Paul Wells on Ignatieff’s double dare - Macleans.ca
 

Paul Wells on Ignatieff’s double dare

He’s promising to take down the Tories. Now the hard part: winning.


 

Ignatieff’s double dareIn the end, Michael Ignatieff had a decision to make. Do words and actions have consequences, or did he return to Canada to deliver empty threats every few months? Apparently it took him some time to pick an answer to that question, but by the time the Liberal caucus gathered in Sudbury this week, Ignatieff had chosen to give his behaviour a little consistency. In so doing he gave Canadian politics, at last, a little drama. And he seems to have put the country on a fast track to a fall election, barely a year after the last one.

“After four years of drift, four years of denial, four years of division and discord—Mr. Harper, your time is up,” Ignatieff told his caucus. “The Liberal party cannot support this government any further. We will hold it to account. We will oppose it in Parliament.”

This could wind up meaning any number of things. It could be a wet firecracker if the NDP or the Bloc Québécois take Ignatieff’s new assertiveness as their cue to reverse a solid trend of voting against the government at every chance. But if they don’t—if every opposition party votes against the government on a money bill or an explicit confidence motion—then sometime soon after the House of Commons reconvenes on Sept. 14, this miserable backbiting cliffhanging Parliament will come skidding to a halt and its various inhabitants will head back home to their ridings to ask us for another chance.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his trusty adjutant, John Baird, were quick to denounce any thought of an election as irresponsible. There’s an economic crisis on, they said, and no politician’s attention should be anywhere else.

The argument will be persuasive to some voters. It’s true that there was an election only last year, but that one followed nearly three years of more-or-less productive activity, whereas a fall election this year would come after a much shorter break from the hustings.

Ignatieff, however, must have calculated he had no choice. He has been delivering a succession of I-Really-Mean-It-Now ultimatums to Harper ever since he fell into the Liberal leadership from which the party had unceremoniously ejected Stéphane Dion in, approximately, January. The moment was fast approaching when his constant warnings to Harper would be revealed to mean either (a) nothing or (b) something.

First there was the On Probation thing, in which Ignatieff agreed to support Harper’s January budget in exchange for quarterly reports on the budget’s implementation. March’s report was, the Liberals said, unacceptable, but Ignatieff said it was June’s that would tell. In June he accepted the second report, in which the Conservatives claimed 80 per cent of the budgeted fiscal stimulus was now committed to specific projects, with ill grace. He announced he had four conditions to forgoing a summer election. He wanted to know precisely, to the dollar, how much money Harper had actually spent on stimulus. He wanted a detailed plan for getting Canada’s budget out of the deficit into which Harper had dug it at the opposition parties’ urging. He wanted a plan to replace the medical isotopes the benighted Chalk River reactor can no longer make. And he wanted Employment Insurance eligibility rules relaxed markedly.

Harper met with him, spotted a fellow with the look of an easy mark, and rejected three of the conditions out of hand. He agreed only to a bipartisan panel that would spend the summer working on EI reform.

The panel’s summertime meetings were, it’s an open secret, a risible ritual of barely sublimated mutual aggression. Ignatieff came to Sudbury with nothing to show for all his huffing and puffing, and Conservative MPs, watching from a distance, were increasingly confident that if this guy was calling the shots they would make it to Christmas without trouble. After that it was only weeks to the Whistler Olympics in February, and then it would be almost summer. Suddenly it would be near the end of 2010 and, you know, why stop there? Because that’s the thing, Conservatives said privately, about drawing a line in the sand: the line’s made of sand too.

At some point this must have become clear to Ignatieff. Perhaps he would have been better not to turn his short tenure as Liberal leader into a succession of ultimatums, but having delivered them he finally had to live up to them. His Sudbury speech amounted to the first draft of the Liberals’ campaign manifesto and, for the first time, a hint of a coherent rationale for replacing Harper as prime minister.

“We can choose a small Canada—a diminished, mean, and petty country,” Ignatieff said. “A Canada that lets down its citizens at home and fails them abroad. A Canada that’s absent on the world stage. That’s Stephen Harper’s Canada.

“Or we can choose a big Canada. A Canada that is generous and open. A Canada that inspires. That leads the world by example. That makes us all proud. 2017 will be our 150th birthday. We can be the smartest, healthiest, greenest, most open-minded country there is—but only if we choose to be.”

