Tag Archives: NDP

Larry, Moe & Curly Size Up the Curtains

So much has been written in the past few days on the whole subject of the Big Switch, as the Conservatives look forward to trooping back to the East Side of the House and the Opposition shifts over to the West Side Government benches in a coalition government, that in one sense it’s all been said, more or less. Still, there are a few things to think about, yet.

The Governor-General’s Role

Much has been made about the reserve powers of the Governor-General, deriving from Queen-in-Parliament. It is the role of the Governor-General to ensure that Canada has a functioning Government — not just a ministry that can act by Order-in-Council, but one which can command and hold the Confidence of the House. This is what gives rise to the generally-accepted notion (seen any major media lately that disputes it?) that the Governor-General will simply have to turn the keys to the Langevin Block and 24 Sussex Dr. over to the coalition as a given.

But, caution! The key word to keep in mind here is “functioning”. Governors-General are not a law unto themselves — they are bound in a web of tradition, common law practice and the like — but they are as near as you can get in Canada, thanks to Section 6 of our Constitution (“The Queen is the sole executive authority in Canada”). This is why we have Speeches from the Throne: none of us elected either a Government or a Prime Minister (or, despite the rhetoric, a “Prime Minister in Waiting”). No, we, each and all of us, only elected a Member of Parliament for our riding. These have been duly sworn in as members of Canada’s 40th Parliament, and have duly elected one of their number as Speaker of the House. That is the constitutional fact-on-the-ground, and nothing beyond it.

By tradition, (s)he-who-was-Prime-Minister-before-the-election is given first chance at meeting the House with a new Ministry, which must seek the Confidence of the House before it is really empowered to act. This the Rt. Hon. Her Excellency the Governor-General has done by accepting Stephen Harper to form that Ministry. It has now acquired the Confidence of the House, with the passage of the Throne Speech vote last week.

Suppose, therefore, that the Government fails the next confidence motion, be that one placed by one of the Opposition parties or on one of its own measures. Former Prime Minister Martin has already established the precedent of simply ignoring a confidence vote and continuing to govern (2005), so if the Harper Government simply ignored an Opposition motion he’d be pilloried — but on ground first tilled by the very parties trying to take him down. (His ground would be far less firm if he ignored one of his Government’s motions declared a confidence matter.)

So Stephen Harper could proceed over to Rideau Hall, and simply say “I shall attempt to regain the House’s Confidence” — and the Governor-General would be well within her prerogatives to accept that. Good-bye, coalition hopes, at least before Christmas.

Secondly, he could go and say “Your Excellency, my Government has lost the Confidence of the House, and I do not believe any other combination of MPs can hold it long enough to pass and implement a budget. I therefore regretfully request a new Writ of Election: let us let the Canadian people decide our country’s future course of action”. Oddly enough, the Governor-General would again be well within her prerogatives to accept this and call an election, without calling on the Opposition Leaders, should she agree with that advice.

Thirdly, of course, Stephen Harper could lose a confidence vote, go to the Governor-General and resign the office of Prime Minister. Now life gets interesting, for the Governor-General could (a) decline to accept his resignation, (b) decline to accept and issue a Writ …

Or, (c) call upon another person to lead a Government anchored in the Conservative MPs. That person need not even be a member of the current Conservative caucus. (It is also not without precedent.)

Or, (d) the Governor-General could invite someone to try and form a Government from amongst any or all MPs, be this a “unity” government (shades of Sir Robert Borden in 1917) or the coalition being discussed so eagerly in the country these days.

But It Doesn’t Matter

Here’s the thing, though. The decisions don’t matter because no alternative to the Harper Conservatives is likely to last through the first Opposition Day Motion (if that long).

Picture a motion, put forward by the (now) Opposition Conservatives, aimed at additional socio-cultural recognition of Québec. (Leave aside the distaste this might leave elsewhere in the country for a moment: we’re dealing now in tactical politics in the House.) The BQ can’t vote against “a Québec interest” — which means they vote (even by abstention) to topple the coalition. At which point we’re back at point (a) again …

At that point the obvious answer would be an election. But, if it’s all that obvious, then it’s that obvious now. This is why I think there’s better than even odds a failure of confidence in the Harper Government will lead directly to another election.

