So the Opposition proposal hammered out last week, wherein the opposition calls for a January election, or face a non-confidence vote, seems to be really short-sighted to me. Here’s why:
The call for an election, regardless of how it is phrased, is a non-confidence vote. Despite not triggering an immediate election if it is passed, it triggers one just a little ways down the road. The opposition, in winning the motion, is demonstrating a clear lack of confidence in the government. However, there’s really no way that the government can accept the motion. The precedent of allowing opposition parties, even ones who together have the majority, to set the date for an election is untenable. It could cause, down the road, and endless string of political manouevering by opposition parties to trigger election calls when it bests suits them for political gains, not end-of-terms, etc. So the government has to “ignore” this election call. Which then, according to them, will trigger a non-confidence vote. Which, I’m guessing, the opposition parties are hoping will make it look like the Liberals are calling a christmas election, which no one wants, and thus the Liberals will be penalized by the voters for doing so.
All of this stems, of course, from the release of the Gomery report. Which should be devastating to the Liberal poll standings, if handled correctly by the opposition parties. Now, I have no idea how it’s playing out in Quebec (I’m imagining not well), but so far, the Conservatives and the NDP have completely bungled working the prelimiary Gomery Report to their advantage. Rather than pressing home the major selling points of the report (from their point of view) for weeks on end, they’ve essentially ignored the contents of the report and jumped straight on dumping the government. The direct result of this is that after about 3 days of news headlines concerning the Gomery Report, and how bad the Liberals are, we’ve now have weeks worth of headlines of the opposition parties whining that the Liberals no longer have the “moral authority” to govern, and their own internal dealings, which comes across as so much desperate politicking that pisses everyone off. The Gomery Report has already disapeared off the front page of the major dailies, replaced by this drive to simply dump the Liberals. What should have been an easy, and significant element in opposition electioneering has completely disapeared from view. I’m sure the opposition parties will try and sell Canadians on it again once the campaign starts, but I believe they’ve lost their opportunity to use it now to garner favour.
As a direct result, we’re now facing yet another issue-less election: the Conservatives will scream and shout about morality and leadership, the Liberals will simply blame Jean Chretien, which, I think, becomes even easier post-Gomery, and show their fairly impressive record (for a minority government) of governing, and resisting the mad power-grabs of the Conservatives, etc. The NDP had been playing this minority government fairly well, I believe, carefully straddling the line of compromise-to-rule without betraying core party values, and a willingness to work out deals with whomever will help advance the NDP agenda. But I fear that Jack Layton made a fatal misstep in proposing this (non) non-confidence vote. He can now become the fall-guy that all other parties can blame for foisting this election upon them.
Of course, no one ever really wants an election, but if there is to be one, I think that Canadians want the government to fall on a serious matter, something that can bring substance and issue to the election debates. Controversial legislation, say. Not a mini-budget, or some minor piece of legislation that is simply used as catalyst, not because of the subject, but because of when it is tabled. I could well be wrong. It could be that Canadians all across the country really are furious, but if so, why are the polls now nearly identical to those leading up to the last election?