7.28.2006

maybe not

Many Canadians believe it's virtually guaranteed that the Harper government will come back with a majority in the next election. Although I understand that's the Conservative strategy and intentions, I believe it's premature to predict the outcome. A lot can happen between now and the next election, whenever that might be, and Harper's looking none too popular right now.

Of course I don't know any more than anyone making these bold predictions, but I've come to realize I don't know that much less, either.

For those of us who dread the idea of a Conservative majority, here's a little hope from Globe And Mail columnist John Ibbitson.
The federal Conservatives insist otherwise, but they may have done irreparable harm to their dreams of winning a majority government.

Unfortunately for the three opposition parties, there is little chance they will be able to exploit the situation. The Tories would not gain as many seats as they would like if an election were held tomorrow, but neither would the Liberals, Bloc Québécois or NDP.

This is bad news for political operatives of all stripes, but good news for voters, who may now be spared the unpleasantness of another federal election for some time.

The Conservatives have never made a secret of their two-election strategy for attaining a majority government. The first step was to defeat the Liberals and win a minority. Then, went the theory, the Conservatives would govern well, reassuring nervous voters who would reward the new governing party with a majority next time out.

To win a majority, the Conservatives must increase their seat count by at least 30. Since only incremental gains are available elsewhere, this means winning 15 or more seats in Quebec, in addition to holding their existing 10, and another 15 or more seats in suburban Ontario, while retaining their current 40.

These are big numbers, and not easily achieved. And the Conservatives seem hell-bent on not achieving them.

The Kyoto Protocol on climate change is popular in Quebec, but the Conservatives have declared that Canada won't meet its targets. The Afghan deployment is unpopular in Quebec, but the Conservatives are four-square behind it.

The long-gun registry was more popular in urban Quebec and Ontario than in most other parts of the country, but the government has scrapped it anyway. Same-sex marriage is strongly supported by Montrealers and Torontonians, but the Tories will reopen debate on the legislation this fall.

And if that weren't enough, the Harper government's firm support for Israel in this latest war is bound to alienate immigrant Canadians, many of whom are sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians and Arabs, and who largely congregate in suburban Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

Given all the negatives that the Tories are piling up within constituencies they must woo to win a majority, it's hard to imagine them scoring 30 seats.

Conservative strategists insist this analysis is superficial. They argue that Quebeckers, suburban Ontarians and immigrant Canadians will support their party even if they disagree with its stands on specific issues because they see Stephen Harper as a strong leader who will keep taxes low and government small.

The Conservatives are also bolstered by the fragile state of the opposition. The Bloc has been badly frightened by the Tory surge in Quebec, and fears further losses. Right now, the Bloc is the government's best friend in the House of Commons.

The NDP under Jack Layton has settled into comfortable stagnation, its typical state. And most thoughtful Liberals are skeptical about the electoral chances of Michael Ignatieff, Bob Rae or Stéphane Dion, the three leadership candidates with the best chance of winning.

So, while the Tories may have to abandon hope of a majority in the next election, they are not in imminent danger of defeat. And the polls bear this out, putting the Conservatives in the high 30s, which is about where they were on Jan. 23, and the Liberals in the mid-20s, down slightly from election night. (It will be very interesting to see whether the government's pro-Israeli stand affects its support in the polls.)

There will be a confidence vote on the softwood-lumber agreement this fall, and another next spring on the 2007 budget. But, barring the unforeseen, the government should survive both tests, simply because an election is in no one's interest.

Politics, however, is always about the unforeseen. So if a big scandal breaks, or the Tories' popularity suddenly spikes, just forget you read any of this. Okay?

19 comments:

Masnick96 said...

The Star reported today that the polls show all the parties polling at the same percentages they were at the election...so in the end we end up with a minority, or even a Liberal minority

M@ said...

I agree, and I am far from thinking a CPC majority is a strong possibility. And as someone who's considering, for the first time, to work actively in an election for a party, I think that's something.

As for the question of the Liberals, you're right that those three are less likely to win an election, but they are also less likely to win the leadership (maybe not Dion, but the other two for sure).