Besides, Who Would Lead Such a Coalition?

Again, the presumption is that Stéphane Dion would lead such a coalition, thus escaping the fate of Edward Blake (the only [so far] Liberal Party of Canada leader never to assume the Prime Ministership). But is this necessarily so?

It’s all very well for Liberals to talk about a premature end to their leadership contest, and an immediate handing over of their party leadership to Michael Ignatieff, thus retiring Dion early, but that doesn’t guarantee the Governor-General would approach a coalition débutant and hand over the keys to the kingdom simply because of internal politics in one party. Remember (c) and (d): the Liberals could change leaders, and the Governor-General could still call on Dion; likewise, Dion could go as the coalition M. le Premier Ministre présumé and the coalition’s opportunity could be handed to Ignatieff … Rae … LeBlanc … even Layton or Mulcair. All of these, of course, are unlikely options, but the power is in the hands of the Governor-General, not the Opposition parties.

Indeed, the Governor-General could ask the Opposition Leaders to attend her and offer their advice prior to answering Stephen Harper. (After all, if you want to use part of the residual powers of the Monarchy for your own ends, you’d better be prepared to accept that all of them may be in play.) So, having heard from the “coalition of the power-hungry”, she may just decide that, yes, an election is inevitable, might as well get on with it…

In other words, Larry, Moe & Curly ought not to be sizing up the curtains in the PMO and planning on the décor changes at 24 Sussex Drive just yet, no matter how encouraging the press is.

And the Results of That Election?

Let’s be clear where I stand: Harper’s tactics in jumbling in the removal of the per-vote subsidy with the economic statement were deplorable — very bad form and a sign of his own hubris — but the removal of that subsidy is actually a plus for Canadian citizenship. Parties (and candidates) should have to work to convince me to pay for them. (Raising the limit from $1,100 per party and $1,100 at the candidate/EDA level to $2,500 at each level should make the work in reaching enough donors worthwhile.) If I had my way, he’d lay that measure before the House Monday and call for the vote — let’s get the Opposition parties on the record in a clear manner regarding this.

Of course, Harper has said “no” to that, and a replacement economic statement and early budget have been bandied about. Malheursement, one error compounded on another.

Still, the platform would be clear:

We’ll invest in tomorrow but not in yesterday;
Canada has been different from the rest of the G-7 for a decade & we’re not in the same troubles they are;
Re-elect us and we will squeeze unnecessary and past-their-prime programs to the max;
We’re looking for no deficits, tax reductions and more focused spending;
Politicians will be hit as much as anyone;
We believe in Canadians, not handouts and make-work programs.

A 37 day campaign — be adamant that the Greens do not belong in any debates (maybe even just outright refuse to debate given how short a time it’s been since the last election) — and get out of the bubble and into the faces of Canadians.

That should be a majority-winning campaign.

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Oh, Good Lord, Jack and Gilles!

Predictable, really, the nonsense that spun forth, from the leaders of the NDP and Bloc Québecois yesterday in the wake of the Throne Speech. What’s even more predictable, of course, is that they were treated seriously by the political media in attendance.

Speeches from the Throne lay out broad outlines. They are not meant to speak to specific details. Remember the Parliamentary fiction that surrounds them: the Monarch (in the person of the Governor-General) reads a speech that purports to be what “Her” (in the sense of Section 6 of the Constitution, “The Queen is the Sole Executive Authority in Canada”) Government purports to do, i.e. that it has Royal “blessing”. The speech, of course, is written in the Prime Minister’s Office and whether the Royal Reader approves, disapproves, or even despises the content it must be read. So Governments avoid anything smacking of the details, and the Monarchy stays out of politics. Sometimes fictions serve more valuable purposes, and say more (by being truths), than fidelity to the facts would do.

Now any Throne Speech given in November, 2008, would need to in some way devote its primary thrust to the economic storms lashing the nation. Much has changed even since election day, only five weeks ago. Yet matters of the economy are also budget matters (be that a full-blown operational budget or an economic statement) — and that, by tradition, must follow the Throne Speech. So even if the tradition of guarding the Monarchy from policy positions and critique for them didn’t hold, one shouldn’t expect spending details: merely broad directions.

