Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hedging My Bets: Why There May Not Be a Fall Election

(originally posted at

I’ve written extensively these past few weeks about why there is going to be a fall election this year. Because I like hedging my, here is a scenario for consideration, as to why there will NOT be an election this coming fall:

Polls show the Liberals are moving in the wrong direction; support appears to be starting to slip away as a result of all of the premature election talk we’ve been hearing. All of that support is migrating to the Conservatives. If next week’s polls show the Cons at 37-38%, and the Liberals down to 27-28%, will Ignatieff start to back-track? If so, just how will he do this?

Well...look at Iggy’s rhetoric. He largely has indicated that the Liberals will not support the Harper government. Sure, he says that it’s time for Harper to go. We’ve all sort of been looking at this as Iggy’s desire to defeat the government in a confidence vote and contest the prime ministership in a general election.

But what if the Liberals simply displayed a lack of support for the Harper government by sitting on their hands during confidence matters, such as the home repair tax credit vote coming up next week? What if the Liberals somehow figure out a way not to bring their own confidence motion in front of the house during the week of September 28th? All they might have to do is sit on their hands for the fall session of parliament, not supporting the Conservatives, but not bringing them down either. Might this mean that they’ll start seeing their polling number rise again, as it becomes evident that they’ve backed off with their calls for an election?

Iggy could politely suggest to the media that they've made too much of what he's had to say regarding his desire to see Harper defeated, and blame the media for the election hype. "Yes", he may say, "the Liberals are ready to fight an election, we don't want Harper in power, and we're not going to suppor thim. But that doesn't mean that we're going to actively work to defeat him."

I’m not sure that Ignatieff’s credibility could take that kind of hit. But, with his Party’s numbers sagging in the polls as a result of what the public is perceiving to be a meaningless call for an election, can his Party afford to take another hit a la Stephane Dion? Iggy will have to find some way to spin recent events. But better to spin the recent events than to suffer the wrath of an electorate that hands Harper a majority. That's the only losing circumstance for Iggy; in just about all other scenarios, including emerging from the election with the status quo anti bellum, Iggy emerges sitting pretty.

I believe that Ignatieff will still pull the trigger in late September, although he’s going to give us a scare next week when the home repair tax credit in the ways and means bill comes up for a vote and the whole Liberal caucus is caught sitting on their hands (and maybe the Bloc will support the Conservatives too, just to irk the Cons by having the separatists keep the government alive! All in favour get to vote first, so the Liberals could still vote against the ways and means bill if the Bloc decides to support it...if not, I bet that the Liberals will stay seated). Then, a motion of confidence will be tabled during the last week of September, the government defeated, and the Writ will drop on Sunday, October 4th, with November 9th being the election date. I’m sticking with this prediction for now.

But if the polls continue to show the Liberals merrily falling down, all bets are off, even my hedged ones.


Ken Summers said...

I don't think that there is any way that the Liberals would or could back off now, even if [as is most likely] they prefer to avoid an election now. Like Dion, Iggy eventually got painted into a corner where continued support of the government was more costly than an election you don't want.

Whatever their motivation, the train has left the station for the Libs.

BUT, I continue to think an election is something under 50-50 possibility [and I vacillate back to significantly less than a 50% chance].

Because the ultimate choice is up to the Bloc and the Cons. Both have reasons to not want an election; and despite the rhetoric, relatively easy spin of making a deal. [The latter, unlike the case for the Libs or NDP.]

And Harper has a very compelling reason to not want an election- because it is too likely that after the election the oppositon parties will vote out the Throne Speech. Only a Cons majority can eliminate that, and thats at best a possibility, not something Harper can be confident of getting.

For elaboartion of arguments to and fro, you might check out any of a few discussion threads at Babble.


Erich the Green said...

I wrote a column about this for our local paper. You're making the mistake I mention at the beginning - assuming it's all up to Iggy. It still takes a 3-party unanimous vote to trigger non-confidence, and only one of the three has to support Harper - or even just sit out - in order to keep the gov't in power. Read the rest here:
There were signs that the oppos were reaching out, then things got prickly again, but now it looks like maybe Harper is reaching out instead:
Add to that Iggy's public spurning of any coalition, and it's less than certain that the Bloc and NDP will hand him the election he demands.

Sudbury Steve said...

Nah, I realize that it will take more than Iggy to bring down the government, but I discount it for the following reasons: the NDP, in a straight vote on confidence, such as the ones the Liberals will bring before the end of September, will absolutely have to vote against the government, there is no other choice for Jack Layton: it will be suicide not to. As far as the Bloc goes, Harper will do whatever he cans to engineer a situation where he is not propped up by the Bloc...the last thing he would want would be the media coup that his government is supported by separatists!

Ken Summers said...

We may soon get to see how relatively easy it is for Harper to do that turnabout.

He will lose permanently being able to beat the Liberals with that stick. But he's got a lot of sticks in the wings, and losing that is a small price if he does not want an election.

The media howling will pass. And the endless reprises in the future easily ignored because voters won't care 3 months later.

I don't think people realize how risky an election is for Harper. Without a majority, which is not likely, he is MUCH at risk for being unseated even if he still has 40 seats more than the Liberals.

Iggy's recent definitive snubbing of coalitions has not changed that. The arguments supporting that are complex.

I'm not going to repeat them. I just put forward a fairly consise argument on one of those Babble threads. And others will weigh in.

Anonymous said...

Hey Steve! Just looking for a way to say "howdy" here.

My $0.02 as of the end of 14 September: what do you call a Mexican Standoff in which all the parties involved know that if they survive they'll be shot by their own homeboys?