March 29, 2011

Canadian conservative government to fall?

Canada's minority conservative government is going to be forced into yet another early election because of liberal opportunism from political parties that apparently aren't all that clear on what an opportunity looks like.  While the government may be unseated, the odds are looking pretty slim.

The Harper Conservative government does indeed have a couple of strikes against it.  It was censured for lack of full disclosure on a few items where it failed to fully disclose the costs of government spending - stealth fighters (to support our role in NATO with more than an aircraft or two) and a crime bill, as well as some campaign finance scandals that amount to an inappropriate accounting method used during the last campaign.

The big thing government has going against it is that it is a minority government.  While it has the most seats in parliament, the three opposition parties combined hold more seats and could force an election with a non-confidence motion at any time.  Typically that happens around the annual budget, but could happen for any reason.  Parliament is then dissolved and election called.

The conservatives have a tightrope to walk whenever they have a minority government, which they have had after the last two elections while each time edging closer to majority territory.  The challenge is that the three opposition parties are typically aligned with each other.  There is a socialist party, the New Democrat Party that hovers between 10% and 17% popular support,  there's a Liberal party that ranges from 20% to 45% depending on the times and there's a Bloc Quebecois party that is not a national party but in fact an outgrowth of the Quebec separatist movement, which has about a 10% to 14% popularity nationally (but really only runs candidates in Quebec and tends to garner a lot of seats there).  The Conservative party's popularity tends to range in the same window as the Liberals.  The two parties are the only ones ever to have won federal elections, and the liberals have typically dominated over the last 50 years with a couple of notable exceptions, Prime Minister Harper being one of them.

The final challenge for conservatives is Prime Minister Harper himself.  While a conservative, and an effective leader, he has the charismatic appeal of undercooked toast.  He's not abrasive, he's well groomed, but he lacks appeal and an endearing charm.  This mostly hasn't mattered to Canadians as he's won two elections in a row.  But he hasn't made the leap from minority to majority and this election might serve as a breaking point with his party's patience with his small scale victories.

But recent polls are comforting to conservatives.
Polls show the Conservatives with a comfortable lead coming into the election, but they still do not appear to have enough support to win majority status -- something they also failed to get in the 2006 and 2008 votes.

Harper warned on Sunday that if his government fails to win a majority that does not require opposition support to stay in power, the Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois will band together in a coalition government that will hurt the economy.
The reason the opportunism has failed is that the opposition parties misread the electorate. They believed the scandals would be a big deal and that the budget wasn't generous enough (i.e. Keynesian) during Canada's economic recovery from 2008 (which is going pretty well so far thank you very much).
As we predicted in this space last week, the opposition strategy of ethics and contempt is failing to register with voters. Unlike the scandal-ridden Chretien gang — where millions of dollars were distributed from the Prime Minister’s Office with little accountability to boost federalist and Liberal support in Quebec, not to mention the smelly Shawinigate affair involving loan lobbying by Chretien so a friend could buy his share of a hotel — the Harper government looks saintly. Chretien’s successor, Paul Martin, was light years better in integrity, but the odour from the Chretien years still lingers, especially in Alberta.
Failing to provide the full cost of its crime bill, changing a word on a grant application, the campaign finance “in-and-out” scheme and other mini-scandals plaguing the Harper government pale in comparison to what occurred during all the years of Liberal entitlement. Yes, the Conservatives should have come clean on the costs of the crime bill, but this and other missteps are the political version of Inside Baseball to most Canadians. The Forum poll showed 62 per cent of voters are most concerned about the economy, with 38 per cent worried about ethics.
Perhaps the planning was done prior to the latest polls but even prior to that the conservatives lead the liberals by over ten points.  That crystallizes the conservative claim that the opposition - liberals, socialists and likely the Quebec separatists plan to form a coalition to run the country.  That is their right, but while Canadians are somewhat center-left, they don't want outright socialism and certainly are not comfortable with  separatists sitting at the table heading a majority coalition.
So much for all the coalition talk. If an election were held today, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives would win a majority with 162 seats, according to a weekend poll by Forum Research. The Liberals, NDP and Bloc would garner 146 seats
.While the election isn't going to be held until May and there's room for things to change, despite their opportunism, right now the left's plan looks like it has already backfired.


  1. I hope I live long enough to finally understand Parliamentary government.

  2. LOL - why bother? You've got the the better system. Imagine Obama as both the powers of both the President and Nancy Pelosi with Harry Reid and the Senate as a rubber stamp no matter who runs the rest of government.

    Not cool.


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