Will still more bad opposition polls kill Canadian spring election in the end?

Mar 11th, 2011 | By | Category: In Brief

Our deep sympathies to those directly affected by today’s 8.9 earthquake disaster in Japan, which apparently ranks as the world’s fifth largest since 1900. Here at home in Canada we are fortunate that sections of the BC coast recorded up to a metre in the rise of water but no damage from the tsunami generated by the earthquake. In Japan itself more than 1,000 people are feared dead — and the estimate may rise.

As the week of March 7–11 that maybe was or was not in Canadian federal politics closes, two new polls on party standings have thrown some almost abrupt cold water on the more or less enthused speculation about such themes as “can opposition get Harper on abuse of power instead of budget?” — that I joined myself just two days ago.

The first (and most damaging for the lead Liberal opposition party) is an on-line poll of 1,021 Canadians conducted between March 8 and 9 by Angus Reid/Vision Critical. It “gives Stephen Harper and his Conservatives 39% support compared to 23% for the Liberals. The NDP is at 17%, while the Bloc and the Green Party are tied with 9% support.”

The second (and somewhat less damaging, for the Liberals at any rate) is an  EKOS Research poll of 2,892 respondents  conducted between February 24 and March 8. In cross-Canada round numbers this gives the Conservatives 35%, the Liberals 28%, the NDP 15%, the Green Party 10% and the Bloc Quebecois 9%.

The argument that House Speaker Milliken’s two “black eye” contempt rulings against the “Harper Government” this past Wednesday have crystallized some damaging new abuse-of-power case against the Conservatives has also been aggressively challenged by Tory guru Tim Powers, in a Globe and Mail column neatly headlined  “Black eyes will heal and leave no visible scars on Tories.”

Still more to the point, celebrated (if currently vaguely disaffected?) Liberal guru Warren Kinsella is arguing that going for a fresh federal election right now “and going on the ethics theme, will lead to a majority Harper Government … Look at the polls, folks. If you take Quebec out of the picture (where the Bloc utterly dominates, anyway), the Reformatories have A TWENTY POINT LEAD in English Canada. Twenty points! That’s massacre time.”

Kinsella goes on: “I like the ethics theme as a ballot question. I do … But here’s the problem: voters are pretty skeptical about ‘scandal’ stuff … it takes weeks and months to publicize and explain something like the ‘in and out’ conspiracy — Hell, it took Harper more than a year to capitalize on the sponsorship stuff. It’ll take too much time to tell the story right.”

Frank Graves at EKOS seems to be offering similar advice. He is urging that “it would be ‘prudent to park’ the enthusiasm for an election that seems to be emanating from the opposition parties and ‘hope the accountability and character issues can percolate and blend to provide a more forceful challenge’” somewhat further down the road.

So … will advice of this sort (which no doubt does smack of considerable common sense, in some respects) finally persuade the opposition parties and their current parliamentary majority to back down from voting non-confidence in the second Harper minority government, when push finally comes to shove during the week of March 21–25 (and/or perhaps the week of March 28–April 1)?  The counterweights editors on this site are currently divided on this question, and are reserving judgment. Perhaps somewhat too foolishly, I have less hesitation about rushing in and saying NO.

To make a long story very short, I think a bit too much toothpaste has already come out of the tube to get it all back. And more importantly, if the opposition parties back down on the abuse-of-power and contempt-for-democracy-and-the-majority-of-the-Canadian people theme now (a  more apt characterization than “ethics,” it seems to me) — and finally continue to keep the government in office — that will seriously reduce their credibility on the theme down the road.

(Once the genie is out of the bottle on this kind of thing too, it can’t go back without losing  power. Moreover, the case here, I think, is a bit different from the sponsorship scandal of yore: and it is still a little too early to try to measure even its short-run impact on popular opinion.)

Anyway, only time will tell definitively of course. And I certainly could be wrong — about whether there will be an election this spring, and about whether an election now does ultimately make sense, for the forces of progress and the great long-run cause of a stronger Canada.

Probably the most interesting thing about politics — and especially democratic politics — is that anyone can always be wrong, at any time. (And occasionally, history does suggest, that even includes opinion polls!)

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  1. I think a spring election is close to inevitable. It’s highly likely that at least one, if not both, of the two Speaker’s rulings will, when the matter comes back to the House after it’s gone through committee, result in a Contempt of Parliament ruling. It’s hard to see how that couldn’t lead to the opposition introducing a confidence motion, and voting non-confidence, shortly thereafter. How can they pass a Contempt of Parliament motion (assuming they do) and then turn around and say they have confidence in the government? They can’t.

    And if that doesn’t bring down the government, the opposition parties have drawn too many lines in the sand on the budget. The Conservatives don’t seem ready to compromise sufficiently to be seen by any rational person as having met the opposition parties’ demands. And the opposition parties can’t afford to back down at this point as they will lose all credibility.

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