home as much as it is to contribute to the cause.

Mr. Harper is seeking the elusive majority in Parliament which will allow him to really have his way in ruling Canada. That is what many fear and voters remain likely to return a minority government. The current government would rather avoid an election now with so many scandals brewing and keep going than risk losing power.

The opposition parties, which fear a Harper majority more than anyone, are nervous about going into an election and may be more so now that Mr. Harper is leading Canada into a popular war. I suggest that unless the new budget contains unpalatable content it would be best to hold off on bringing down the Government for a few months and then target towards an Autumn election. By then the world events will have settled and the issue can perhaps be what it should: Stephen Harper. Do Canadians want the kind of government he has brought us or not? Once that is decided we are likely to have some stability in Federal leadership until the new generation arrives.


WhigWag said...

But with so many provincial elections going on this year, and only so many party workers & too much chance of confusing voters, an Autumn 2011 federal election is not really a realistic or preferable option at all, which makes that a pretty curious recommendation.

Murray H. Miskin said...

I agree it is not likely that a Federal election would coincide with one or more provincial elections in a large province, so it could even be a summer election if it does not happen this week. I am just thinking that the war situation may delay the inevitable election, but the war may end quickly without much Canadian involvment if Obama's plan succeeds, in which case it may not be a major factor in the Canadian vote.