Does new Conservative strength in polls mean no spring election in Canada?

Feb 16th, 2011 | By | Category: In Brief

Minister for International Cooperation Bev Oda is congratulated by friends in Montreal last month. She has more recently admitted "she altered a funding document for an aid group to insert the word 'not,' reversing the document's intent." Some are saying Prime Minister Harper's determination to excuse her behaviour should "break the back of the current minority Parliament." Others have their doubts.

[UPDATED FEBRUARY 18, 20]. Those of us who have not been happy about Stephen Harper’s (technically minority) stewardship of the Canadian experiment over the past five years will not be happy about the three latest opinion polls on Canadian federal politics either.

The Canada-wide results from EKOS, Ipsos Reid, and Harris Decima are (in that order – and in round numbers): Cons, 37%, 39%, 37% ; Libs 25%, 25%, 27% ; NDP 14%, 18%, 14% ; Greens 11%, 10%, 10% ; BQ 10%, 9%, 10%.  (Or, in simple arithmetic averages for all three polls: Cons 38%, Libs 26%, NDP 15%, Greens 10%, BQ 10%.)

According to Harris Decima pollster Allan Gregg: “These are the best numbers we’ve seen for Stephen Harper and the Conservatives since the afterglow of the 2008 election … They’ve got a solid, 10-point lead in Ontario … and they have been competitive since the fall in Toronto … It’s easier for Conservatives to mobilize their voters by attacking Ignatieff than it is for the Liberals to mobilize their voters by attacking Harper …  Tory attack ads seem to have succeeded in portraying Mr. Ignatieff as a pointy-headed, out-of-touch, effete urban snob.”

Justin Trudeau from Quebec and Ralph Goodale from Saskatchewan : a spring 2011 election might still somehow show that the Liberal Party of Canada is not quite dead yet ... maybe?

According to Ipsos Reid president Darrell Bricker: “The Tory attack ads might be ‘kicking in a bit.’ Moreover … ‘We’ve seen this before. The more people talk about elections, the more it seems to move in the favour of the government’.” Even so: “while the latest poll shows the Tories would be returned to power, they might still fall short of a majority … the Conservatives probably have to get 42% of the vote nationally for that to happen.” (A majority of seats in the Canadian House of Commons, that is: thanks to the strange political arithmetic of our current electoral and five-party systems, you don’t remotely need a majority of the popular vote for a majority in Parliament.)

So … does this also mean that the opposition parties will be more likely to support the Harper Conservative budget – now expected (though not confirmed) for March 22? Maybe, of course, but maybe not. I still like two Valentine’s Day headlines here myself: “Polls may slow election momentum, but the music has already started” (Geoffrey Stevens in,  and “A spring election? I’m betting yes” (NDP guru Brian Topp in the Globe and Mail).


* * * *

Stockwell Day and Laureen Harper at a Hard Rock Cafe party in honour of staying in power for five years, February 2011. How much longer can they last?

Whatever else, the current Harper Conservatives still have only a minority government. They still need at least one of the BQ, NDP, or Liberals to support their budget, on March 22 or whenever. If not, we will in fact have a spring election. I’d hedge my own guess with the argument that you can never rule out anything from PM Harper. He has shown that he is more than capable of turning on a dime, and arguing with apparent conviction that black is white and/or vice-versa, etc, etc, etc. If he really does not want an election, as he claims, he could finally give in to the current demands of at least one of the above at the last minute. But …

The argument that the BQ just seems to be asking too much too blatantly, especially given some strategic Conservative positioning in the past and presumably the future too, still makes quite a lot of sense to me. (See, eg: “Bloc to Harper: pay up or face voters” and “NDP blasts Bloc-Tory co-operation.”)  The New Democrats seem to be growing closer and closer to: “fool me once, shame on you ; fool me twice, shame on me.” (See, eg, “Hébert: NDP saved Harper, then lost ground.”)

Iggy makes fun of a bobblehead doll of himself in London, Ontario, August 2010. What if an election campaign shows he’s not really what his enemies say he is? Mark Spowart/Canadian Press.