Of course, a late-breaking fit of backbone and a few lines of rhetoric won’t guarantee a Liberal triumph whenever the election does come. They will need a complete strategy and a fair bit of luck. Up to now Ignatieff’s advisers have preferred to view Harper’s election in 2006 as a fluke, and his re-election in 2008 as a bit of bad luck helped along by Stéphane Dion’s carbon-tax proposal and his inability to communicate well. When Canadians come to their senses, the thinking goes, they will come back to the Liberals. “I believe the overwhelming number of Canadians don’t like Mr. Harper,” Ian Davey, the Liberal leader’s new chief of staff, told the Toronto Star. This is certainly true of the overwhelming number of Canadians who hang out with Ian Davey, and demonstrably not true of the overwhelming number of Canadians in general.

In public opinion polls, Harper routinely does better than Ignatieff and the NDP’s Jack Layton when respondents are asked who would make the best PM. The government routinely does well when respondents are asked whether it is on the right track or the wrong track. Party preference polls bounced around a bit this summer, but basically the Liberals and Conservatives are tied. That’s between elections. Historically, going back almost half a century, the Conservatives underperform in polls between elections and then deliver a bit of a surprise at the ballot box. Which helps explain why Chrétien in 1997 and Paul Martin in 2004 were surprised to see their opponents take a serious bite out of their hide, and why the Harper Conservatives and the Dion Liberals were tied in August before Harper opened an 11-point gap on election day last year.

The election campaign will surely bring its share of unforeseeable surprises and, one suspects, an important change in strategy on Harper’s part. He has always depended on a divided opposition for victory, which after all is what Jean Chrétien needed, in mirror image, to rack up his three majorities. The NDP has done a little better at every election since Layton became the party’s leader in 2003, rising from 15 to 37 seats. This has been excellent news for Harper, and in the heady days after the 2006 election it was possible to find both New Democrats and Conservatives who talked about eliminating the Liberals in a new, polarized national politics. But Layton’s best performance, combined with the Dion-led Liberals’ all-time historic worst, wasn’t enough to give Harper a majority. And then the NDP and the Liberals combined to try to form a government weeks after last year’s election. To Harper, the NDP is not good enough at its best and dangerous at its worst. He has spent the year treating Layton with barely veiled contempt, rarely answering the NDP leader’s questions in the House and offering Layton no concessions during their private meeting late last month.

Instead Harper has sought to polarize the coming confrontation, portraying it repeatedly as a fight between his Conservatives and “the Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition.” Never mind that Ignatieff has shown no interest in forming such a coalition; for Harper it will exist from the day those three parties bring his government down, and he will brandish its spectre every day on the campaign trail.

It’s a high-stakes gamble. After all, the only way Harper can be sure of averting an opposition coalition is to win a majority of seats. He may feel he has little to lose. First because a third straight minority would endanger his continued leadership of his party. Also because a Liberal-NDP coalition, if those parties have the numbers to form one, really would be a strong possibility after an election, whatever those parties’ leaders say before.

So Harper seems to be calculating that he has to double down. He will seek a polarized vote in which the choice is Conservative or Not-Conservative. His appointment of Gary Doer, the country’s most popular NDP premier, as Harper’s ambassador to Washington can be seen in this light, as an attempt to appeal to NDP voters. If NDP support collapses he needs more of that party’s support to come his way than it has so far.

There is no way to guess in detail how an election campaign will unfold, so soon after last year’s coalition crisis. It was a system shock that profoundly divided the country in ways that are not obvious from Toronto. All that’s clear is that Harper has taken the effects of that shock into account to the best of his abilities. Whether Ignatieff has done the same is one of many question marks over Ignatieff, the only national party leader who has never led his party into an election before.


 

Paul Wells on Ignatieff’s double dare

  1. Why would any party calling itself fiscally responsible force an election at a time when the country is in the midst of a recession. We have already spent several million dollars within the last year on an election, the people spoke, let those elected govern as they were called to do, not play political games. Force and election and be prepared to face the ire and wrath of a public already fed up with what's been going on in Ottawa. This is not about power its about leading your country when it needs wisdom and good judgement.

    • Don's question: Why would any party calling itself fiscally responsible force an election…?
      Don's answer: To lead the country when it needs wisdom and good judgment.

      You had the answer yourself. You didn't even need any help from me.

      Next.

