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Our current situation is that no one party managed to win enough seats in the House of Commons to have a majority, which means the party that did win the most seats, in this case the Liberals, (don't let the name fool you, they're not that liberal according to our standards) have to win the support of other parties in order to govern. If a major bit of policy, like a budget, gets defeated in the House of Commons, that's called a confidence issue and an election has to be called.
Since the last election there has been a lot of political jockeying, some near soap operatic events, and accusations of attempted vote "buying" in order to keep the government afloat. But it finally looks like they've run out of ways to keep it going and now it's just a matter of when, not if, the election is called. The one thing the Liberals have going for them is that the opposition parties are even less likely to agree with each other than they are to agree with them.
On one side we have something called the Conservative Party of Canada. Now this party was born out of the ashes of what used to be the Progressive Conservative Party (fiscal conservatives, socially liberal) merging with what was once the Reform Party, then the Alliance Party of Canada (fiscal conservatives and socially conservative)
The third largest party is the Bloc Quebecois, who, as you might have guessed by their name, are a separatist party representing the interests of Quebec and Quebec only at the federal level. Their primary concern is to prevent anyone else from winning seats federally in Quebec, which then validates the claim that no one outside of Quebec cares for Quebec, so we should separate.
Last, but not least in this years circus, are the New Democratic Party (N.D.P.), who are the closest thing that Canada has to a socialist party. They usually manage to receive fifteen to twenty seats in the house in each election, normally an inconsequential number, but in a minority government they become very important.
In order for the Liberals to have survived this long they have needed the support of the N.D.P. and the two or three sitting independents to win the close votes. They have taken as much advantage of this as possible. They made the government spend its budget surplus on health care, education, and social housing, instead of offering tax cuts to businesses.
But there are only so many things that the N.D.P. are going to be able to get from their shopping list, and they are very unhappy with how the government has implemented the health care spending. So it looks like they are prepared to pull the plug.
In politics, just like the comedy it is so reminiscent of, timing is everything when forcing or calling an election. We don't have a set election day like there is in the States. The way it works here is that six weeks from the day an election is called, we vote. Fast, dirty and quick, but at least they're painlessly short.
For instance, the Liberal government is releasing a financial statement in the house that will have to be voted on to be accepted. As any vote on budgetary matters is considered a confidence measure, if it is defeated the government will have to call an election. What's six weeks from this week? The week before Christmas.
No political party in its right mind is going to call or force an election to be called where the vote takes place the week before Christmas. That's going to guarantee a really pissed off electorate who will punish the one's responsible. There is no way on earth an election will be called until after the Christmas break.
There are two other factors that are entering into everyone's consideration about when they want the election called. The first is that thing called a Canadian Winter. Since the majority of Canada experiences the equivalent of what North Dakota gets for winter you can see how little that appeals to most politicians. Voter apathy is bad enough without having to worry about snowstorms, white outs, and minus fifty-degree weather keeping people away from the polling stations.
So it looks like all indications point towards a spring election. But this year we have a wild card variable called the Gomery Inquiry. Also known as the Sponsorship Scandal, the inquiry will be issuing its final report on how the Liberal party funnelled money to be used for ad campaigns in the last Quebec independence referendum back into the coffers of the Liberal party's campaign fund.
It's a lovely little tale of kickbacks, bribes and fraud (also known as politics as usual in Quebec) involving people deep and high up in the party. On February first the final naming of names and apportioning of blame will be released.
If you were an opposition member wouldn't you love to have that released in the middle of an election campaign? If you were in the government wouldn't you rather wait for a few months after its release for calling an election? Counting on the public's short memory and attention span to allow you to weather the storm, you call a spring election and capitalize on the warm weather, and the normal optimism that comes with people having survived another Canadian Winter.
The leader of the N.D.P. has come up with what he thinks might be a way to bring about the election to time it for the release of the Gomery Inquiry. Instead of waiting for a bill that all parties can agree on defeating, which could be a long time coming because the Liberals are so adept at playing the left and the right off of each other, they utilize a rarely used constitutional procedure where the opposition can have the House of Commons recalled from its Christmas break for what's known as an opposition day.
One of the parties files what's known as a motion of non-confidence, they vote on it and win, and the government has to call an election. (For a really good analysis of this check out this column by John Ibbitson at the "Globe and Mail") Of course there are difficulties in this ranging form the three opposition parties actually ever being able to agree on anything, to being able to justify not having confidence in the government.
Even if they do manage to pass the bill and have it deemed sufficient to bring down the government it still means holding the election in January/February in Canada. The potential for backlash against the people forcing the election call may still be greater than anything the Gomery Inquiry can produce in the way of ammunition against the Liberals.
When the first bit of the Inquiry was revealed earlier this month, the Liberals poll results dipped for only a couple of days, and now they've started to climb back up again. Before the Christmas break they are going to be passing all sorts of legislation that will win favour with the public including a rebate check for heating fuel for low income Canadians. Those checks will be rolling out sometime in January, along with everyone's Goods and Services Tax rebate checks.
More than one person are going to be having nice thoughts about the government when they are holding checks for about $300.00 in their hot little hands. No one can even accuse them of buying votes, because the heating oil checks have been on the books since Hurricane Rita, and are just now coming up for a vote in the House.
The Liberal party of Canada has been running the country for the last twenty years, they know more about the ins and outs of parliamentary manoeuvring than the other three parties combined. It remains to be seen how everything's going to fall out in terms of when the election will be called first of all, and than how the voters are going to vote.
It would be typically Canadian for the weather to have the deciding vote in our election, but it looks like it could come down to that. At least there will be something on T.V. aside form hockey and curling this winter.