Bob Rae would be suicide in Ontario, and everyone knows it. I don't take his candidacy very seriously. I would vote for Harper over Rae, and I'd feel good about it. Rae was a disaster (and he led to the election of a minimally competent government too).

The fact is, this far from the leadership election, the news is going to be about the "special" candidates. In December, though, you'll see the papers change their focus completely. In the CPC leadership race, you'd have thought Stronach would have won in a walk if all you read were the newspaper stories three months beforehand. There was never any danger of Harper losing to her or Tony Cement, though.

I don't know whom to hope for in the Liberal race, but I do hope it's someone I can vote for. I hope they nominate a decent candidate in my riding too. I'm tired of holding my nose while I vote.

Interrobang said...

Jesus. Like Canadians care about keeping taxes low and government small. Who've they been getting their talking points from, the RNC? I read the Romanow Report on healthcare; Harper probably didn't. The consensus opinion in Canada is pretty much that we'd be willing to pay more taxes for more services, and Canadians have traditionally looked to government to solve problems.

The other parties could stomp Harper into the mud on a platform like that, and I hope they do. I don't care who gets the Liberal nomination; I'll (hold my nose and) vote for them anyway, since I'm so pissed off at Jack Layton, and The Smirking Corpse is Bush-lite as far as I'm concerned.

Owl said...

For what it's worth -

People who are fresh to a situation can see an overall picture that long-term residents cannot -- who see the forest rather than the individual trees.

Therefore, Laura, your views make me rather hopeful.

From another point of view, a challenge is not bad. The Liberals were a bit too comfortable, and needed to re-examine themselves, and live in the dog-house for a bit - the Quebeckers were outraged about Chretien corruption in the "independence" vote.

Harper does seem to have Bush-Lite advisors, but Bush is not nearly as attractive as he was initially. Neither domestically nor internationally.

Owl said...

Forgot to add - the Liberals have historically recreated themselves as a political party over and over and over. They steal good ideas from other political parties.

L-girl said...

Thanks for the great comments, all.

Bob Rae would be suicide in Ontario, and everyone knows it. I don't take his candidacy very seriously. I would vote for Harper over Rae, and I'd feel good about it. Rae was a disaster (and he led to the election of a minimally competent government too).

I've heard this. Your voting for Harper over Rae is a scary statement. I'm going to assume the Liberals are a lot smarter than the Democrats and therefore won't choose a Leader who will drive everyone away.

I'm so pissed off at Jack Layton

Hi Interrobang, welcome. If you're reading, could you elaborate on this for me?

Owl, thanks for that, your hope makes me hopeful. :) I agree with you about the challenge, but enough already, challenge over, let's not let this guy get too much traction.

Scott M. said...

My suspicion is that the next vote will not result in any major changes to the House, though there is one possiblity of a signifigant change... I would not be surprised if the Green Party finally elected one or two MPs.

If that occurs, the environment will finally be an issue in the following election. Yeah!

M@ said...

Scott, what are you worried about? The CPC has the environment as one of its five priorities! At least, it's in there today. We'll see what the five priorities are tomorrow.

Laura:

Your voting for Harper over Rae is a scary statement. I'm going to assume the Liberals are a lot smarter than the Democrats and therefore won't choose a Leader who will drive everyone away.

Yeah, I know. It scares me, too. I've actually considered getting a party membership just so I can help get someone I want in the leader's seat. But that goes against my distaste for party membership...

L-girl said...

But that goes against my distaste for party membership...

I understand that, I'd be the same way. But you might think of it this way: it's a tool. Use all the tools you can get.

I used to be a registered Democrat just so I could vote my conscience in the primaries. I figured it was another chance to vote, I might as well take it.

M@ said...

Yeah, that's the way I'm leaning too. But I also don't particularly like the Liberal party, either. I'd hate to be a member of a party and then want to keep them out of office too. I do see what you're saying about use whatever tools you can, though.

I'm starting to look for apolitical ways to affect the political world, though. Sites like howdtheyvote.ca make me think that there are other options besides the party channels.