    • "let those elected govern as they were called to do, not play political games"

      Until that line, I thought you arguing in favour of the Conservatives.

    • "let those elected govern as they were called to do, not play political games"

      Until that line, I thought you were arguing in favour of the Conservatives.

    • Didn't Flaherty say the recession was over?

    • I guess you prefer dictatorship to democracy.

    • Don Leman asks: "Why would any party calling itself fiscally responsible force an election at a time when the country is in the midst of a recession"… I guess you're talking about the 2008 election, when at the same some party leader's fixed-election-date law (or principle, or whatever) was broken along the way… good question Don… I too wonder why, but I'm sure I'll figure it out as soon as I finish kindergarten.

    • you are bashing the libs for forcing an election during a recession, yet the conservatives have said that the recession is over. and you conveniently forget that it is the librals that have allowed the conservatives to stay in power this long. the conservatives are short sighted at best, they cut the GST then spent their way thru the governtment coffers then started pinching pennies when a stimulus package was needed ($4bil to auto companies, while the US gave $17,4bil), Harper is not what is needed,

  2. Great column Paul. I like your point about Harper and how he's had to double down. Borrowing your metaphor, I think for Iggy he's had to go all in. Unless there is a majority – by vote or coalition – one of those two will be gone by spring.

    • "one of those two will be gone by spring."

      and only at the cost of 300million… money well spent, i'd say.

  3. I'm seeing a lot of similarities between the 2006 election and the next one taking shape. The Martin Liberals made a crucial mistake going to the Harper is scary well in that election and the Conservatives now look like they're going to repeat that mistake by going to the Liberals are power hungry well again. Lorne Gunter's column today is a prime example of this.

    Where the Martin Liberals went wrong was in failing to take into account the work Harper had done to rehabilitate his image during the summer of `05. He did a pretty good job of shedding the scary label and effectively neutered the Liberal's campaign before it got off the ground.

    Likewise, the Conservatives now look like they're failing to take into account the changing circumstances that will allow Ignatieff to shed the power hungry label. He turned down the quick route to power by rejecting the coalition. He's an outsider insulated from the arrogance and corruption of past Liberal governments; an image the Conservatives themselves have helped to promote. If Ignatieff seizes on this he could turn the work the Cons have been doing over the past several months to define him on its head.

    Of course a lot will depend on the campaigns each party runs, but I think the Liberals have something they haven't had in the previous couple of elections; the ability to dominate the narrative and render the Conservative campaign ineffective.

  4. I'm seeing a lot of similarities between the 2006 election and the next one taking shape. The Martin Liberals made a crucial mistake going to the Harper is scary well in that election and the Conservatives now look like they're going to repeat that mistake by going to the Liberals are power hungry well again. Lorne Gunter's column today is a prime example of this.

    Where the Martin Liberals went wrong was in failing to take into account the work Harper had done to rehabilitate his image during the summer of `05. He did a pretty good job of shedding the scary label and effectively neutered the Liberal's campaign before it got off the ground.

    Likewise, the Conservatives now look like they're failing to take into account the changing circumstances that will allow Ignatieff to shed the power hungry label. He turned down the quick route to power by rejecting the coalition. He's an outsider insulated from the arrogance and corruption of past Liberal governments; an image the Conservatives themselves have helped to promote. If Ignatieff seizes on this he could turn the work the Cons have been doing over the past several months to define him on its head.

    Of course a lot will depend on the campaigns each party runs, but I think the Liberals have something they haven't had in the previous couple of elections; the potential to dominate the narrative and render the Conservative campaign ineffective.

    • However, Iggy would not have been PM, Dion would have been. Do you believe that Dion would have left after being elevated to PM. Not likely.
      Iggy is going to wear the coalition big time in this coming election. He supported working with the Bloc and Dion for PM. Canadians outside Quebec soundly rejected the coalition and any suggestion of a possibility that a coalition could be the result in this coming election will spell doom for the Libs.

    • Robert,

      Did each leader of the opposition reject the CPC Fall legislative agenda and threaten to topple the government in Sept 2008 in public?
      Did the GG make the decision based on the advice of the PM and public record of the opposition leaders?
      During the campaign, did each leader of the opposition deny any existance or plan of uniting to form a coalition?
      Did the Government remove all 3 requests (contentious issues) in the economic update?

      Did the Government porogue the HOC one week early before the Christmas Break?

