Gomery death watch .. the late April poll in Chuck Cadman’s riding

May 2nd, 2005 | By | Category: Ottawa Scene

VANCOUVER. Monday, May 2, 2005. Nothing brings  fevered speculation about Canadian federal politics back down to earth quite as nicely as the Vancouver Sun‘s recent poll of Chuck Cadman’s Surrey North riding.

Mr. Cadman is one of the two as yet uncommitted federal MPs whose vote in parliament could determine whether Canadians have a fresh election in the next two months. And as explained by Evi Mustel of the polling firm Mustel Group, which conducted the poll: “It’s good news for the Liberals because Chuck Cadman has said he’ll base his vote on his constituents’ wishes.”

Mustel found that 62 % of the 605 Surrey North residents his firm surveyed this past Wednesday and Thursday don’t want an election until Justice John Gomery issues his report on the federal sponsorship scandal, later this year. Another 10 % “don’t believe the scandal is important enough to justify an election, while only 17 % support the Conservative-Bloc Quebecois plan to defeat the government as soon as possible and trigger a spring election.”

As if this weren’t good enough news for Paul Martin’s Liberals, when “asked which leader would make the best prime minister,” 34% of Surrey North respondents said they didn’t know, 29% opted for Paul Martin, and 19% for the NDP’s Jack Layton. Conservative leader Stephen Harper ran last in the pack, at 16%.

You can point out of course that the lower mainland BC city of Surrey is nowadays a part of metropolitan Vancouver – which is no more generically hospitable to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives than metropolitan Toronto.

But Chuck Cadman himself is a former member of the old Canadian Alliance which did so much to create the new Conservative Party of Canada, and he only ran as an independent in Surrey North in 2004 after he lost the official Conservative nomination. Surrey is not in any kind of deep downtown urban Vancouver. It is part of the near suburbs of the metropolis. Cadman won the riding for the Alliance in 2000, and then earlier for Preston Manning’s Reform Party in 1997.

It is even more striking in this context that Cadman’s continuing supporters in Surrey North are strongly opposed to an early election, “with 70% saying they don’t think the recent allegations of Liberals getting taxpayer-funded kickbacks justifies an early vote.”

Along with the recent cross-Canada polls which show the Liberals now slightly ahead of the Conservatives, all this can’t help but put some kind of a dent in Stephen Harper’ promise of last Wednesday to “put this government out of its misery” as soon as possible. For the first time in a few weeks it is starting to seem that the smart money, which has also been promising an almost certain early election, just might be wrong in the end.

Yet it is almost equally hard to see how the Conservatives (and the Bloc Quebecois) can gracefully stop doing what they have already started to try to do. Chuck Cadman himself remains concerned “that more revelations coming out of the Gomery inquiry into the sponsorship scandal might influence constituents by the time MPs vote on whether to defeat the minority Liberal government and force a June election. The only question is, is [public opinion] going to change by the time a vote is actually called, because we don’t know what’s going to come out?'”

It remains true as well that even the most recent polls show how both Paul Martin and the Liberal Party of Canada have been badly damaged by what has come out of the Gomery inquiry’s at last explosive enough spring 2005 hearings in Montreal so far. The longer, mid-term, or even shortest-term consequences of the past several weeks in Canadian federal politics remain unclear. And the smart money may still be quite right about an election very soon. For the moment, it is the same old story it has been for a while now. All those who are interested will just have to wait and see, a bit longer yet.

Meanwhile, a final statistic from Evi Mustel’s recent poll in Chuck Cadman’s riding is also enough to bring the most fevered recent excitement among Canadian political junkies back down to earth too. As many as 71% of survey respondents in Surrey North “said they are aware of the sponsorship program controversy.” Or, conversely, almost three out of every 10 voting-age Canadians in this current highly strategic federal riding have still not even noticed that some great political scandal is unfolding before their eyes.

That, some very cynical people might say, could be the most revealing news of all. But of course the people who haven’t even heard of “Adscam” yet can’t be too worried about just when the next election is going to held. They at least almost certainly won’t be voting in any case.

APRIL 28-30 UPDATE. So Conservative leader Stephen Harper has come out swinging, as he struggles to regain the initiative in the scandal-driven whitewater of Canadian federal politics in the spring of 2005. And if you are a Canadian political junkie, of whatever diverse stripe, it is starting to get almost irresistibly intriguing, regardless of whether there is an election soon or not.

The Liberal-New Democrat concordat to stall a fresh election – in the interests of actually trying to govern the country (as they will say of course) – was less than a day old when Mr. Harper made his move.

The Liberals and New Democrats concluded their deal rather late on Tuesday, April 26. On Wednesday, April 27 Stephen Harper told a group of southwestern Ontario business leaders: “Let me be as clear as I can be today. Our caucus will be meeting in Ottawa next week. This is not how Parliament should work, and as soon as we get back I will be asking our caucus to put this government out of its misery.”

Meanwhile, Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe, without whose MPs the Conservative caucus could not remotely hope to respond successfully to its leader’s request, echoed Mr. Harper’s resolve: “We cannot support the government any longer … the Layton-Martin deal is not good for Quebec.”

What makes the situation that has quite rapidly evolved over the past several weeks so increasingly fascinating is that, even with the clearly enthusiastic support of the Bloc Quebecois, it is still far from altogether certain that Stephen Harper will be able to deliver on his promise to put Paul Martin’s Liberal minority government out of its misery.

The diverse people of Canada, in their infinite wisdom, delivered a verdict of remarkable subtlety and complexity on June 28, 2004. (It was more than worthy of their great teacher in their formative first half of the 20th century, the perpetual Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, who invented that ultimate piece of modern Canadian political folk wisdom: “Conscription if necessary, but not necessarily conscription.”) And it seems clear enough that these chickens have now come home to roost, some 10 months later.

So here are what do seem to be the basic numbers once again, assuming all MPs are well enough to show up for the relevant vote in Parliament at Ottawa. Needed to win – 154 votes. Conservatives + Bloc Quebecois = 153 votes. Liberals + New Democrats = 150 votes. Independents = 3 votes. In the case of a tie, the decision will go to the Liberal Speaker of the House, Peter Milliken, and the Liberals will win.

One of the three independents, Carolyn Parrish from Ontario, a former Liberal, has already declared she will vote with the Liberals and New Democrats. David Kilgour, a rare former Liberal from Alberta, has as yet declared nothing. Chuck Cadman from BC, who comes closest to being a former Conservative (and has also recently been undergoing chemotherapy treatments), has said a number of things recently, and is now saying that he will vote as his constituents wish, and it is still too early to determine what this will be.

It is now also being reported in Ottawa that the Liberals, who continue to show some of their traditional neo-Machiavellian charm, are not just trying to win over David Kilgour and Chuck Cadman. They are apparently dangling potential appointments to the Senate (which some would see as the most embarrassing and even somewhat officially “corrupt” and in-almost-desperate-need-of-reform of all current Canadian political institutions) in front of a few old Tory MPs, in an effort to win some bi-partisan Conservative votes too.

And then there is the further complication that Chuck Cadman is apparently not the only MP who is bravely struggling with health problems at the moment – and may or may not be able to show up for a vote in Parliament.

There seems considerable current uncertainty as well about the earliest date on which a vote to bring down the government and precipitate a fresh election might be held. It has been said on television that there are only three people in Ottawa nowadays who understand Canadian parliamentary procedure, and they disagree among themselves. It has also been reported, however, that a vote could take place as early as next week – and still, it seems, no later than May 19. (And on Friday, April 29 the television was putting a finger on May 18 as probably the crucial date, still a few weeks away.)

That is no doubt enough for now. Whatever else, this is about as close to the excitement of hockey as Canadian politics gets. And, say what you like, that at least is interesting.

