I have spent the last several months obsessively following what has become a virtual echo-chamber of punditry around the possibility of a federal election this spring.
After closely following all the strategic angles at play, including the “ominous” fact that all three major parties (as well as the Greens) have flooded the airwaves with campaign-like advertisements, I have become 70 per cent certain that a federal election will not take place.
My certainty arose mostly by reading one column by Jeffrey Simpson of the Globe and Mail, whose political insights are typically instructive and often fascinating.
Given the fact that the Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois have pledged to vote against the March 22 budget, a spring election ultimately rests in the hands of Jack Layton’s New Democrats.
The NDP have articulated several policy demands that the federal Conservatives will need to meet if they wish to avoid a spring campaign.
Simpson pointed out that the NDP have quantified none of those demands.
Additionally, they have not articulated which of the demands should take priority, leaving them deliberately vague.
The natural result of this is that the Conservatives are easily capable of incorporating NDP policy into the federal budget without reversing corporate tax cuts or substantially deviating from their status quo financial agenda.
As Simpson wrote:
“It’s impossible to know how much the NDP’s demands would cost because they’re vaguely phrased, as in ‘increasing the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors,’ and ‘expanding the Canada Pension Plan.’ The other demands are also hard to quantify: ‘hiring more doctors’ and ‘removing the federal sales tax on home heating bills.’ How much of an increase? How much of an expansion to the CPP?”
Flaherty has already expressed his willingness to top up the Guaranteed Income Supplement for Canadian seniors that are most in need of an increase.
Conceding to that demand and demonstrating that the Conservatives are willing to “make a deal” would benefit both parties.
The Conservatives, as always, are willing to cater to seniors who make up a vast swathe of their voting base. They are unlikely to garner the popular support necessary to secure a majority government and the prime minister, although any promise he makes must be taken with a grain of salt, has said emphatically that the budget will not include a “poison pill.”
It should also be noted that the Conservatives may benefit from the appearance of collaboration in a minority government considering the staggering number of accountability blunders they have perpetrated in the last few months, let alone the last several years.
As a professor of mine recently pointed out, the Conservatives would also benefit from keeping Michael Ignatieff around as long as possible.
Given his time away from Canada and some of his more controversial statements, he is an easier target than Bob Rae would be. Rae would only raise the ire of Ontarians who still resent his premiership.
Additionally, among the three major parties, the NDP would likely benefit the least from a federal election. Outside of problematic polling, there has been a great deal of concern over Mr. Layton’s deteriorating health, which would likely diminish his ability to fully function during a national campaign.
My 30 per cent of doubt arises because of the resignation of a number of Conservative cabinet ministers in recent weeks and partly because the Conservatives may consider themselves well-placed to increase support during a campaign.
It has been well-reported that public attention to federal politics increases substantially during election campaigns and it is possible that the intellectually revolting but effective Conservative attack machine could pay dividends, if it continues to be accompanied with a message of prudent, competent economic management like this: