The saliva drools on page after page written by media personalities and bloggers alike. Regardless of faction, the motif is the same: let’s go to the polls, now!
Well, yes, let’s do. But be careful what you wish for. You might get it.
All sides, of course, see an advantage in going now. The Conservatives believe the most recent set of charges laid by the RCMP in the ever-dragging sponsorship matter will remind everyone that the Liberals are not to be trusted — and they’re happy (as the Prime Minister himself noted in a speech) to go to the polls over their planned changes to our Immigration practices. The Liberals believe that this week’s raid by the RCMP on behalf of Elections Canada at Conservative Party headquarters shows the Conservatives to be at least equally corrupt, and that they will have the better of the Immigration issue in any event.
Ah, but is a vote in the NDP’s interest? Or the Bloc’s? For the Conservatives tied their own hands — I do think it would be a suicidal move to plead the need for an election given their legislation mandating a fixed election date (are you regretting this now, Mr. Harper?, because you ought to be) — and the Liberals need support. Despite both the posturing of Stéphane Dion and other Liberal consigiliere of both front bench and back room whisper, the Liberals cannot, on their own, do anything. They will need to bring the other Opposition parties along with them — at least one if the Government fails to whip itself for the vote, and both of them, in force, if the three-line whip is in place.
For the Bloc, of course, the issue is simple. Are they ready to take enough seats? If they are, they can vote as they please; if they are not, they will keep this Parliament running. (Note, please, that I did not say they would topple the Government if they’re ready: they will determine which outcome — maintain current practices or make the proposed changes — better serves their interests (which are expressed as les intérêts du Québec, naturellement. It may well be that they find the proposed changes as something they can make show as “another victory”.)
So ignore the Her Majesty’s Prime Minister and the Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition. Instead, cast your gaze firmly upon the Hon. Jack Layton, leader of the New Democrats. What is in his interest here?
Recent polling data suggested, for instance, that the Liberals were making gains in two places the NDP needs to have strong three-way races to win seats: British Columbia and Ontario. Going into electoral battle against such a surge (were it to be maintained to voting day) would not serve the NDP well. On the other hand, voting with the Government means the NDP would also be aiding and abetting the implementation of the budget, something they voted against. A difficult situation, indeed!
Frankly, if there’s a party that needs the economy to weaken further, it is probably the NDP. A downturn would take some of the heat off any environmentalist trends — work and money concerns usually override more abstract causes (as any student of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs would know) — and given the lack of clear Liberal policy the NDP would have the opportunity to stake out a “citizens’ economic platform” in contradistinction to both of the larger parties. Just as the Conservatives would like to go into an election now — before tougher and more turbulent times come — even if it meant another minority as the outcome, so, too, the NDP are probably better served by waiting, both on the Green flank and on the “green” flank, so to speak.
Then, too, with both the Conservatives and the Liberals flinging mud and splattered head to toe with it, there will be those voters who are ready to say “a pox on both your houses” and take their custom elsewhere. On the other hand, given the House schedule, there will be few additional opportunities to vote non-confidence in the Spring session. That puts the Government in control of the agenda over the summer, and a gear-up period in the Fall sitting before confidence motions are again on the order paper. So do you go now, or hope you can build momentum quickly come late September?
Layton’s challenge, of course, is the usual one: gaining attention. This is a double-edged sword: to get attention, he generally must be somewhat outrageous (the joys of sound-bite media), yet that makes him seem to be reacting rather than offering a well-thought-out alternative (or just shouting to be heard at worst). It’s why, for instance, you seldom see him in the newspaper or on the news: the bully-bites offered up from both the Conservative and Liberal benches, and the presumption that Dion is master of the House’s fate (something he, alone, is no more capable of controlling than is the Prime Minister) means that Dion’s threats to topple are taken seriously instead of being challenged as reason suggests they should be.
There’s little question but that we are not being well-served by our current Parliament. It is well past its best-before date, and should be, as with Fortunado in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado, bricked up in the dungeon and seen no more. But here is the question, will Layton take up Montressor’s bricks, mortar and trowel and do the deed?
It may serve the NDP better to wait, but the dangers in that course of action say to me that Jack Layton’s moment to risk all has come. When the carnival comes and the vote is pressed, it is time to press the brick home and lead us to the polls.
That is, of course, if the Liberals deign to even show up to vote (in numbers more than a handful).