Maybe it’s even the ultimate government compensation for no Stanley Cup this year? And maybe The Economist in the UK is a bit too seriously worried. The whole thing could just wind up as the kind of political sport the people of Canada actually like, regardless of their mother tongue, place of origin, drugs of choice, sexual orientation, or geographic region.

APRIL 26-27 UPDATE: So now it’s official on the Liberal-New Democrat “agreement in principle.” Paul Martin is willing to defer the already deferred tax cuts on large corporations a little longer, but not on job-creating medium and small businesses.

Jack Layton has agreed to this, and Paul Martin has agreed to throw a little more money at assorted social and environmental policies and programs, from the tidy federal surplus. Independent Chuck Cadman‘s clarification late Monday that he would not support the Martin Liberals in any case had made all this seem somewhat beside the point. But now Chuck Cadman has apparently changed his mind again.

On the outside parameters of the numbers, even the Liberals and New Democrats together need the support of all three current independents (Cadman, Carolyn Parrish, and David Kilgour), to forestall any resolute Conservative-Bloc Quebecois bid to vote no-confidence and force a fresh election. I.e., Conservatives + Bloc Quebecois + Chuck Cadman = 154 votes; Liberals + New Democrats + Carolyn Parrish + David Kilgour = 152 votes.

As some wise MP noted on television in Ottawa Monday night, this would seem to throw the whole issue of whether the government can survive a determined Conservative-Bloc assault into the quite unpredictable realm of exactly which MPs are exactly how sick when, or otherwise unable to attend in parliament at Ottawa. But if Chuck Cadman is now no longer certain about just what he might do, that restores a certain zestful intrigue to the parliamentary possibilities.

At the same time, according to television reports Tuesday, the latest Ipsos-Reid poll shows national support levels at Conservatives 34%, Liberals 31%, and New Democrats 18%. The Conservatives are still in the lead, but not by so much as they have been in some more recent polls. And these particular latest numbers start pointing again to a Conservative minority government beholden to the Bloc Quebecois for any stability in office, as the most likely outcome of an election soon.

Which could itself again change the minds of some increasingly engaged and even worried segments of the democratic electorate – especially in Atlantic Canada and Ontario, on either side of the great Canadian imponderable which is Quebec? (TV reports on another recent Decima poll are not as good for the Liberals, but better for the NDP.)

So Paul Martin’s hopes for holding off on an election until as long away as early 2006, after Justice Gomery has produced his final report, may still not be altogether dreaming in technicolour quite yet. Over the past several days the Liberals (and the New Democrats) have at least managed to take some of the initiative in the current great tactical struggle away from the Conservatives and the Bloc.

Chuck Cadman’s earlier decision to side with his former Conservative colleagues, after hearing from his constituents in Surrey, BC, was read by some as further evidence of growing popular support for a fresh election, especially in the nowadays rather friendly two solitudes of Western Canada and Quebec. And the smart money across the country is still saying there will be an election soon.

But what are we now supposed to make of Chuck Cadman’s latest change of mind? And in the Globe and Mail on Tuesday James Laxer, a noble old guru of the Southern Ontario nation-building left wing, had a comment piece called “More than politics, this is a national crisis.”

Feelings of this sort, on the part of some old-fashioned progressive conservatives as well, could ultimately redound to Paul Martin’s advantage, one way or another. According to yet another new poll, reported on the Victoria Times-Colonist website: “A strong majority of Canadians support Prime Minister Paul Martin’s view that an election should not occur until after the Gomery inquiry into the sponsorship scandal releases its report in December.” The plot, it would seem for the moment, continues to thicken.

APRIL 25 UPDATE: OTTAWA. Monday, April 25, 2005. Just what might be happening to  some vague Liberal-NDP accord, to try to stall a fresh Canadian federal election for a while, remains a fast-moving story. NDP leader Jack Layton has given Prime Minister Paul Martin until Tuesday, April 26 to make up his mind on NDP budget demands.