The latest numbers show the Liberals in a tight spot, no doubt. But then you can also wonder: in the very end what do they have to lose – on several fronts?

Unless PM Harper finally backs down on corporate tax breaks, eg, the Ignatieff Liberals will look hopelessly lacking in all conviction if they finally do support such things in the coming budget. It may still be that, the wisdom of Allan Gregg and  Darrell Bricker notwithstanding, once a campaign officially begins  Mr. Ignatieff as a pointy-headed, out-of-touch, effete urban snob will start looking a bit better to voters than he does in the current wave of Conservative attack ads. (How will Harper and the intellectually hefty Ignatieff really look mano a mano, eg, in a TV debate?) And then, if all else fails, and Iggy’s leadership really is the crucial problem, the sooner he blows his chance in an election, and can then be got rid of with some dignity, the better. No?

So … if I had to bet money right now, I think I’d probably still count myself among the followers of Geoffrey Stevens and Brian Topp.

(But of course a week can be a long time in politics, etc.  No one should be absolutely certain they won’t change their mind next week, or the week after that … It will likely still be a month or so [March 22?] before anyone can be absolutely certain about anything … )

UPDATE FEBRUARY 18: In yesterday’s Toronto Star Bob Hepburn reported that “senior federal Liberals” have recently told their Ontario provincial counterparts they are ready for an election on Monday, May 2.  They anticipate a budget on March 22, which will be rejected by all three opposition parties several days later, forcing Mr. Harper to call an election. The current minimum length of a federal campaign is 36 days. And this gives a May 2 date, on the argument that “Harper prefers a short campaign.”

Mark Kennedy of Postmedia News has similarly reported in the Vancouver Sun: “Canada’s political parties are careening toward a parliamentary confrontation that is expected to end with an election on May 2 or 9 … The senior players on Parliament Hill can see it coming. The backroom party operatives who plan their campaigns are in full-tilt preparation. And as one insider said Thursday, the scenario has now become regarded as ‘extremely plausible.'”

A report later today in the Globe and Mail may have thickened the plot, in another direction. Despite prior claims to the contrary by finance critic Thomas Mulcair, Jack Layton’s New Democrats are “taking the vexed issue of corporate tax cuts off the table, leaving a four-point budget wish list as a way for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to avoid a spring election …  With the Conservatives now ahead of the Liberals by 10 percentage points or more in a spate of recent opinion polls, it will be for the Prime Minister to decide whether to bend to Mr. Layton’s demands and live to govern for another year, or to bring down a budget he knows no opposition party can pass.”

(See also from the same paper, earlier in the day: “When’s the next election? Do the math,” which concludes: “Will that be enough to convince Mr. Harper that it’s time to pull the plug? The answer will be in the budget.”)

UPDATE FEBRUARY 20: The plot has thickened again (or should that be thinned?) in today’s Globe and Mail online.  See “Layton draws strong line on budget, opening door to election … New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton left little doubt Sunday that his party will vote against the upcoming federal budget in March, which could force a spring election … In his first interview since meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Friday, Mr. Layton said on the CTV’s Question Period that the NDP was opposed to the corporate tax cuts the Conservatives say will be in the budget.”

(So the seemingly contradictory report in the same paper this past Friday was … well, what … just plain wrong? Or did Mr. Layton change his mind, after so many in his own party complained? Only his hairdresser knows for sure.)

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  1. […] reading here: Does new Conservative strength in polls make spring federal … Share and […]

    Ie whatever The Daily Conservative is, it seems to have picked this up (way down south):

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Martell Thornton, Democracy Reform. Democracy Reform said: Does new Conservative strength in polls mean no spring election in Canada?: Minister for Internationa… #demreform […]

  3. […] The public is not that stupid, or are they? […]

    Another site based in BC, determined to say what it thinks regardless, also linked to this article:

  4. Please help us not to have a 2011 election. No, please stop this now.

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