Sunday, September 06, 2009

Idle Election Speculation

The stage is increasingly set for a fall election. I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at what has changed to make this so and what the major players are thinking heading into the new parliamentary session. First, the big decision which I blew off in my last post by Michael Ignatieff. Ignatieff's decision is not made in isolation or even simply looking forward: it's looking back. The LPC and in particular those inside the Queensway (or those who act like they live inside the Queensway) are fed up with supporting the Tories. The media has the memory of a goldfish, so they haven't been talking about the fact that the Liberals haven't voted against the Tories on a confidence motion in the three and a half years of Tory government. That's a lot of abstaining and pride-swallowing from a lot of Liberal MP's. The party has twice threatened to bring down the government: in the run-up to the 2008 election and the coalition crisis last winter. Neither time, however, did the Liberal caucus get to rise in opposition. For a party which struggles to define itself clearly in opposition, not being able to oppose can create an identity crisis. The public not only doesn't know what the LPC stands for, but it doesn't even know what it stands against. I don't think Ignatieff looked at what are mediocre poll numbers and decided to oppose, I think he felt he had to given the last three and a half years.

For the Tories, the problem is and has always been finding a useful partner to make deals with. The Conservative Party is held together by a lot of things. The strongest glue is their mutual hatred of the LPC. The problem is that the LPC is the only party remotely close to them ideologically. The NDP and the Conservatives can agree on almost nothing outside their hatred of the LPC and that is not enough for the Tories to start spending billions more on public housing or the NDP to start supporting corporate tax cuts. The NDP is broke, it is probably circling around its seat-ceiling and will probably only lose seats in a future election. Those factors don't make it any easier for Jack Layton to find common ground with Stephen Harper. While the Bloc started it's political life under the leadership of a former Mulroney Minister of the Environment, it is now nowhere near the Tories politically. The political centre in Qu├ębec is decidedly left of where it is in the rest of the country and Harper has seemingly given up his pursuit of francophone voters. Even if there were similarities, the optics for Harper and Duceppe would be disastrous. The Tories have no desire to associate with separatists and the Bloc has no desire to work with the Tories or any federalist (I use the term loosely with Harper) federal government. If you add Stephen Harper's seeming inability to compromise, what you are left with is an unworkable government. That to me means election whether we want one or not. Politics may make strange bedfellows, but you still need a bed.

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