Meanwhile, Carolyn Parrish, one of the three independents who would hold the balance of parliamentary power, even if the Liberals and NDP do co-operate, has said she would support the Martin government. A second, Chuck Cadman, has now made clear he would not (if health problems allow him to get to Ottawa). And David Kilgour from Alberta has yet to make up his mind.

APRIL 22-24 UPDATE: Some Canadian TV viewers were impressed by what Paul Martin had to say at 7:02 PM EDT / 4:02 PM PDT, Thursday, April 21, 2005 (not 7:30 and 4:30 as originally announced – a point duly noted by John Ibbitson on TV Ontario). But others – including, it seems, most of the seasoned cynical observers in and around Ottawa – were not.

One strategic player who might have been impressed just enough to add some wrinkles to the continuing game in parliament was Jack Layton. Maybe, if the Martin minority government does something to help the New Democrats get over their criticism of the government’s budget bill, Mr. Layton and his party may vote with the Liberals in any coming parliamentary fireworks. This may not finally thwart resolute action by the Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois to bring the government down, and precipitate a spring or early summer election. But it could complicate the process in various intriguing ways.

Meanwhile, Paul Martin has now promised that he will call an election himself, no more than 30 days after Justice Gomery brings in his final report on the sponsorship scandal. According to a Reuters item in the New York Times, that means “Canada’s Martin promises election within months.” The Globe and Mail, however, is saying that the final Gomery report is expected by about December this year. Which could presumably put an election as far as 10 months away – at the end of February 2006, say.

So we the people of Canada now seem to know that there is going to be a fresh federal election before the next 12 months are up in any case. The question is whether it’s going to happen within the next few months, or the next many more months, so to speak. And all the smart money in Ottawa, and many other parts of the country, still seems to be saying that it’s going to come sooner than later.

The next big drama in the parliamentary game is that MPs will be returning to their local ridings for a week, to try to take their constituents’ temperatures on the prospect of an election quite soon. It would be probably be healthy for the body politic if this were also a signal for the entire country to refrain from talking in public about the political scandal in Ottawa for the next several days. But there is as well probably very little chance that any such thing will happen.

In any case, the Washington Post is now carrying an Associated Press story headlined “Canadian leader apologizes for corruption.” That remains an unusual enough headline in the annals of democracy throughout the free world. And Canadians can probably take some pride in this, if not in much else about their version of democratic politics lately. (It remains a continuing great scandal, to take just one small point, e.g., that Paul Martin and the other federal leaders appeared on television to talk to the people of Canada who live in the Pacific time zone at just after 4 o’clock in the afternoon, when most of the adult labour force was still at work.)

APRIL 20-21 UPDATE: The three federal opposition parties in Canada have shown that they are not without some neo-Machiavellian skills themselves. And in the judgment of almost all observers closest to the scene in Ottawa, the result is that there is almost certainly going to be a federal election before everyone gets buried too deeply in the hazy, lazy days of summer 2005. (Unless Paul Martin can somehow turn everything around in an unusual six-minute address to the nation tonight.)

On the morning of April 20 the Globe and Mail went so far as to suggest “Stage set for June 27 election.” Susan Delacourt in the Toronto Star remained a bit more vaguely cautious with “Stage set for ugly election battle.” And the Vancouver Sun, already immersed in the BC provincial election, carried a Canadian Press story headlined “Liberal MP suggests Gomery inquiry could cost PM his job.”

In terms of the parliamentary mechanics, following Liberal House Leader Tony Valeri’s sudden cancellation of this week’s and perhaps subsequent opposition days, all three opposition parties have combined to force the minority Liberals into effectively conceding that there will be at least one opposition day on Thursday, May 19, if not before. This ensures the opposition parties an opportunity to bring the government down then as well (if not before, in connection with the Liberal government budget bill, e.g.). The earliest an election could be legally held if the government fell on May 19 would be Monday, June 27.