      The opposition decided to present an alternative government to the GG. Was it legal, was it reasonable?

      The alternative government would have given de facto control to the Bloc to maintain the Lib+NDP Government passing their legislative agenda in the HOC.

      If any Bill introduced by the NDP/Lib government did NOT have the best interests of Quebecers, the Bloc would NOT support the Bill. For the next 18 months the only legislation that would pass easily would NEED the support of only 1 Federal Party who primary goal is to leave Canada.

      Are the Bloc a separtist Party? Have they changed their primary goal of leaving confederation.

      The Liberals decided the Separtist votes were aceptable to over turn the General Election results after six weeks.

      What is the current public position of the Liberal Party regarding the Separtist votes and the Accord?

  5. I sure wish there was more transparency in the Liberal party.
    All I can see is that they want the power, just give them power, POWER, they'll do anything to anyone to get POWER!!

    Oh wait….

    • Okay, I'll bite…

      Someone explain to me how the Harper Conservatives are different in this regard.

      • It wasn't a trap, really.
        However, as I see it (a humble opinion), the governing party were voted in to power via the public ballot. It's no longer a question of "give them a chance to govern", it should be Just Let them govern! If an election is a competition, the Conservative government won that right fairly, albeit with a vocal opposition in tow.

        I'm not saying the PC party is different (i.e. that they do not want power), I'm saying that the process of good governance involves two significant elements: time to implement changes, and an opportunity to measure the public's satisfaction via a *scheduled* public vote. Want power at any cost? Then constantly disrupt, undermine and campaign against the elected party, the public good be damned.

        • The elected party constantly "disrupt(s) undermine(s) and campaign(s)" while in power. What country have you been watching?

        • Perhaps you forget that they weren't voted in with a majority, and therefore should not be let to "just govern"?

          If they can convince just one of the other parties to go along, they're golden. If they can't, it's clear that they just don't have the ability to govern.

          • I guess the fact that the opposition does not want the minority government to succeed so will propose ideas that are unworkable or way too expensive doesn't bother you. To hell with what's in the best interest of the country. When the government rejects their suggests they yell parliament isn't working because the government is not cooperating.
            In the case of the Libs it is a well known fact that they were not going to do anything to help the country while the Cons were in charge. However, through the Senate they blocked or impeded much of the legislation.

        • Well, Harper passed a bill making *scheduled* public votes the law, then promptly broke it, and took surpisingly little flack for it. The whole point is that "the public good" is highly open to debate, so undermining the party with the most seats in a minority parliament is not necessarily against the public good. As for constantly disrupting, campaigning etc, a pox on all their houses– the Tories are actually the worst for being in constant campaign mode.

          • Derek,
            The fixed election date is for MAJORITY govt's. Minority gov'ts. are vulnerable to votes of non-confidence at any time (witness the 3 threats of Ignatieff this year). Wouldn't it be nice if the 4 year term applied to minority gov'ts. too, then we wouldn't be having all this instability and facing yet another election this fall.
            As for the Tories being in campaign mode constantly –I wonder why? (see comment about the 3 threats of Ignatieff this year).
            As for the public good being open to debate–the NDP voted "on principle" which may also translate into "the public good" against ANYTHING the Conservatives tried to put into legislation (they didn't even look at the budget). How's that for making parliament work.
            Now the Liberals who agree with the home reno tax credit are going to vote against it (for the public good) as a way to defeat the government, even though they voted for it in the budget earlier this year. Another great example of making parliament work. No wonder Canadians are fed up!

          • I agree that in a minority gov situation, a vote of non-confidence will trigger an election. But last September Harper was not defeated on any confidence motion, he went to the GG himself and asked that Parliament be dissolved.

            As for the Home Reno tax credit, if the government puts forward a straight-up bill to pass the credit, all of the opposition parties will support it and it'll be left to a slightly later date to have a vote on a confidence motion. But something tells me Harper will find a way to play politics with the credt, and attach a poison pill of some sort that the other parties will find unpalatable so that when he's defeated he can disingenuously accuse of them of hating home-owning Canadians.
            And again, a pox on all their houses for being in constant campaign mode– but it's the job of the government to seek compromise with the other parties.

          • In the case of a minority government, your last sentence is absolutely correct, DerekPierce. You're also correct in the constant campaigning the Conservatives have been engaging in with their attack ads (tiresome and stale) and the mailout questionnaires, which never made it further than the trash bin in my household.