L-girl said...

But I also don't particularly like the Liberal party, either. I'd hate to be a member of a party and then want to keep them out of office too.

That's exactly what I meant. I've hated the Democrats for a long, long time. But I still registered, so I could vote in the primaries.

I'm starting to look for apolitical ways to affect the political world, though.

Oh, absolutely. Those are probably more important. But none of these tools have to be mutually exclusive.

Lone Primate said...

Rae was a disaster (and he led to the election of a minimally competent government too).

I didn't think Bob Rae was a disaster. He won an election basically because of David Peterson's cynical moves. It was a protest vote that went over the top. Free trade was just taking off, we were losing jobs left and right as big corporations felt they no longer had to maintain a Canadian presence, and I thought, all things considered, Rae did a pretty good job keeping our nose above water, if only just. I voted for him the subsequent election, but by then Blue Ontario had recovered and the province elected Mike Harris. Now you want to talk about a disaster. Is that what you mean by "minimally competent government"? Sure, if a kid with a plastic doctor bag is a "minimally competent surgeon", I guess I can see it. After all, that's pretty much the medical system Uncle Mikey left us with when he and his golf clubs took off for North Bay.

MSS said...

Obviously, a Canadian party need not win a majority of votes to get a majority of seats. But the Conservatives would be hard pressed to make major vote gains in the key ridings that they need to pull it off, absent something truly extraodinary going their way. It is just too much of a balancing act to try to please Quebec (where they made surprising gains in January, but where I suspect they may have peaked), without alienating their Western constituency.

I would expect minority government to be the norm in Canada now. In the past, it has always been seen as an aberration, with an early election expected to restore the "normal" condition of majority government (even if backed by only 38% or so of the voters). I think that game is up.

The only question I have is at what point will Canada finally get the electoral system that matches the reality, and leave behind the FPTP system that no longer suits the country?

L-girl said...

I would expect minority government to be the norm in Canada now.

Yes, many people believe that to be the case.

The only question I have is at what point will Canada finally get the electoral system that matches the reality, and leave behind the FPTP system that no longer suits the country?

It's a very good question. I'm hoping when I can vote, I'll be able to participate in a new, more democratic system.

M@ said...

Late follow-up here -- just wanted to defend the phrase "minimally competent" that LP rightly picked out.

I am far from a fan of the Harris/Eves governments. Every time they seemed to have an idea of what to do (standardized testing!) they followed up by completely buggering that thing up (we'll develop the tests! with experts! who have never seen a classroom!)

But Rae was the one who plunged us into the incredible deficits. We went from a government in the black (or nearly so) in 1989 to deficits from $10B to $14B in the next five years. I mean, how can you possibly sit in parliament and propose your first budget with a ten billion dollar deficit!?

I was in University through the Rae years. The years 1992-94 saw a 50% rise in university tuition, as Rae cast about for something to cut. This was the biggest rise in tuitions, by any scale, in Ontario's history.

I also remember Rae days. Hey, public employees: your contracts are nill and void, so here's a 5% pay cut. Hardly the friend of the working man. And as the child of two teachers, this really hit home. (Not that our family didn't have its battles with the Harris government too -- many angry conversations over the dinner table, let me tell you!)

Again, this isn't to defend Harris. But the problems with Rae were so widespread, and so deep, and so chaotic, that at least in an economic sense the Harris years were a relief. That the Harris years in fact did greater damage to Ontario is a possibility I am very much aware of. But Rae seemed to have an utter deer-in-the-headlights uselessness that has kept me from considering the NDP in any capacity, ever since.

Phew. There it is. That, and the faint strains of "We're in the Same Boat Now", a little ditty recorded by a certain Rhodes Scholar with whom we are all quite familiar... he didn't mention that the boat was sinking, and he was actually bailing into the boat...

Lone Primate said...

It's funny how subjective memory can be. So much of what you remember to be Bob Rae's Greatest Mistakes are to me Bob Rae's Greatest Hits.

