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Monday, January 30, 2006

Unavoidable hypocrisy?

From Ezra Levant's column in the Calgary Sun:

Needless to say, the Liberals don't want an early election either -- they're already fighting over the rules for their leadership race, and a dozen candidates are gearing up to run. One hundred leaderless, indebted, bickering Liberal MPs will support nearly any Harper initiative to avoid an election before they're ready.

Harper's official to-do list is very short -- five priorities, including the GST cut. Expect him to finish that up in early 2007, and call an election, catching the new Liberal leader unprepared. It will be Harper who chooses the termination of his minority, not his opponents.

I hate to say it, but wouldn't purposely putting forward an issue guaranteed to cause the fall of government in order to time an election when the Conservatives are in the strongest position just a bit hypocritical? From the Conservative election platform:

Introduce legislation modeled on the BC and Ontario laws requiring fixed election dates every four years, except when a government loses the confidence of the House (in which case an election would be held immediately, and the subsequent election would follow four years later).

Part of dealing with the democratic deficit was to remove from the Prime Minister's Office the ability to pick and choose election dates based on favourable polls. That power favours the incumbent, of course.

Now I suppose that in a minority situation, where a non-confidence vote is a real possibility, having the ability to manipulated the date for an election could be seen as a consolation prize for not having been given a majority by the people. But then no one is owed a majority, so that doesn't really wash.

In a perverse way, a prime minister in a minority situation has an important tool to improve his chances at re-election that is denied to a prime minister of a majority government.

I don't know how to fix this, or even if it needs to be fixed.  Just seems a bit bizarre though.

Posted by Steve Janke on January 30, 2006 | Permalink


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I don't think it is hypocritical for the following reason:

It seems to me that the system for calling an election is reasonably fair in the minority parliament because the Opposition can choose to defeat the governement at the time of their choosing and the government can also call an election at the time of their choosing. If Harper were to give up this right it would mean that the Opposition could defeat him at any time (ie the best time for them) but he could not counterbalance that with being able to call an election at the best time for him.

Posted by: timmyz | 2006-01-30 9:53:42 AM

It would be a *little* bit hypocritical to do that, but not very much. The big difference would be for Harper to engineer an election he would have to arrange for his government to be defeated on a money bill. As such, it would mean that there was a *real* issue on the table for voters to consider: was it right for the opposition to kill the bill in question or should they have passed it and let Parliament live? When Cretien called elections it was just because he felt like it. Sure, he could *claim* there was a real issue to settle (like Martin and his I-need-a-fresh-mandate-for-health-care-reform claim), but when the government comes down over a policy issue, the election has real meat for the voters to consider. So if Harper wants to engineer his own government's defeat, he will have to do it on a money bill he feels comfortable going to the voters and saying, "This was worth fighting for. So give me the mandate to pass it."

Posted by: Edwin | 2006-01-30 11:38:55 AM

There are drawbacks to electoral good manners.

In 1967, the Tories managed to defeat the Liberals on second reading of a money bill in the middle of the Liberal leadership campaign.

According to the rules, the writ should have been dropped immediately. However, Pearson managed to talk new Tory leader Robert Stanfield into a stay-of execution and the Liberals managed to pass a "Sorry, we didn't mean it" motion of confidence.

I wonder if Mr. Harper should be hard nosed. Perhaps, he should tell the Liberals that if they want the election held over until after they have a new leader, their MPs should vote in favour of all the government's motions. Otherwise, the Tories will feel free to call an election whenever they wish to do so.

This wouldn't be a repeat of 1979, as Paul Martin is no Pierre Trudeau.

Posted by: Rick Hiebert | 2006-01-30 12:38:57 PM

Maybe you should tell John Duffy that. He is blasting on CPAC that 8 months tops then they will take over again. Believe me he had a very smug face about it...

Posted by: Sara | 2006-01-30 1:04:53 PM

How about a year from now trying to pass a bill that removes the $1.75 per vote subsidy to each political party ? (or is that going to be part of Harper's Accountability Act right away).
Or how about a bill that denies prisoners the right to vote, and making it a vote of confidence ?

Posted by: Defend The West | 2006-01-30 10:57:45 PM

Or at least allow me to specify on my tax forms, to which party I want my $1.75 to go.

Posted by: MustControlFistOfDeath | 2006-01-31 6:33:33 AM

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