            As for the 2008 election? Just after Harper dropped the writ, a non-partisan, non-profit watchdog organization called Democracy Watch filed a complaint against the Cons. It finally got to the docket on Sept. 8, and is ongoing as I type this. While the election itself may not be illegal, the gist of the argument presented by DW is that Harper at the very least defied the spirit of his own law, if not the law itself.

            Should be interesting to see how that turns out.

      • Seanstok,

        All major parties share a great deal in common in regards to wanting to retain power.

        The CPC had the HOC porogued one week early. They publicly backed down on those contentious 3 issues in November. In January they presented EAP to the opposition.

        The opposition can defeat any Bill and remove the confidence of the CPC to govern. Have the Liberals used the Senate beyond the reasonable sober second thought?

        I think so. I don't remember in the 1990's hearing about delays in Bills approved through the government. Are the CPC unfair and being partisan about those delays?

        How quickly did EAP pass in the Senate when they discovered those addition five weeks were retroactive?

        Before that public admission the Liberals Senators were holding up EI extensions, what was the official liberal party talking points regarding EAP?

        Are the Liberals going in-camera in committees to remove any public debate on Bills that are controversial?

      • Seanstok,

        All major parties share a great deal in common in regards to wanting to retain power.

        The CPC had the HOC porogued one week early. They publicly backed down on those contentious 3 issues in November. In January they presented EAP to the opposition.

        The opposition can defeat any Bill and remove the confidence of the CPC to govern. Have the Liberals used the Senate beyond the reasonable sober second thought?

        I think so. I don't remember in the 1990's hearing about delays in Bills approved through the government. Are the CPC unfair and being partisan about those delays?

        How quickly did EAP pass in the Senate when they discovered those addition five weeks were retroactive?

        Before that public admission the Liberals Senators were holding up EI extensions, what was the official liberal party talking points regarding EAP?

        Are the Liberals going in-camera in committees to hide their position on Bills that are controversial?

  6. Can't say that I agree with the proposition that Ignatieff is finally laying down a coherent narrative. Liberals always think their vision is bigger than everyone else's, then proceed to do what it takes to get power and keep it. Probably no different than most parties.

    I think a campaign narrative has to have resonance with voters. Does "Hey, I'm bigger than the other guy" do this? I doubt it. And what would right now? The economy is hanging in there. No scandals are plaguing the government. Canadians seem relatively content, given the tough times. If forced a choice, what can Iggy possibly say that convinces people we need him right now? (note: the question is addressed to voters in general, not Liberals or leftists salivating at the idea of ousting Harper, which is not where Canadians are at.)

    • The economy is hanging in there.

      The OECD is predicting Canada has one more quarter of contraction to go.

      All G7 economies save those of Canada, Britain and Italy will expand in the third quarter, the Paris-based OECD said Thursday. Canada's gross domestic product will contract at an annual rate of 2 per cent in the period, the weakest of the three laggards and advance at a rate of 0.4 per cent in the final three months of the year, the OECD said.

      Bad economic data leading up to and during a campaign would be a significant hurdle for the Conservatives to overcome.

      • I suggest you start watching the news. Last week it was widely reported that the economy finally started to show some growth. This morning it was reported that the same economy finally started to see some growth in jobs, too. In other words, it's out-performing predictions made by organizations like the OECD, which still give Canada good grades for economic survival.

        • They just want you to go shopping. Max out those credit cards if you haven't already.

      • There is an update which indicates that the OECD's predictions are flawed. They were only calculated up to mid-July and do not include some recovery in August.

  7. On the other hand, here's Harper coherent narrative: Finally give me my majority, and we won't have to do this for another four years, nor do we have to deal with the most resented political entity in recent times: the dreaded coalition. Thank you.

  8. "His appointment of Gary Doer, the country's most popular NDP premier, as Harper's ambassador to Washington can be seen in this light, as an attempt to appeal to NDP voters. If NDP support collapses he needs more of that party's support to come his way than it has so far."

    Excellent analysis, Paul, except for this bit. NDP supporters going over to Harper's Conservatives? NDP support didn't collapse even when the Liberals had one of their most left-wing leaders ever (Dion) running on a hard-left program of social spending financed by carbon taxes. Under what circumstances could they support Harper?