Give Stéphane Dion, Ralph Goodale and other Liberals their due: they gets this, at least up to the time of writing (the Leaders’ Statements in response come later today). He called the Throne Speech what it is — a statement of intention — and said that governments should not be felled for mere intentions. “Let us see the economic statement before passing judgement”: quite sound.

Ah, but wave a microphone and camera lens in front of Jack and Gilles, who went up the Hill, and we are blown over by the wave of illogic which flows so freely from their tongues unencumbered by responsibility. (Memo to Jack Layton: you want to be Prime Minister? Act at all times as though you have the responsibility of government.)

Now Gilles we could (although I am not feeling charitable toward the BQ today) cut some slack, for he and his senior members have the opportunity to aid and abet their provincial counterparts, the PQ, in the Québec election, by carrying certain messages directly into the Québec media. Besides, there is never “what Québec wants” in anything, and, frankly, I think it’s time Québec showed a little restraint in constantly being in “demand” mode. (I do not expect gratitude: it is a false emotion, usually really resentment rather than one of pleasure, despite the smiles. But a little sense of responsibility and reason wouldn’t go amiss.)

So, en réalité, we are left with Jack and his well-cultivated indignation, aided and encouraged by those who allow him lengthy airtime and softball questions.

The Throne Speech told Canadians of a policy shift: a deficit for a short period of time would not be ruled out. Jack is against that: how dare Mr. Harper go against every Canadian sensibility about the sacred trust of remaining in surplus! Then, too, how dare Mr. Harper limit his options? — what if he needs deficits for a long time in this economic storm? Would he leave amelioration of conditions undone for ideological reasons?

How one can hold both propositions in their head simultaneously is beyond me, but Orwellian Newspeak and Doublethink is alive and well chez Jack, evidently, and in our political punditry, too, who did not break out laughing in response. (If the Ottawa doyens of the media could outright laugh at Paul Martin during the press conference for Belinda Stronach’s crossing the floor for his doublespeak, why not this?)

But Jack is not done: the kitchen table of “ordinary Canadians” has yet to be pounded by the shoe of indignation. Spending on infrastructure is a bad thing, because it takes money away from saving Canadians’ jobs, yet not spending on infrastructure is failing to create jobs. Reviewing other government programmes to afford the efforts to ameliorate economic distress is horrific — “how dare they betray these sacred trusts?” — and yet “the Government must focus on the needs of Canadians”.

Oh, and please bail out the industrial sector, starting with the auto industry, but don’t cut corporate taxes and perhaps even raise them — after all, they’re rich, they can pay.

Drivel is drivel. I have had many good things to say about Jack Layton in the past, but he lost me today. Threatening to bring down the Government over the Throne Speech (“if it doesn’t fall, it’s because the other parties won’t do their part”) over this bag of mixed up priorities? Who are we trying to kid?

Yet the media laps it up without a word of question. No surprise there, though: for twenty years the trend has been to eschew reporting and avoid thinking in favour of catch-phrases, repetition of talking points, press-releases masquerading as reporting, and let’s get to the talking heads, because they’re cheaper than the field work — plus they stay on schedule, which is good for the commercials.

So I guess it’s up to me to bell the cat. Jack, you are irrational. You foam out clichés and talking points without even listening to yourself. You destroy your credibility in a few indignant sentences. You just set your party back — don’t be surprised at seat losses next time around.

No, you don’t have to support the Government. Vote against them as you and your caucus see fit. But you owe Canadians some integrity (you might remember that a position has integrity because its parts fit together and are in accord with facts in the real world) in your opposition, not merely a grab bag approach.

Frankly, as well, to your charge that the Government didn’t “listen to the Opposition parties”: hogwash! Weren’t you the one who held the Martin Government up to ransom over infrastructure spending? Or is that if you don’t hear your own sound-bites, with attribution, you can’t figure it out?

