After reading Scott Tribe’s latest post on why Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been scared into election mode, I felt the need to engage in some friendly dialogue and write a response to Scott’s post. In his post, Scott suggests that:
1) Harper knows the economy is going to tank in a few months, or he’s going to be in the red with his next Budget, so he prefers to go now then later, when he and his government and Mr Flaherty would take more heat over mismanaging a Liberal surplus into a deficit situation in less then 3 years.
2) The Committees looking at the in-and out scandal will be highly embarrassing for him, as perhaps will the actual court case result against Elections Canada.
3) He knows he’s faring crappy in the 4 byelections, knows he wont win any of them, and doesn’t want Liberal momentum going into the House this Fall.
First, I don’t see any evidence that Harper has been scared into election mode. It seems pretty evident that the Conservatives have succeeded in manufacturing a ‘crisis’ in parliament and framing the debate around an ‘impending’ election call. Is there really a crisis in Parliament? Of course not. Is there need for an election? No. It’s fairly clear that the Conservatives believe that, regardless of polling results which place the Conservatives in a tight race with the Liberals, they can increase their seat total in the next election, which is generally why political leaders at all levels have done the very same thing since Confederation in 1867. I don’t see any reason why Harper’s motivation is any different than that of say… Pierre Trudeau circa 1974.
The economic downturn in Ontario is hardly something that can be squarely pinned on the Conservatives, and after only two years in office it is reasonable to believe that the Conservatives could use their partisan spin machine to attempt to pin the downturn on “13 years of Liberal economic mismanagement…” If anything, the economic mess in Ontario’s auto sector has more to do with inefficiencies of the automobile manufactures than the policies of Conservative or Liberal governments.
Though the lack of respect towards Parliament that the Conservatives have shown towards committees such as the House Ethics Committee is reprehensible, I don’t believe that the In-and-Out scandal will have traction on the doorsteps. It may be a big deal inside the Ottawa bubble, but I have a hard time imagining that this will lead Conservative voters to change their minds in a 2008.
I’m also not sure how winning a handful of by-elections in constituencies which they already hold (minus St. Lambert of course) would give Stéphane Dion‘s Liberals any momentum. The financial and organizational mess within the Liberal Party isn’t likely convincing Harper to change his mind on calling an election. After sitting in the Opposition benches for two years, it seems that the Green Shift is the first solid policy announcement that the Liberals have proposed and though Dion’s messaging is getting stronger, it may be too little too late. It also may be that the Liberals are underestimating the bitter taste that Paul Martin and Adscam left in the mouths of Canadians just only two years ago. After two years in the dog house (and a pretty comfortable minority parliament-style dog house at that), it is hard to believe that the Liberals have spent enough time outside the Ottawa bubble to understand why Canadians didn’t trust them to govern in 2006.
Even though people aren’t jumping up to warmly embrace him on the street, I don’t believe that Canadians feel Harper has done an awful job as Prime Minister. With the lack of a credible or charismatic opposition leader to knock him off his Prime Ministerial pedestal, I don’t see anyone moving out of 24 Sussex Drive anytime soon. And though I strongly disagree with many of their policies — including the introduction of draconian copyright legislation, short-sighted cuts to federal arts funding, the lack of seriousness on climate change and environmental issues, and the politicization of MPs taxpayer funded resources — I have a hard time not predicting an increase in the Conservative seat total in the next election, and I can hardly believe that Stephen Harper is afraid of that.