The Conservatives’ Jason Kenney has most recently taken some pains to stress that an election is still not altogether certain. His party will be listening carefully to what voices from the wider electorate have to say about the prospect over the next few weeks, before committing absolutely to the final plunge. And even if this penultimate reading of the people of Canada’s tea leaves does not deter the current mad rush, there remain a number of still unanswered questions about exactly how the government might finally be brought down, and a fresh election called.

There still seem to be some Liberals, e.g., who think it may be difficult for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives to vote for the budget bill, as they have already more or less promised they would, and then shortly after turn around and defeat the government. Alternatively if the Conservatives vote to bring the government down on the budget bill itself, they will have begun the election campaign by breaking a promise of sorts themselves – making it harder for them to pose as any brand new incarnation of political purity.

Jack Layton and his 18 fellow New Democrats in parliament now seem incensed enough about Tony Valeri’s cancellation of opposition days (the hijacking of democracy in the House, as some put it) to vote against the Martin government, along with the Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois, on the budget bill or in any other context. But if they change their minds as they do their final listening to the people of Canada over the next few weeks, they could still presumably vote with the Liberals in the end, and bring the more complex parliamentary arithmetic of MP health problems and independents Chuck Cadman, David Kilgour, and Carolyn Parish into play again (as discussed earlier below).

What does appear clear enough is that apart from perhaps a few very resolute Martin Liberal partisans, almost no one in Ottawa at this point believes that an election soon can be avoided. One way or another it is going to happen – unless some clear majority of the Canadian people somehow rises up over the next few weeks and shouts an utterly resounding NO. And as all the old dogs will tell you, that has never happened before.

So, even for those who think an election now is not at all a good idea, perhaps the best thing to do is just accept that it is almost certainly going to happen anyway, and try to make the best of it. And there will be some time to think about what that might mean over the next few weeks.

If we are going to have this election, it would be nice to think that it might at least partly have something to do with the real future of Canada (about which there are various reasons to be almost seriously concerned at the moment, as usual). Five weeks of endless barely intelligible shouting about letters written by the staffs of assorted cabinet ministers from several years ago sounds like a very bleak and dreary prospect indeed.

Perhaps Canadian federal politicians will look better once they get on the campaign trail than they have for the past several weeks in Ottawa. Perhaps then they will start to show that they have ideas about things other than their own professional ambitions and conflicts. And Canadian politics will start to seem a little less like Nero fiddling while Rome burns, or worse. Maybe somewhere, somehow, someone a bit like Trudeau will arise again and ask his always and still burning question: “Who will speak for Canada?” And at least start to answer it too.

Meanwhile, even many people of Canada who only get interested in politics as required now do seem to be more or less waiting to hear what Paul Martin – and Stephen Harper, Gilles Duceppe, and Jack Layton - are going to say on TV tonight (or late this afternoon), Thursday, April 21, 2005. Even if some of them will  only hear about it in the newspapers and on the radio the next morning.

APRIL 19 UPDATE: So on the evening of Monday, April 18, 2005 Liberal House leader Tony Valeri cancelled a so-called parliamentary opposition day that had been allocated to the Conservatives for this week. The governing Liberals have also taken the 2005 budget implementation bill off the parliamentary agenda for the next three weeks.

What the still rather neo-Machiavellian Liberals are no doubt trying to do is regain some of the initiative in the continuing great Canadian Gomery election debate. As Bill Curry and Campbell Clark at the self-proclaimed national newspaper have nicely explained, the Martin minority government has “moved … to deprive the opposition of a chance to control the timing of an election.” This has in turn prompted “Conservative Leader Stephen Harper to warn that the Liberals are signing their own death warrant.'” To which any remaining staunch Liberal partisans are no doubt as yet still entitled to reply, for the moment at least, maybe, maybe not.

As Curry and Clark go on to point out, Tony Valeri made his move after learning that the Conservatives intended to use their April 20 opposition day “to team up with the Bloc Qubcois on a motion that would allow opposition parties to decide the timing of opposition days next month,” which could then “be used to move a no-confidence motion and topple the government.” Mr. Valeri said “that he is shutting down this week’s day because it was going to be used in an attempt to hijack’ the government’s authority.”