    Harper didn't foresee Ignatieff getting all militant last week; I believe his appointment of Doer was actually done for sensible, practical reasons. I'll speculate that Wilson, as an old school Upper Canada College Tory and former Bay St. executive, wasn't making much of an impression with the new Obama team. Harper's probably counting on Doer building a better relationship with Obama. Of course, he couldn't resist using it as an opportunity to cancel out the noise over his Senate appointments, but that's just Harper.

    • I get this all the time. NDP voters will never vote Conservative, blah blah blah. But it was the basis of the growth of the Reform movement in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Ridings that had returned New Democrats for a generation went Reform. And it wasn't because the NDP vote lost a point or two and a Reform candidate who'd run last time as a PC got a couple hundred more votes from a completely different demographic: these were serious swings, and they still happen in BC, and the story of Quebec in 2004-06 was a series of Bloc-Conservative swings, first one way and then back.

      Folks: Almost no voter in Canada knows where he or she lies on somebody else's ideological scale. NDP voters who, outside Toronto, typically look for somebody who stands up for the little guy, are often susceptible to populist conservative messaging. And vice versa. It's simply not true that the most attractive candidate to any voter is the one closest, on a sliding left-right scale, to their usual pick. Dion didn't lose votes because he was improperly positioned on somebody's left-right scale. He lost votes because he was inept.

      Are all NDP voters available to the Conservatives? Of course not. Are many thousands of them available? Absolutely.

      • I'm not even sure 'left-right' is all that useful a lens to consider parties through, these days.

        • Oh, I don't know about that. It was alive and well in the Bush era and good 'ole Harper was a supporter for a while. I think Harper is just doing what he can to win a majority then his true right slant would start showing through.

      • The corollory to that is that CPC voters are available to migrate to a leftish party such as the GPC under E May who ran an ABC campaign last go around. Possible?

        I've seen a blogger claim that Gary Lunn's vote total will drop from 42%, thereabouts last election down to 27% if Elizabeth may runs there. You buy it? I don't.

        http://paulitics.wordpress.com/2009/09/01/does-ma

        • I knew some voters who went from PC to Green after they learned of John Tory's proposal to fund religious schools in Ontario. Of course, Elizabeth May is probably a more polarizing figure than whoever they had running the provincial party.

          • As I understood the GPO, it was much more centre right than E May's current version of the GPC which I think I read Judy Rebick in the G&M today suggesting it was almost identical to Jack Layton's NDP. Also, let's not forget John Tory's PCs are not Stephen harper's Conservatives. I would think the Ontario GP is much closer to the Ontario PC, ideologically, save nuclear energy.

          • According to Judy Rebick, a social activist and author, Mr. Layton correctly took advantage of a moment this week to bring attention to the party's priorities. However, she said it would take major concessions for the party to support the Conservatives. “The NDP base would have a hard time watching the NDP prop up the Tory government under any circumstances,” she said.

            Mr. Layton needs to shake up his message if the NDP is going to make any gains in the next campaign, she added, proposing an agreement with the Green Party of Canada.

            “He won't make an alliance with the one party that agrees with him,” Ms. Rebick said. “That, to me, would show people that the NDP are trying to do something differently, if they reached out to the Greens and said, ‘Look, we have very similar policy platforms. … Let's run together on it.' ”
            http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/harp

            As you may recall, E May continued on her ABC campaign, started before she entered politics while at the Sierra Club, Think Twice.

      • You give an excellent observation that is often over looked by those too involved in politics. It's the old can't see the forest for the trees syndrome.

      • an excellent point that is not written about enough in Canadian discourse. A distinction I would draw re. the Western version of this thinking – many Saskatchewan people will vote NDP or tory/reform/sask party but never Liberal, as the Liberal brand represents the hated eastern power. In this case the "little guy" is Saskatchewan itself. I think a similar dynamic takes place in BC and parts of Manitoba. Paul, your populist-messaging analysis may be more apt for Ontario results in places like Windsor, Hamilton and Oshawa lately where the east-west tension doesn't apply.

        Re. Saskatchewan again, Colin Thatcher's autobiography is interesting (no, really! more than OJ's!) as he discusses leaving his beloved Sask Liberal party for the nascent Sask Tories in the late 70s, even though the Sask Liberals were serious people and the Sask Tories were a joke, the Liberal brand was just too tarnished and associated with Trudeau. The Tory brand then was the only way to stop the NDP

        • The East-West dynamic is a subset of populism, actually.