Let's consider, first and foremost, Rae Days, since, as they child of two teachers, they're close to your heart, so to speak. The purpose of Rae Days was to eliminate $2B from the provincial budget without resorting to layoffs. The idea here is to make the food on the ark last the journey by everyone getting a little skinnier, rather than slitting throats and dumping bodies over the side. Rather than pillory the man over them, you ought to be applauding the innovative thinking they represented, since it's not altogether unlikely that one or the other of your parents could have lost his or her job, rather than simply suffering the tightening belts. I'm not saying they're something to be happy about. I'm saying it was by far a more subtle solution to a problem facing this province than the sort we'd seen before or, certainly, after, when Mike the Knife showed up. If the Liberals fronting this kind of decent thinking federally amounts to "suicide in Ontario", especially after the heart attacks it suffered under Harris and Eves, then this province is dumber than dirt and barely worth its oxygen.

Ontario did go into deficit spending in 1990, but it wasn't because Bob Rae was getting his shorts starched in gold or something. Some of us had parents working in the private sector, where people actually got laid off when shareholders got pouty, and we remember the late 80s -- never mind just the 1990s -- as being years of some anxiety where bread and butter issues were concerned. The entire country had been deficit spending unlike anything in its history for several years at that point under Mulroney; eventually it caught up with the economic engine of Confederation itself... unfortunately for Bob Rae, just about the time he was forming his own ass groove in the premier's chair. You might also remember that Canada didn't get out of deficit spending until fiscal 1995-1996, two years after Chretien and Martin started turning things around... and, again, unfortunately for Rae, the year his term was up according to the Writ of Election. Sucks to be you, Bob.

What I remember from those years was the anti-scab labour law that sought to defend the rights of strikers to their jobs in a difficult time... the bail-outs of northern industries that kept people alive and productive without having to pack up and go on welfare down in Barrie... a willingness to cut the NDP's own throat by allienating labour (without the counterbalance of ingraciating itself to big business) in order to do what was right not for the New Democratic Party of Ontario, but for Ontario. Maybe the province didn't OWE Bob Rae a second term, but it certainly owes him better than remembering him as a screw-up. Jesus, if Mike "Let 'Em Drink Shit" Harris didn't make you want to step up and shake the man's hand, I'm sorry, you just were not paying attention. Bob Rae just barely managed to bail enough water over the side of this leaky little boat to keep it afloat in all the choppy years of Brian Mulroney's great Free Trade Adventure Cruise, where every time we turned around another wave washed over us from some corporation or another jumping ship to swim to the glorious, union-free shores of North Carolina and Tennessee. Somebody had to be premier of Ontario in those years, and that bad luck fell on Bob Rae. If you want to wonder at anything, wonder that things weren't worse for us in the early 90s. And then wonder how anyone could have made things as bad as Mike Harris did in the LATE 90s.

Tresy said...

Tory Support Sliding, Poll Shows

L-girl said...

LP and M@, thanks for the discussion re Rae and Harris - very educational for me.

I've heard only horror stories about Mike Harris, from everyone I know both in person and online.

When I said "I've heard this" (re M@'s comment about Rae), I should add that, previously, I had only heard that kind of extreme distate for Bob Rae from very conservative people whose judgements I don't trust. Hearing it from M@ - whose judgements I respect very much - gave me pause.

Not having lived here during the time you're discussing, I can only say that, from what I've heard, Harris sounds like an utter disaster that the region is still reeling from, while Rae sounds like someone who tried hard to do the right thing under difficult circumstances. Of course, I emphasize that I wasn't here, but this is what I glean.

Lone Primate said...

I've heard only horror stories about Mike Harris, from everyone I know both in person and online.

Yeah, what always amazes me is that Harris got re-elected and Rae didn't. But it just shows to go yah. Cut people's wages a small percentage in bad times and they'll nail you to the cross because it's all your fault!! But fire nurses, burn hospital beds, and cripple the civil service in boom times and they'll still kneel to wipe your butt with their silk ties because -- hey! -- they can afford silk ties, and it's all thanks to you, big kahuna! Sometimes I wonder if democracy isn't God's little joke on the human race... or maybe it's the other way around.