I would cheerfully supporting keeping these two off the air until they figure out the difference between being irrational spoilt brats and being effective politicians for the twenty-first century.

Unite the Left? It’ll Never Happen

There’s a regular wave of people chattering about uniting the Left these days. You find them even on the so-called Right, where the myth is that if the left would just unite, everyone could have BC-style politics, where left and right face off with nothing else (more or less) in the game. This, of course, doesn’t explain the endless stream of new parties being formed in BC, but it’s a nice myth for all of that. After all, a Conservative facing a united left — almost always painted with the NDP’s colours, since Conservatives think the left would unite with the Liberals going away — would (much like BC) definitely have a regular ride to success as a result.

On the so-called Left, however, the calls for unity tend to come from the Liberals. Oddly enough, their mental map of the landscape shows their colours nailed to the mast, and those noxious NDPers gone from the scene, merged into their party. (This, of course, is a model that promises endless Liberal power, at least in their mind, although after the 2008 election the model now stretches to “the Greens should fold and join in” and even the occasional “the Bloc should fold and join in” to get the numbers to work.)

But a merger on the Left just isn’t going to happen. Instead, all the parties not currently in Government are going to have to fight it out for dominance, much as the Reform/Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives needed to fight it out. A merger, after all, can only come when several things are bloody obvious:

We can’t win in the current circumstances.
They can’t win in the current circumstances.
We’re what block them from winning (and vice versa).

and the biggie:

We’re prepared to change our views to reach an accommodation.

Well, as long as the Liberals have dreams that they can win in the current circumstances (and they do) and that they don’t see themselves as being the roadblock to their other prospective merger partners winning (they don’t; they see them as exclusively a roadblock to Liberal achievement of winning), a merger won’t take place. Put bluntly, they have no respect for the NDP, the Greens and the Bloc. Would you merge with someone who was obvious about their lack of respect for you, your views and your traditions? Thought not.

Then, too, two of the potential merger partners aren’t even necessarily “Leftist” parties (save only that both the Bloc and the Greens believe in the use of state power to smash current social order, which is the traditional definition of a Leftist). Both the Bloc and the Greens contain political views that run the gamut from the traditional left-right divide in Canada. As with Social Credit and the Progressives before them, they are brought together around a very few issues — and don’t try to bring everyone together beyond that.

NDPers, too, are not Liberals in waiting. As with the Canadian Tory (not all Conservatives are Tories) an NDPer has a view of society as something organic and pulsing with life. It has a history and a future: we in our time are stewards of that future, and inheritors of that tradition. Tories tread more cautiously than NDPers in changing traditions, but both think of the future differently than do Liberals (and some of the old Reform members of the Conservative party): they think about what it will mean to future generations to take action. Liberals do not. Everything is “right here, right now”; creating a new problem for the future merely creates a new opportunity for the party.

This is why NDP governments are often the most fiscally conservative of all. Their strain is “purer” than the Conservative one, and Liberals don’t care enough about the farther future to worry.

You could put the Liberals and the NDP together — it would be much like today’s Conservative Party, which couples Red Tories, Blue Tories and neoconservatives (who are right-wing liberals) together. But NDP voices would be a deep minority in a merger with the Liberals (whereas Red and Blue Tories together counter-balance neocons in the Conservative caucus and conventions). That is why the NDP plays for the Liberals to quit, give up the ghost, split — and they’ll take the part of the party closer to the NDP and (just as after the CCF turned into the NDP) slowly imbue the longer-term view into its new members.

That, of course, would send the Bluer Liberals and the Red Tories who went Liberals off to the Conservatives if they didn’t want to be a minor party rump. This they would do, and relatively quickly: the raison d’être of the Liberal Party is holding and using power, not a philosophic framework held in the form of political ideology — the sort of thing that can sustain generational long ventures without “success”. Hence the Liberals need to hang together, and so they will, repulsing anything that would bring something other than the quest for aggrandisement to the party (except in the form of individuals switching to it).

That it would be good for the country to rationalise its party mix is undeniable. But the reality is it won’t happen. For better or worse we are where we are: a five party state.