          • Reductivist. There are certainly elements of populism in the dynamic, but if you look around you will see other things too. It's not merely a subset.

      • Yup. I think most people would be surprised at the number of union members who used to vote Reform, for example.

      • The swing NDP voters you identify are certainly volatile. They were easy pickings for the populist-perpetual-outsiders that Reform used to be. Not so easy for the current Government Conservative party to pick away at.

        Harper will find greener pastures in grabbing those voters in the middle who believed the nonsense he spewed last December about the coalition. The framing you suggest: Cons vs the socialist-separatist hordes, may keep him in power but it will not win many NDP voters this time out.

        • Using personal experience again, I knew NDP voters who actually supported Harper during the coalition fiasco. I've honestly never seen anything like it. I saw handwritten anti-coalition signs on rear car windows. I saw otherwise passive political people join up anti-coalition facebook campaigns. I still don't think coalition supporters grasp the extent to which it was an unpopular political ploy. So, I think there is some populism for Harper to tap into by running against a coalition. I just don't know if he can sustain such a tactic for an entire campaign.

          • Oh, with a notable exception. The reverse holds true in Quebec, where the coalition was very popular. Don't know how Harper would navigate that challenge.

          • Not to mention the numerous times he flamed the Bloc for being 'seperatists'. Duceppe still has a pretty loyal voter base as far as I could see from here.

      • NDP-PC switching is also common in the Atlantic provinces, viz Newfoundland (St. John's East) and Nova Scotia (Nova Scotia), and could be seen in the daily tracking polls in southwestern Ontario during the last campaign.

        • It's actually quite common everywhere. It's only NDP and Lib partisans on blogs like these that cannot contemplate the phenomenon.

      • Paul,

        Yes, the Western provinces did elect Reformers and NDP provincial governments at the same time; they are prone to populism, sure. I believe that the people who, the last few times, vote for LAYTON'S NDP federally are not suspeptible to Conservative charms. Layton's NDP lost any populist cred when it fired Bev Desjarlais from her shadow cabinet post for opposing gay marriage.

        You say "NDP voters outside Toronto are susceptible to populist conservative messaging". I would ammend this to say that NDP voters outside of urban areas are susceptible to populism. Harper doesn't need any more rural votes. Harper needs to win the suburbs, and I would argue that suburban NDP voters are the pot smoking 28 year olds who live in their parent's basements.

        And this strategy of appealing to the NDP would depend on Harper's ability to play the populist. It's not a matter of his willing to advance populist policy, as I'll never again underestimate Steve's willingness to sell his soul to stay in power. But his "Uncle Steve" performance last time around was an utter failure; you really think he's going to try it again?

        • I remain amused by the assertion that, among national party leaders in the last election, the *utter* failure was Stephen Harper's.

          • He couldn't win a majority against an awkward, weak, inept (in your words), incomprehensible nerd who practically abandoned the political center, and ran the biggest trainwreck of a federal campaign since Kim Campbell's. The left was split between three political parties, four in Quebec.

            A majority was there for Harper's taking, and he couldn't get it done. Harper's goal wasn't to win a stronger minority, it was to finally get a majority so he could have up to 5 years to ride out a recession. During one of these elections, maybe even this one, the Liberals will get a minority, and then calls for Harper's head will start.

            I didn't think it was possible for an election to create four losers and no winners, but 2008 proved me wrong.

          • Still amused.

          • So, your reasoning is that Harper was a failure because the other leaders were failures. In some peoples' worlds, all glasses are half-empty. In others, all glasses are half-full. In your world, all glasses are empty, even when they have water in them.

          • A failure?

            143 seats with 37.6% $ 21 Million, 135k members is a failure in 2008?

            134/233 ROC is 57% is a failure?

            Ex-Quebec a clear majority.

            Libs 14, NDP 1, Ind 1, CPC 9= 24 Federal, 1 ind.

            If those numbers are a failure what do you call the Liberals, NDP since 2006-2008?

            What number did you expect, 40%, 155 seats?

          • A failure?

            143 seats with 37.6% $ 21 Million, 135k members is a failure in 2008?

            134/233 ROC is 57% is a failure?

            Ex-Quebec a clear majority. Regional Party Bloc is preventing a majority?

