The odour of rotten politics on Parliament Hill being what it is, the ups and downs of any particular day ought not to make much of a difference in terms of whether an election is desired or not. Still, if for no other reason than to preserve the tradition of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition and all that it stands for, any course of action that does not lead to the defeat of the Conservative Government this week tells all of us that the Liberal Party is morally and completely bankrupt, and deserves to be reduced to as close to zero MPs in the election when it finally comes as is humanly possible.
A rather strong statement, that, especially coming from someone who doesn’t (at the moment) have a dog in this hunt. So let’s decode why I’d push the point now.
Monday the Finance Minister threw down the gauntlet, so to speak, saying clearly that the Government would introduce a motion rescinding the RESP deduction legislation passed by the House a few days ago. (This was reported yesterday by Garth Turner, MP, on his blog, and confirmed this morning by The Globe and Mail.) A Ways and Means motion to implement the now-passed Federal Budget for 2008 must be presented in any event; it has been easy enough to attach the motion of recision to that — and a Ways and Means motion is a Confidence Motion, so to pass an amendment removing the provision is as much a toppling of the Conservatives as is voting down the Ways & Means motion itself. The stage, in other words, is set for a showdown (one the Liberals ducked again last night by voting against the NDP non-confidence motion on climate change, an issue Stéphane Dion is both personally identified with and allied with Elizabeth May of the Greens over).
I think it fair to say that should the RESP provision be struck down in the Ways & Means motion it is highly unlikely that the Bloc or the NDP would support the motion. Once again it all comes down to the Liberals. The question is: with a Liberal MP having been the agent of the Private Member’s Bill that was passed, will the party vote against the Government — or will Stéphane’s Chickens (I do believe Puffins actually have a backbone) once again do their disappearing act? The last few weeks suggest they will rather than back one of their own MPs, one who is the rare winner who succeeded in getting a Private Member’s Bill of some value passed.
The moment the Liberals duck this vote, they are roasted and toasted. A general election campaign today would see the Liberals able to use the RESP vote positively against the Conservatives, who are on the record as opposing this. Failing to vote down its demise would not only remove this weapon, it would allow a very well-heeled governing party to blast the Canadian electorate pointing out the Liberals cared so little for their own member’s bill that they were willing to sacrifice it — for nothing. As Kim Campbell discovered in 1993, you don’t want to spend even half a campaign being laughed at every day. (Would Second City do a new production of “Grit, Party of Shoe” to go with their 1993 show, “Tory, Party of Two”?)
The Liberals, by pulling their disappearing act this time, risk falling into last place in the Commons. Would there be any reason not to change allegiance to the NDP — or to the Greens — rather than staying with the Red-Faced Machine? How could any Liberal supporter with a conscience (I omit any party hack, EDA ground worker or the like by conscious intention: their loyalties have different sources) continue to support the party when it shows that earthworms have more backbone? Any believer in progressive or left politics, or anyone desirous of defeating the Government, would have no choice but to move their vote to a party that might actually do just that when the RESP vote was nullified by abstention.
No, the moment of truth has come, and for Stéphane Dion’s party none of the options look good: go up against an extremely well-heeled Conservative machine in a general election they’re not ready for, or duck and be deemed useless by the electorate.
(Incidentally, if I were someone who allowed pollsters to access me, I’d be lying my teeth off when they called. I suspect there’s a lot of “if you expect me to say this, well then I suppose I could for now” going on out there — and of course the number one lie is “I will vote and here’s my choice”.)
Now, in all of this I do not think the Government is likely to find it easy to win re-election — nor do I expect Stephen Harper to be rewarded with an undisturbed leadership even if he brings home another minority government. Nor will Jack Layton carry on blithely (Mulcair’s recent fiasco in the benches of the far corner notwithstanding) unless the NDP do make it to Official Opposition. We are, in other words, facing a changing of the guard. Only a Conservative majority facing an NDP Official Opposition will stop the purging of leadership — just as Stéphane Dion will only survive in the Liberal Leadership by returning the party to the Government benches. In other words, across the parties available to Canadians other than Quebeckers, there will be blood on the floor of the back rooms starting about five minutes after the concession speeches are heard.
Recent polls, of course, might give our soi-disant Official Opposition an injection of vertebrae: certainly some of the Liberals’ more thoughtful bloggers, such as Steve V of Far and Wide, find them compelling. They do suggest that “party of two” is not in the offing even if Harper is returned. Others, of course, busy handing out the funds the party does have in its coffers to its leadership contenders of 2006, seem to feel that nothing can rebound on the Big Red Ship, and that we are all fools who will forget all within a few days.
We may well do just exactly that. Or the electorate may hone its blades for its own jour des politiciens filleté. But either way, it is time to stop the endless games of Ottawa and bring this to the Canadian people to decide.
Let the people speak! Show up and be counted on the Ways & Means motion!