It could be that all this shows how the Liberals are finally not going to just lay back and take the opposition’s firestorm of criticism over the Gomery inquiry, as if they had lost all control of the political agenda. And this may give them enough time to at least rearrange the deck chairs more advantageously before the iceberg strikes at last. As matters stand (Curry and Clark again), the “government does have the power to push all five remaining opposition days into June, which would force the Tories to trigger a mid-summer election.” Tony Valeri himself has apparently suggested that “the opposition could still bring down the government by voting down the budget.” But then he has also put even a vote on that ahead by three weeks now as well.

The big problem with all this neo-Machiavellianism of course is that it just may have further inflamed all the opposition parties to such an extent that the Liberals will not be able to get any legislation through parliament. And that particularly includes the presumably quite crucial budget legislation three weeks from now. For the moment it seems that Jack Layton’s New Democrats might still be persuaded to vote with the Liberals on the 2005 budget – which could give the Martin government still more time to manouevre. And already the most ardent political junkies have started to calculate the outside parameters for the numbers on this prospect.

The upshot here is that the Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois together hold 153 seats, and the Liberals and New Democrats together hold 150 seats – neither of which quite manages to make a majority. If all three current independents voted with the Liberals, that would throw the vote into the hands of Liberal Speaker Peter Milliken and let the Martin government squeak by.

The Conservatives had been up to now assuming that at least one of the independents – Chuck Cadman, a former Canadian Alliance member from BC – would vote with them. But this no longer seems clear. The other two independents are David Kilgour from Alberta, who recently resigned from the Liberal ranks over the Gomery testimony, and Carolyn Parish from Southern Ontario, who was expelled from the Liberal caucus a while back, for her harsh public criticisms, it would seem, of both the Bush government in the USA and (the very last straw) the Martin government in Canada.

Just contemplating the ensuing fun and games in Ottawa that may or may not result from this ultimate lineup of the numbers is almost enough to make any true political junkie start salivating uncontrollably, whatever its perhaps quite opposite effect on the electorate at large. And the picture is fascinatingly complicated again by assorted current health problems among MPs, including the very strategic Chuck Cadman, who is in the final stages of chemotherapy treatment.

What it finally does make you think is that the fever among almost all the Canadian federal politicians in Ottawa may now be so high as to require a fresh election soon enough, just to stop the spread of the disease. How the electorate at large will feel about such a prescription still does seem rather uncertain. But that may almost have become unimportant, at least until the election is finally held. Meanwhile the federal Liberals do seem to be showing that, whatever happens, they are going to be putting up a stiff enough fight. (And Gordon Campbell’s provincial Liberals in BC – who may or may not be real Liberals at all – have now officially started their campaign, in the one Canadian election that we already know is going to happen for certain, on May 17.)

APRIL 18 UPDATE: The polls that surfaced over the weekend have somewhat stiffened the prospect that Stephen Harper’s Conservatives just might be able to pull off a bare majority government, outside Quebec. It is not at all clear that their 36% Canada-wide showing in the latest Ipsos-Reid poll could finally work this way, but “the Liberals have won majorities with 37 % of support among decided voters.” And such numbers “will certainly weigh on the mind of Mr. Harper as he determines the best day to bring down the Liberal minority and force an election.”

Meanwhile, New Democrat leader Jack Layton seems to have clarified that his unwillingness to jump on board any actual Conservative-Bloc Quebecois motion to bring the Martin government down only applies to “what his party would do if the Conservatives were to act this week.” Which could mean that nothing too exciting will happen until next week. “While in some parts of the country, notably Quebec, people are certainly anxious to get going and render judgment,” Mr. Layton has said, “that level of enthusiasm for an election hasn’t percolated through the entire country according to members of our party that are out there with their ears to the ground.” And this judgment appears to be supported by the latest polls as well.

