What if there was a snap Canadian federal election over Afghan docs .. and the Harper Cons pulled a Rob Green?

Jun 13th, 2010 | By | Category: In Brief
Shakira performs at kick-off concert for 2010 World Cup at Orlando Stadium in Soweto, South Africa. Photograph by: Stuart Franklin, Getty Images. Meanwhile, what if we suddenly did stumble into a surprise federal election in Canada, over the Afghanistan documents that almost everyone has already forgotten?

Shakira performs at kick-off concert for 2010 World Cup at Orlando Stadium in Soweto, South Africa. Photograph by: Stuart Franklin, Getty Images. Meanwhile, what if we suddenly did stumble into a surprise federal election in Canada, over the Afghanistan documents that almost everyone has already forgotten?

SUNDAY, JUNE 13, 2010. 1:15 AM. [UPDATED JUNE 14 BELOW.]  A few of us came into the office on a Saturday night, to catch up on some World Cup TV, far from the madding crowds at home. One of us was also catching up  on the latest Afghan detainee documents developments in the alleged nations’ capital, on the banks of the Ottawa River. (Where a dead man’s body was recently discovered “near 24 Sussex Dr.,” official residence of the Prime Minister of Canada: though other reports just say “near the Ottawa Rowing Club,” no doubt for good reasons.)

So it turns out that the four political parties in the Canadian House of Commons have still not come up with the practical details for implementing last month’s agreement in principle on the release of  Afghan detainee documents, prompted by House Speaker Peter Milliken’s wise and measured ruling on the issue a few weeks before. According to The Canadian Press, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, speaking at an event in Halifax, has just said “We’re kind of running the clock here and there’s a question as to whether the government’s ragging the puck.” The CP report goes on: “The NDP and the Bloc have threatened to hold up millions in federal cash needed to pay for the G8 and G20 summits if the Conservatives don’t release the documents.”

As the CBC website reminded us in the middle of this past week, the four parties “have failed to come to a final agreement, despite a May 31 deadline to do so, raising concerns that the government could face a contempt of Parliament motion. That could trigger a court battle or a snap election.”  Given recent opinion polls, and the imminent G8 and G20 summits in Toronto and Muskoka, followed very quickly by a visit to Canada from Queen Elizabeth II, it would seem almost certifiably insane for any of the four federal parties in Ottawa today to allow this situation to deteriorate to the point where a snap election is the only way out. On the other hand, stranger things have happened in Canadian politics …

“A man's body was pulled from the Ottawa River near the Ottawa Rowing Club, Friday, June 11, 2010.”

“A man's body was pulled from the Ottawa River near the Ottawa Rowing Club, Friday, June 11, 2010.”

And then, fortified by various World Cup beverages, our Saturday night debating club noted how no one was expecting today’s game between England and the USA to end in a 1-1 tie.  But then English goalie “Rob Green extends blooper reel, lets US back in for draw.” And this can get you thinking about just what might happen in a snap Canadian federal election — in a Canadian world where such contests are so often not won by oppositions but lost by governments (and especially arrogant, dithering minority governments?).

It is true as well that in the weekly EKOS poll, the gap between Conservatives and Liberals has lately been growing smaller, albeit very gradually. And then, just think … What if Stephen Harper’s party wound up having someone play the role of Rob Green, strictly by accident (as such things usually are)? And what if in the snap Afghan documents election the Conservatives and Liberals wound up tied, or virtually tied, in numbers of seats in Parliament? And what if the combined Liberal-NDP number of seats after this same snap election actually did wind up giving the two “progressive” parties together (and/or with the Greens too?) a parliamentary majority. Wouldn’t that set the stage for the kind of altogether legitimate coalition government — constitutionally and politically — that really does seem to be keeping Mr. Harper and his new Conservative Party of Canada up late at night these restless northern days (and nights)?

English goalie somehow lets US shot that shouldn’t have scored in the net on June 12. No one was expecting this to happen either. The game ended in a 1-1 tie.

English goalie somehow lets US shot that shouldn’t have scored in the net on June 12. No one was expecting this to happen either. The game ended in a 1-1 tie.

Of course none of this is actually likely to happen — of course, of course. As things stand right now, the most likely result of any fresh Canadian federal election, snap or otherwise, would be yet another Stephen Harper minority government (perhaps with not as many seats as it has now, but still facing a Liberal-NDP opposition that would need Bloc Quebecois votes to command a parliamentary majority). And yet … as the English historian J.H. Plumb reminded us back in the late 1960s: “Traditions are quickly bred and quickly destroyed and they snap suddenly.”  And what better place for a quickly bred tradition to snap in, than a sudden snap election?

UPDATE JUNE 14: Representatives of the four parties are meeting today, in an effort to hammer out a final deal. But the Conservatives are apparently still trying to insist on some unilateral executive branch right to exclude documents, contrary to the spirit of the Speaker’s ruling.  See “Parties meet in final bid to reach agreement on detainee records … Government seeks to withhold some documents on grounds of national security.” It almost seems as if Mr. Harper may want a snap election? Our guess is that if he does he could be unpleasantly surprised. Or maybe not, of course. (And then again it may just be that Mr. Harper really does think Mr. Ignatieff has no intestinal fortitude at all?)

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