Expectations ratchet up every weekend as the pundits assemble the scenarios and report the telling details—planes are readied and painted with decals, election dates are pinned on calendars, strategies for each party are offered up and critiqued. Still missing, however, is the reason (a) the government or (b) the entire opposition would decide that now’s the time for another election—the career ending or extending moment for Conservative leader Stephen Harper and Liberal Michael Ignatieff and New Democrat Jack Layton and Bloc Quebecois Gilles Duceppe. Inevitability fills in for motive.
Yet, what would drive the three leaders in opposition to waltz off the stage in perfect harmony?
The latest scenario in the press goes like this: the opposition will force a no-confidence motion before the March 22nd budget. Since the government appears to be impregnable on the economy, it makes sense to make ethics the decisive issue—the excuse for an election.
Let’s take a look at this scenario from Jack Layton and the NDP’s perspective. The constitution of the man and his party argues against it.
First, ethics isn’t a New Democrat issue—it’s their birth right. For two generations New Democrats have shunned any real chance for political power for the alternative benefits of being morally superior to Liberals and Conservatives. They never distinguished one set of opportunists from another. Will they help Michael Ignatieff make ethics a Liberal issue to use against the Conservatives?
New Democrats thrive in minority Parliaments not because they believe in weak divided government but because they have a measure of political power in them. They can win concessions for working families, seniors and the poor. For five years they’ve claimed to have propped up Stephen Harper in return for tangible benefits for deserving Canadians. . New Democrats believe they excel on economic and on bread and butter issues. Rather than wait to see what they won—or failed to win—in the next budget, will they force an election only days before?
Second, to avoid being fatally weakened by the Liberals, the NDP absolutely must campaign as the growing party of the future, the logical new home for center left voters—the new progressive opposition. After three tries, can Jack Layton now expect to win more votes from the Liberals? Can he create the momentum necessary to double NDP representation in Parliament?
His recent hip surgery is compromising. He will have trouble getting on and off of planes. However, that’s only a temporary disability and, anyway, his face conveys more enthusiasm than his opponents in full stride. However, his long term health prospects are still in question. Jack Layton loves to campaign and wants to be well. But can he assure voters that he could be a vigorous leader of the opposition or co-partner in a minority government?
Voters will not put the NDP in second place out of sympathy or because they can’t keep saying no. And they will not vote for small parties over large ones simply to keep Parliament fractured.
With the wind on no one’s back, forcing an election only makes sense if Stephen Harper is too hateful to face at Question Period every morning. Is Ottawa in such a state of rage?