Master Plan or Not, There’s Common Interest Here

In this morning’s Globe and Mail, Tom Flanagan laid out the reasons why an election now — and not necessarily a majority as a result — serves Stephen Harper’s strategic needs. Picked up on by bloggers Trusty Tory, Patrick Ross, and Steve Janke (amongst others), the story line that the goal Harper has is to continually weaken the Liberal Party in a series of soi-disant “Punic Wars”, tied to the current funding model for politics in Canada, has credibility.

If this is so, it makes the meetings tomorrow between Harper and Duceppe, and Saturday between Harper and Layton, all the more interesting.

Why interesting? Simply put, because each of these leaders has a reason to have common cause — a cause not shared by Dion (or May).

Duceppe’s Need: For the Bloc, this election must maintain relevance in front of the Québec electorate. With the latest poll at 31% for the Conservatives vs 30% for the Bloc in the province, Duceppe needs to win or hold seats which previously might have been out of reach for the Bloc. This means trading off the Québec City region — where the Conservatives are strong — for seats in the 450, the périphérique of Montréal’s banlieues. These seats become more solid for the Bloc with the rise of the Conservatives, turning former two-way races into three-way battles.

Expect, therefore, that during an election Duceppe will expend equal effort trashing the Conservatives and the Liberals — but in different parts of the province — while running on a campaign similar to last time’s, with the sentiments of “it’s a good thing we’re here” (that can be used regardless of the focal point du jour).

Then, too, the Bloc is a fusion of rural fiscal rectitude types coupled with social democrats, overlain with the motif of “what’s in it for Québec?”. In other words, on an issue-by-issue basis, the Bloc can work with the Conservatives or the NDP, whereas working with the Liberals is more difficult for them (and made more difficult by Liberal sensibilities about “being seen in bed with the separatists”: Trudeauvian muddleheadedness continues unabated).

Layton’s Need: For the NDP, if there ever was a time to advance significantly, it is now. NDP policies offer alternatives to Liberal ones: cap-and-trade vs the Green Shift mass-economic-alteration approach, more interest in infrastructural needs, etc. Dion’s Green Shift has painted the Liberals into a corner: neither can it be explained simply (although it can be attacked in a sound-bite) nor does the relationship between its social engineering, spending plans and incomplete taxation model “fit” NDP priorities. It is, in other words, a natural target for Layton.

Much as with the Bloc, the NDP needs more three-way races. Layton is no doubt cognizant of the latest polls in BC — always fertile territory for NDP battles — where the BC NDP has now pulled three points ahead of the BC Liberals, primarily on dissatisfaction amongst BC Liberal voters with the carbon tax and the arrogance of the Government, with its “to hell with you” attitudes. It will be easy in that province, for instance, to campaign on a simple “if you like Gordon Campbell, you’ll love Stéphane Dion” approach: it is credible given the wanton spending and social engineering of the BC Government in the past three years (whereas, in the past two elections, Campbell looked more like an ideological bed-mate of Stephen Harper).

So, although Layton too will need to campaign against both the Liberals and the Conservatives, much of his fire will, too, likely be directed against the Liberals, trying to turn weak Liberal seats into NDP seats in three-way battles. Then, too, at the present time, gains in the 416 (Toronto Core), 613 (Ottawa Core) or 514 (Montréal Core) are more likely to come from the Conservatives beating up the Liberals to the benefit of the NDP. There is, in other words, common cause.

Canadians of a Tory bent should welcome this. It was no accident that, at the founding of the NDP in 1961, noted Canadian Tory philosopher George Grant welcomed the new party as an analogue of the (then) Progressive Conservatives, but on the left. The Conservatives and the NDP outside of French Canada are as much two sides of the same coin contra the dominant political philosophy of the Liberals as the Conservatives and the Bloc are two sides of une pièce de monnaie commune against the philosophy of the Liberals in la nation de Québecois. It is why I, a Tory, can say ”Layton? Why Not?” — but not “Dion? Why Not?”

Harper’s Need: Aside from staying in Government, what the Prime Minister needs is to trigger another wave of navel-gazing as the Liberal knives come out. So he needs to campaign softly against the other two opposition parties, and focus his fire on Dion and the Liberals (which is already occurring, of course).