Technically, the New Democrat MPs may not be needed to do the trick. The Conservatives and the Bloc could have the numbers by themselves. But many Conservatives don’t like the optics that going ahead without Jack Layton will present to the electorate. It could make the Conservatives seem a little too opportunistic and cynical themselves – and aid and abet Liberal arguments that Stephen Harper is too dependent on the Quebec sovereigntists led by Gilles Duceppe.

One of the deans of Alberta academia, Roger Gibbins, has weighed in on a related front, in a column in the Calgary Sun. “The most likely outcome” of a fresh federal election, in Gibbins’s current view, is still “a weak minority government, with either the Liberals or Conservatives holding a plurality of 125-130 seats, and the balance of power resting with the Bloc.”

Given recent polls on Quebec politics, Gibbins goes on: “In either case, the federal government would then face not only a Bloc-dominated Quebec, but also a Quebec provincial government that will soon be controlled by the Parti Quebecois … The federal Liberals will likely argue that this national unity nightmare scenario will be even worse if the sovereigntist legions confront a Conservative government in Ottawa without significant cabinet representation from Quebec (as opposed to a Liberal minority government with representation from the west end of Montreal).”

At the same time again, according to a Globe and Mail report, “with a series of national polls showing the Tories surging ahead of the scandal-wounded Liberals” New Democrat leader Jack Layton has also “signalled every intention of being able to work with a Harper-led minority government. We’ve shown we can work with any political party on a good idea,’ Mr. Layton said matter-of-factly in an interview with The Canadian Press that was dotted with benign references to the Liberal-designated Great Satan.” And so the springtime political soap opera in Canada continues. And the best advice for the moment is no doubt just stay tuned.

APRIL 16-17 UPDATE: Two new polls coming in on the April 1617 weekend are showing Stephen Harper’s Conservatives back in a promising position, if not exactly the catbird seat. And the counterweights legal counsel is arguing that the Conservatives are bound to gamble on a fresh Canadian federal election selection soon – because outrage over the Gomery testimony is the only good issue they’ve got, and their only real chance to form any kind of government in Ottawa, in any foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, Jack Layton has broadly hinted that the NDP would probably not support a Conservative-Bloc Quebecois non-confidence motion against the Martin Liberal government in parliament. Vancouver mayor Larry Campbell has warned that “British Columbia will lose hundreds of millions in federal fuel-sharing revenue for transit services if an election is called.” And Stephen Harper appears very circumspect about just what he may or may not do. At the same time, both Martin and Harper already seem to be on some kind of campaign trail.

Back at the Gomery inquiry in Montreal on Friday, long-time Jean Chretien ally Jacques Corriveau “came to the defence of the Liberal party … with a passionate denial of sponsorship allegations that are rocking the federal government.” And Liberal Party Quebec lieutenant Jean Lapierre has advised that the “federal Liberals don’t want an election but will be ready if they are forced into one this spring.”

Meanwhile again, south of the unfortified border, the Washington Post has run an article headlined “Canada’s Liberals Reeling As Quebec Scandal Grows.” And, as if to show that it is not just in Canada that people at the top do not always have an intimate familiarity with what the people who are in one way or another supposed to be working for them are actually doing, “President Bush said yesterday that he was surprised by his administration’s plans to require U.S. citizens to show a passport when reentering the country from Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean, and he ordered an administration review of whether the entry rules should be relaxed … When I first read that in the newspaper about the need to have passports,’ the president told the American Society of Newspaper Editors, ‘I said, What’s going on here?'” It is interesting to hear that, just like the rest of us, the president learns about such things by reading the newspaper.

APRIL 15 UPDATE: The big news in a new CBC poll is that it’s the New Democrats and not the Conservatives who seem to be gaining most from the sponsorship scandal so far.

