Will Jack Layton’s New Democrats really back Harper Government budget and stop spring election? (apparently not)

Mar 22nd, 2011 | By | Category: In Brief

Jack and Olivia at the Calgary Stampede pancake breakfast, July 8, 2010.

[UPDATED MARCH 22,  30]. A piece in the Vancouver Sun (and other Postmedia News outlets) that began March 21 under the headline “Report finds Tories in contempt of Parliament” ended the same day under the quite different “As Harper government faces dissolution, Layton holds most of the cards.” And it was almost entirely re-written to focus on a new message: “The high-stakes political gamesmanship threatening the future of the minority Conservative government took an unexpected turn Monday as NDP leader Jack Layton adopted a conciliatory tone that suggests he might be poised to support the federal budget and avert a spring election.”

The Globe and Mail online edition published some similar ruminations at 6:21 PM ET on March 21 (last updated 11:36 PM): “All eyes on Layton ahead of budget … The Conservatives will pepper Tuesday’s budget with spending on NDP priorities, such as home-retrofit incentives, help for seniors and more doctors for rural Canada … NDP officials privately say it would take a lot for the party to support the budget — in part because it effectively means supporting the government for many months as the various budget votes play out in Parliament … The Harper government’s 2011 budget will act on some — but certainly not all — of the NDP’s five proposals for action.”

The Toronto Star website joined the chorus on the evening of March 21 as well: “Federal budget to meet some opposition demands … The federal budget will provide measures meant to win over the NDP and keep the Conservative government alive, including $400 million to help homeowners complete energy-saving improvements as well as breaks for rural doctors and nurses … These and a handful of other targeted spending initiatives are intended to brighten up Tuesday’s budget and make Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s tough austerity message go down easier with opposition parties threatening to topple the Harper regime.”

And finally, Le Devoir in Montreal rounded out the party in Canada’s other official language: “Le Bloc n’a pas ce qu’il voulait … Le budget Flaherty s’emploierait plutôt à satisfaire le NPD … Il semble que le gouvernement conservateur ait tout fait pour s’assurer plutôt l’appui du NPD. Selon des sources gouvernementales consultées par La Presse canadienne, le budget comprendra des mesures chères aux néodémocrates, dont un programme de rénovation énergétique domiciliaire de 400 millions, une hausse du soutien aux aînés à faible revenu et l’annulation des dettes du personnel médical oeuvrant dans les régions rurales … De son côté, le chef du Nouveau Parti démocratique, Jack Layton, maintient le suspense quant à ses intentions.”

Strange bedfellows or not? … (update: well, surprise, surprise: it turns out NOT) …

So … will Jack Layton and his  35 New Democratic Party MPs finally decide to back today’s most intriguing federal budget — and (even more intriguingly) keep the minority Harper Government in office and finally avoid the spring election that almost everyone else has finally come to see as extremely likely, at the very least? Like others, I will be surprised if that does happen in the end. But of course in Canadian politics almost anything is always possible. And as Gilles Duceppe has just pointed out to someone, recent Canadian political history has had more than its fair share of just such surprises. My only dead certainty at the moment is that I would not bet any of my hard-earned pocket money on this particular surprise myself.

Meanwhile, as a further sign of just how bizarre Canadian federal political speculation has become, the Postmedia News piece in the Vancouver Sun included a further complicating concept: “If the NDP signals it will support the budget, the next question it will face is whether to join with other opposition parties in voting for a separate non-confidence motion — that could come on Friday — which could condemn the government for secrecy and a lack of ethics.”

Mmmm … is anything remotely like this at all possible? I would say not myself. (See, eg, the above seemingly contrary proposition from the Globe and Mail: “because it effectively means supporting the government for many months as the various budget votes play out in Parliament.”) But at this stage of things I’d finally confess whadda I know about all these circumstances we’ve never seen before?

And if it is possible for the Layton New Democrats to signal support for the budget today, or Wednesday or Thursday, and then also support a non-confidence motion against the government about abuse of power and contempt of Parliament etc on Friday, I think that would be very interesting indeed! (Except at this point my head is starting to hurt just a little too much. And in any case I’m not holding my breath. According to the Globe and Mail this morning: “Jack Layton will take his time declaring whether he will or will not support budget being delivered by the Harper government Tuesday afternoon … In fact, the NDP Leader will sleep on it. He likely won’t make his views known until after he meets with his caucus Wednesday morning, according to a senior Layton official.”)

UPDATE MARCH 30: So the campaign for a May 2 polling day is off and running. And the way things look right now, one big question about the Canadian federal election of 2011 is will the Harper Conservatives win a majority of seats in the elected branch of Parliament at last? And what would happen if they did? See Citizen X on “Would Harper majority government in Canada be like Cameron-Clegg coalition government in UK?

UPDATE MARCH 22, 5 PM ET: Well, the Globe and Mail this morning turned out to be wrong. Mr. Layton has just been on CTV, making it  clear enough that the New Democrats will not be supporting the budget, because none of its many small “goodies” seriously address the five main concerns his party raised some time ago.   So stay tuned, and hold onto whatever it is you’re wearing at the moment!

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