But Flanagan is right about Liberal Party finances: they are strained, and failing to win the next election will likely strain them even further.

Today, on CKNW, a dual polling result was offered: that (a) a majority of Canadians in the poll want a change of government and (b) a majority of Canadians in the poll liked what the Conservative Government had done over the past two and a half years. What this suggests is that there is a fatigue (which I have previously written about, in the context of the March by-election in Vancouver-Quadra and elsewhere) with the perpetual “election readiness” and confrontation. To that extent, the Prime Minister is right about Parliament being dysfunctional (although that ignores his Government’s part in that dysfunction). Still, if the record is approved of, turning the dislike for the messenger that currently exists around ought to be in reach.

What Canadians are looking for, at this point, in my view, is adult behaviour: neither Harper nor Dion have come off particularly well in that department this year. So a reversion to the 2006 approach: policy announcements, coupled with a reiteration of accomplishments (one presumes “fixed election dates” won’t be mentioned too loudly), and a change from advertising that insults opponents to advertising that analyses deficiencies in the opponents’ platforms will probably consolidate most of the disaffection that currently exists.

We are likely, after this election, to have made it quite clear that the Liberal Party is fundamentally a rump in Toronto, Ottawa and Montréal. That, plus the unleashing of a “gathering of friends in the Forum” for Dion and an increased fiscal impairment of the the Liberal Party, is what Harper needs. This meshes with the needs of Duceppe and Layton. The alliance may be informal, but it is how the election is likely to play out, despite the desire of media personalities located in the Liberal Heartland of the three major cities of the Eastern time zone to “equate Liberal values and Canadian values” (a patent nonsense when one considers the many differing approaches to Canada found in its regions from coast, to coast, to coast. (When one’s social interactions centre on a common point of view, it is easy to come to believe that this is reality everywhere: no cabal or plot need be assumed.)

So, as Margaret Wente said in today’s Globe and Mail, bring it on, already. It’s time to stop playing chicken and start playing for votes — for real.

Ho, Hum, Fo, Fum — On With the Vote

In a little over a week from now, according to the media (who love a horse-race and thus are excited at the prospect), Prime Minister Harper will make the trek up to Rideau Hall and ask the Governor-General for a Writ of Election. Shortly after Thanksgiving, by mid-October, we can expect to have finished the campaign, voted, and returned the new Parliament to Ottawa.

Forgive my lack of enthusiasm, even though I do believe the backing, filling, posturing, foaming at the mouth, back-pedalling and abstaining has gone on more than long enough and that it is time for all of us, in all 308 ridings, to have our say — not the blogosphere’s, not the media’s, not the politicians’ and not the parties’. Still, I just can’t find it in me to get all trigger-finger itchy about the prospect of throwing my incumbent MP out (much though I think she deserves it for her performance, and much though I think her party deserves a good long time in the deep woodshed, not simply banished from the Government benches for a term). Nor do I particularly want the Prime Minister returned to power, save only that I want the Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal and Offici(ous) Opposition to take power even less.

Patrick Ross has offered his views as to why we might withhold a vote from the Conservatives for undermining the spirit of their legislation to fix election dates, as has Raphael Alexander, who sums it up as a minor transgression rather than an issue to turn a vote upon. Bloggers from the Liberals and points “further left”, of course, can be pointed to as seeing this as an issue to turn an election on (in favour of their candidates of choice), such as the always worth reading Steve V. So is the threat by Prime Minister Harper to seek dissolution rather than waiting to either fail a confidence motion — or meander his way to the fixed election date of 19/10/2009 — worth worrying about, or not?

The past two decades — concentrated in Western populism, most recently expressed in the Reform Party/Canadian Alliance federally and the BC Liberals provincially — have seen issue after issue brought forward to restructure our system of Queen-in-Parliament to have more of the features of a constitutional republic (with the Crown now serving as the Head of State to a Head of Government with far more “Head of State”-like features). One of these concerned removing power from the office holder to call an election willy-nilly because the polls were right, or announcements were pending, or just to take advantage of a disadvantaged opponent, as was the pattern of Jean Chrétien in power (for instance). This leads to the idea, found in strong-executive republican models such as are used in the United States, or France, of a fixed and predictable election date.