This just may raise a scenario for a spring 2005 Canadian federal election that is somewhat different from the one last year. Maybe the most likely alternative to the present Martin Liberal minority government isn’t just a Stephen Harper Conservative minority government, awkwardly propped up by the Bloc Quebecois (to say nothing of a Conservative majority government, with no or at best very few seats in Quebec). Maybe it’s some more thorough-going and thoroughly brushed-clean Liberal-NDP Alliance government – that could ultimately serve to unite the left in anglophone Canada, for the first time since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Some would of course say that this is no more or even less preferable than the Martin Liberal minority government Canada has now. But it does seem to be introducing one potentially fresh ingredient into an otherwise rather tired and been-there-done-that picture.

The immediate challenge for Jack Layton and the NDP (and Mr. Layton’s compelling wife and fellow Canadian politician Olivia Chow) could be to decide whether to support any too rash move by the Conservatives and the Bloc to bring the Martin government down.

Meanwhile back at the Gomery inquiry, Jacques Corriveau has been having memory problems. But then it also seems possible to say that it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that the federal government might be keen to spend advertising dollars in Quebec after the 1995 referendum. A clever and well-seasoned operator like M. Corriveau didn’t necessarily need to be told such a thing, by Jean Chretien or anyone else.

As modern political science literature has long observed, the power of “anticipated reactions” can have a lot to do with how all sorts of things get done in any kind of politics. And there sometimes seems a rather dubious and contrary inevitable-conspiracy theory behind many of the questions being so sharply asked of witnesses at the Gomery inquiry (as understandable as that may be too).

The assumption almost appears to be that there is no other possible explanation for the events being inquired into than some systematic manipulation by specific individuals, plotting away at specific meetings, extravagant lunches, and so forth. Yet, arguably enough, in the real world of democracy the kinds of events being investigated often happen much more haphazardly – which is itself one of the problems in keeping them under some reasonable degree of control.

None of this is to excuse the inexcusable behaviour that certainly does seem to have gone on in connection with some aspects of the post-1995-referendum sponsorship program in Quebec. It is just to suggest that one quite possible explanation of such events is just that those at the top and even at middle managerial levels did not have as much control over what was happening right down on the ground as they ought to have had.

That may be bad management, which urgently does need to be repaired. (And the program has now been cancelled by the Martin government.) But it isn’t a crime, or even any necessary reflection of systemic political corruption, from one end of the management system still in place to the other. It could or may be that too, of course, but any such verdict has still yet to be at all seriously established, to say the very least.

Even so, the Gomery inquiry clearly continues to do Paul Martin’s Liberal Party serious damage, and no doubt not without some rough democratic justice, in the eyes of the people of Canada.

APRIL 14 UPDATE: Southwestern Ontario Liberal MP Pat O’Brien will not be leaving the Liberals after all, following some assurances from Paul Martin.

Meanwhile, according to the Globe and Mail, the current skirmishing between Liberals and Conservatives in Ottawa hints at how any possible 2005 federal election campaign – “which the Tories have suggested will kick off over the next month or so – would mirror last year’s election, when the Tories were tarred with jumping into bed with the Bloc Qubcois while the Liberals absorbed massive criticism on the sponsorship scandal.”

The Globe and Mail has also run an editorial headlined “There’s little reason for a spring election.”

And the Gomery inquiry carries on in Montreal, and continues to drag up testimony that is at least widely regarded as damaging to the Liberals … while Paul Martin continues to insist that his hands are clean.

At the same time, Vancouver’s population growth rate is predicted to double over the next five years. Canada’s most beautiful city on the Pacific coast “was losing people to Alberta, the land of opportunity.” But it “has turned that around by creating roughly 55,000 new jobs over the past three years.” (And, whatever else, for certain there will be a provincial election in BC, before there may or not be another federal election in Canada.)

Meanwhile again, the always interesting Philip Cross at Statistics Canada has just released a new report on “Canada’s economic growth in review,” which quietly suggests that someone or something somewhere has been managing the Canadian economy rather well enough recently.

And the Los Angeles Times reports that “Canada will post the second-fastest growth in the G-7 this year at 2.8%,” according to the International Monetary Fund, ahead of all of “Japan, Germany, Britain, France and Italy.” (Why is it that Canada might be having another federal election again, just a year after the last one?)

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