Fall election in Canada — back to maybe, maybe not?

Sep 14th, 2009 | By | Category: In Brief
New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton speaks to supporters on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, September 14, 2009. REUTERS/Chris Wattie.

New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton speaks to supporters on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, September 14, 2009. REUTERS/Chris Wattie.

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2009. 5:00 PM EDT.  [UPDATED 11:00 PM EDT; SEPTEMBER 18; OCTOBER 9]. So the federal Parliament of Canada has now reconvened on the banks of the Ottawa River.

In question period today Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff aptly enough told Conservative minority Prime Minister Stephen Harper that “the problem of instability is you.” For a brief moment this did seem to sting Mr. Harper and his front bench colleagues in the House.  But he recovered quickly enough to deliver an equally stinging (albeit dated) rebuke about “left-wing incompetents in Ontario,” to Liberal front bencher (and former Ontario NDP premier) Bob Rae.

Meanwhile, Mr. Harper’s minority government has put in place two pieces of political craftsmanship, that may or may not have at least fighting chances of staving off yet another Canadian federal election, for a short while at any rate.

First, finance minister Jim Flaherty has tabled a “ways and means” or financially enabling motion “that could trigger a fall vote by Friday” [September 18]. But while its specific provisions include the home renovation tax credit and drought relief for farmers, they omit “provisions for a national securities regulator, which the Bloc Quebecois had said it could not support.” And, in something of a surprise, “Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe said … his MPs will support the ways and means motion if it includes the home renovation tax credit — and no poison pills.” For starters, then, that could keep the 40th Parliament going beyond this Friday.

Second, human resources minister Diane Finley has announced plans for a “bill, to be tabled Wednesday” (or maybe it would just be an executive order-in-council, some sources report) that “would temporarily extend employment insurance benefits for an extra five to 20 weeks to workers who have paid into the EI system for at least 10 years while collecting few benefits.” And Jack Layton and his federal New Democrats are saying this could prove to be a good first step down a road that avoids a fall election altogether — and keeps the 40th Parliament working on behalf of the Canadian people, etc, etc.

As John Ibbitson (now back from Washington to serve as Globe and Mail Ottawa Bureau chief) has nicely put things, how far are either the allegedly capitalist Conservatives or  socialist New Democrats “prepared to travel down such an ideologically conflicted road [?] Would the NDP support the Tories on a Liberal-sponsored motion of no-confidence, solely to secure improvements to EI? That is the emerging politically-charged question.”

Still, it now seems that this week is not necessarily inevitably headed down a very short road to a fall election, sooner than later. Things could look different tomorrow, of course. In times like these (as someone has already noted not too long ago somewhere in this vicinity?), even a day can be a long time in Canadian politics.

UPDATE SEPTEMBER 14, 11:00 PM EDT: Jennifer Ditchburn at The Canadian Press is now reporting that the “Bloc Quebecois are still uncertain which way they’ll go” on the Friday ways and means confidence motion. A CanWest News report in the Vancouver Sun implies that Gilles Duceppe is nonetheless still in the game.

Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe speaks during Question Period in the Canadian House of Commons, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, September 14, 2009. REUTERS/Chris Wattie.

Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe speaks during Question Period in the Canadian House of Commons, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, September 14, 2009. REUTERS/Chris Wattie.

Both The Canadian Press and the Toronto Star are reporting that the NDP “was surprised late Monday to find that the [Friday] motion also contains a possible poison pill: a reference to tax measures that will go into effect should Parliament approve separate legislation on a free trade agreement with Colombia.”  This may not conflict with the NDP’s strong objections to free trade with Columbia, since: “Supporting the ways and means motion would not prevent New Democrats from voting later against the trade pact.”

Meanwhile, just after 10 PM tonight Bill Curry and Jane Taber at the Globe and Mail reported that “Prime Minister Stephen Harper is refusing to make any backroom deals with the NDP to keep his minority government in power, setting the stage for a public dance between the two parties as Parliament heads into a confidence vote on Friday.” (Of course if Mr. Layton just wants to support the government’s new EI policy, that would be fine. But a “backroom deal” would be too much like a “coalition”  — a label Mr. Ignatieff has already tried to pin on Mr. Harper’s prospective new informal arrangements with “the socialists.”)

Finally, at about the same time, Joyce Murray, Liberal MP for Vancouver Quadra reported on Twitter: “Caucus Stornoway dinner — Senators, MPs and partners dancing up a storm on the lawn. MP Alan Tonks did a fab James Brown impression.” (Stornoway, in case you’ve forgotten, is the official residence of the leader of the opposition, currently occupied by Michael Ignatieff.)

For an update on Canadian federal politics as of Friday, September 18, 2009, see L. Frank Bunting’s In Brief report: “All fired up and ready to go in Canada?

For an update on the will-there-be-a-fall-election theme, as of the week of October 5-9, 2009, see the Counterweights Editors’ In Brief report: “By-election blues — probably not déja vu all over again, but … ?“.

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