I do not support these (despite Chrétien’s abuse of Prime Ministerial perogative). Our system of governance depends upon the Opposition being perennially “prepared to govern” (and showing us that they are, indeed, fit for purpose: this is the essence of my rejection of the Federal Liberal Party and Stéphane Dion, for neither, since January 2006, have demonstrated that fitness for power). Just as the Government can fall at any time — and especially so when it is a minority (never forget that backbenchers can and have revolted even in strong majorities!) — so, too, the Governor-General need not issue a Writ of Election simply because the Prime Minister demands it. She can turn instead to anyone whom she believes can command the Confidence of the House. That it has not happened since 1926, when Lord Byng quite rightly refused William Lyon Mackenzie King his Writ — that Arthur Meighen could meet the House and carry on for a few months shows the rightness of the Governor-General’s assessment — and when the election came the Canadian people returned King rather than Meighen, a judgement on Meighen, not on the Governor-General (as many Canadian historians trying to “bury” the Constitutional protections of the Crown over politicians would have it).

This power is not in abeyance. Nevertheless, I do not think Her Excellency will refuse the Writ, if it is asked for. Still, it is good to know our system — and not to focus on those elements drawn from other systems where they are an integral part of “how it all works”, but are a graft that sits poorly on our way of doing things (much as Trudeau’s precious Charter is a similar graft denying Parliament its perogatives).

As with many things in politics today, power and truth make uncomfortable bedfellows. Prime Minister Harper is legally correct to say that he retains the privilege of requesting a dissolution of Parliament. The “truth” — really, a pravda, or propaganda statement — surrounding fixed election dates, however, was that he yielded this power, tying his, and his successors’, hands. This discomfort this gives to his supporters is the result of this collision between power and truth.

Come election day, though, how we got to the polling place will be the least of the concerns motivating most voters. In other words, it is just another annoyance, to use Raphael Alexander’s view, as opposed to a support-breaker, as Patrick Ross intimated, and certainly not a sustainable issue, as supporters of the Prime Minister’s opponents would have it.

The real question will be — and this applies to all of the over 1,600 candidates expected to run nation-wide as much as it does to the party apparatus backing each of the leaders and the national “air war” for support — what is on offer? What do you stand for? What will you support if you are in Opposition; what will you bend on if you are in Government? (The likelihood of yet another minority is strong enough that these are viable questions.) For Liberal MPs, in particular, “are you going to stand in the House and vote?” might be appropriate.

At the moment my vote is available; I do not go into this campaign already decided. I should be very satisfied with a Conservative Minority Government coupled with a strong NDP Opposition, and the election of a few Green MPs (save only in Central Nova). But who will get my vote in Vancouver-Quadra? Until I see who runs, and what each of the candidates says for themselves, on top of party platforms, I will not know.

All candidates should also be aware of one other thing: “none of you” is a vote, whether carried out by formal abstention in front of the Deputy Returning Officer at my polling place (no crying foul, please: if you can abstain in the House we too can abstain) or simply by joining the near-majority of Canadians who consider the whole game a sham and a waste of their time and don’t vote at all. (I’ve only ever missed one Federal election, due to a strike in France which delayed my return to Canada, but the past two elections I have considered the “not voting” option as one of my choices.)

In any event, whether I’m excited about the prospects or not, I am more than ready to see the back of this Parliament — and the back of the defeated leader(s) after this election. So off you go, Prime Minister. Let’s get the Writ and get it all over with.

It’s time for a new beginning in Ottawa.

Layton for PM? Why Not?

I often ask people casually about their views on Federal politics. Almost without exception (the exception typically being young people who, if they have a view at all, tend to speak glowingly of the Green Party [but don’t know who leads it, and won’t vote for the most part]) the discussion turns on Conservatives and Liberals. People may not like Dion or Harper, but they know who they are.

I ask “what about Layton?” or “what about the NDP?” and I get a different answer. I get the platitudes about “well, Layton’s a good man, but…” or “well, I like a lot of what the NDP stands for, but…” — where the “but” inevitably leads to “… he/they are not going to get elected”.

I don’t understand this. I have never refused to consider or vote for a person or party simply because I believed they would not be elected or form government. There are those who consider that “wasting” my vote. I don’t: my expression of electoral sovereignty isn’t tied up in winning, but in rewarding good people and good policy proposals with my support.

In other words, it’s not a two-way race between Blue Cs and Red Ls, nor between the current Prime Minister and current Leader of the Opposition.

(I can say that, in the six ridings I have voted in, I have never voted for a Federal Liberal candidate: always to this point there have been better policy options on offer in other parties’ platforms, and better candidates for my riding running under other banners. The day may one day come when a Liberal will receive my vote, but that hasn’t happened yet. [Neither have I thought highly of any leader of the Liberal Party from my first election in 1972 onward relative to their competitors for power, although I almost never let the leader influence my vote.] But I have voted Progressive Conservative, New Democrat, Green, and Libertarian, at various times, all of these consistent with my Red Tory values centred in fiscal prudence, social libertarianism and investment in the infrastructure of the nation.)

Jack Layton has been someone whose leadership I have admired, from the first time he became my alderman in the City of Toronto. I believe he understands — much better than his opponents — the Canada we have become. I think it possible that he understands the balancing act needed to reconstruct our nation’s infrastructure around a post-cheap oil world without destroying things in a rush to be a politically-correct green, nor with a head-in-the-(oil)-sand approach that “this too shall pass”. I think it highly likely that an NDP Government would be one of fiscal rectitude, for the NDP, never having formed a national government, would need to guard against being thought spendthrifts more than any other party.

The NDP, as with all other parties, has no shortage of loons, loud-mouths, single-issue-zealots and the like on its benches. To consider Harper’s Conservatives worthy of support one must look past the elements of his “big tent” party and ask “will this zealot’s issue likely become a matter of a Government bill?” (Note that Stéphane Dion assumes that Harper is tarred by the company he keeps — witness the “abortion debate” he wants — and fails to note how he is tarred by the company he keeps [Paul Szabo, Robert Thibault, Dan McTeague and Garth Turner come immediately to mind, although for very different reasons].) To consider the NDP worthy of support, I must do the same: what issues are likely to become matters of Government action, versus those that are the pet peeves of long-standing members of the caucus? I think that Layton, like Harper, has this question well in hand: there will likely be no “idiotic” laws passed under either of them to appease their zealots.

Layton himself is certainly not flawless. But he has generally conducted himself honourably. He has been willing to change his mind when presented with rational reasons to do so. He has stuck by his positions (even those with which I do not agree) regardless of their popularity. He has provided effective Opposition — far more so, I think, than the Official Opposition has! — and has recognised when it was in the NDP’s interest to support the Government of the Day as well. In other words, he and his caucus have done their jobs.

The NDP has certainly been positioning itself to move up in the House to at least Official Opposition. (That is, of course, a much more likely outcome at this point than Government — but, as Ontarians of 1990 know, the margin that shifts a party from third place to first is not large: only a few more ridings need topple in three-way races to gain the seats, and a “surprise” new Government.) But Layton is far more ready, I think, for that outcome than Bob Rae was in 1990 in Ontario.

Our Federal politics is in deep need for further realignment. One phase of this has completed, with the Reform insurrection against the Progressive Conservatives leading to the rebuilding of the parts into the Conservative Party we see today. Now it is time for that same process on the other side of our political spectrum, and it will take Canadians being willing to vote NDP to trigger the process.

Without it, the same-old, same-old will persist in Canada. The Liberals will continue to believe power, patronage and plunder is their right: they are not a party that understands either renewal or alternation of power. As long as they are like this, we will live with minorities, for the Conservatives appeal not to a majority of Canadians, but an insufficient minority of them — and under Harper’s leadership that group has lost most of its potential growth thanks to incessant campaigning. We need a breakthrough.

We need to say “Layton for Prime Minister?” “The NDP in Government?” … “Why not?” They’re mature and ready. Are we?

For the Love of God, Montressor!

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).