            Libs 14, NDP 1, Ind 1, CPC 9= 24/75 Federal, 1 ind.

            If those numbers are a failure what do you call the Liberals, NDP since 2006-2008?

            What number did you expect, 40%, 155 seats?

          • A failure?

            143 seats with 37.6% $ 21 Million, 135k members is a failure in 2008?

            134/233 ROC is 57% is a failure?

            Ex-Quebec a clear majority. Regional Party Bloc Francophone vote is preventing a majority?
            Anglo Mtl Island is Liberal, Quebec City votes Federal. Rest?

            Libs 14, NDP 1, Ind 1, CPC 9= 24/75 Federal, 1 ind.

            If those numbers are a failure what do you call the Liberals, NDP since 2006-2008?

            What number did you expect, 40%, 155 seats?

          • That's what Harper needed. Look, despite his statements last August, Harper knew, because of the massive investment bank failures in the U.S., that a recession was coming. That's why he called the election at that particular time, because he knew that running for re-election during a recession is suicide.

            He needed a majority, because that gives him 5 years to ride out the recession, and he can call the election when the recovery is underway. He failed, which was the reason for his move upon return to parliament; the elimination of federal financing for election campaigns, so he could cripple the other parties, especially the Liberals, for a few years.

            So, it doesn't matter what I expected, it was what Harper needed. He could have had Quebec, but he lost it because he couldn't keep his mouth shut.

          • We have a very different version of historical facts. Did Harper invite each opposition leader to find cooperation for his legislative agenda prior to opening the HOC in the Fall?

            Did all three leaders state on public camera's they would topple, and not support the CPC agenda?

            What did the GG base he decision to dissolve Parliament, the advice of the PM and "Tarot Cards"?

            Harper NEVER had any real chance in winning those extra seats in francophone Quebec. I don't drink the CPC kool-aid.

            The Liberals also don't have a real chance of gaining several seats away from the Bloc.

            The Bloc have been written off nearly every election.

    • It has been shown in polls that NDP voters' second choice is frequently the conservatives, in fact they are just as likely to vote Conservative as Liberal with their second choice.
      Paul is right, the fact is most voters' have no idea what left-right means, and do not base their votes on any left vs right philosophy. For the most part, they base their votes on who is promising the most stuff, who sounds and looks the most confident and trustworthy, and so on.

  9. I'll also add that, although I commend Ignatieff for finally having to courage to basically not be Dion, I think he could have shown more courage by trying to be a responsible opposition leader, which means you don't keep threatening, but you do keep holding the government to account. However, this involves enduring what it means to be an opposition leader in this country, which is bad press and internal division, which he doesn't seem to have the stomach for. So, if he doesn't have the stomach for that, does he have the stomach to be PM?

    • I think it was about the money, honey……….they are now in a better position. I don't know about the BLOC, but NDP finances are not good. Maybe that's a sign that the core NDP'rs are going other places – Cons/Libs/Green

      • More than likely it's just a sign that the NDP's core is smaller than the big two and I believe tends not to donate as much individually.

        I believe that their finances used to mainly provided by unions, prior to donations from those being banned.

  10. It's not just ordinary Canadians who need a lesson on how this country is governed. I've lost count of the number of political pundits who claim that the Liberals will 'force' an election this fall by not supporting the minority Harper government. Under our parliamentary democracy, it is the job of the Opposition to oppose, and it is the job of a minority government to avoid an election by seeking consensus with the majority in the House – the Opposition parties. If there is an election, it will not be because the Opposition parties did their job, it will be because the minority Government did NOT do theirs. The decision is Harper's, not Ignatieff's, Layton's, or Duceppe's. If the pundits could get this, it would create much less confusion among ordinary Canadians.

    • Oh, please. Ignatieff just decided that, under no circumstances, will he support the government, and yet it's somehow Harper's job to get him to co-operate?

      I find it interesting how Harper critics want it both ways. They feel it justified to turf the guy ASAP, but they don't want it to look as though that's what they're doing.

      More than ever before, and that says something, this election will be about nothing – except maybe about the opposition's dislike of our prime minister. No wonder they're all scrambling. It's a heck of a sales job to make to voters.

      • To answer your question, yes, it is Harper's job to get Ignatieff, or Layton, or Duceppe to co-operate – that's what happens with minority governments. If he can't manage to persuade one of the three to co-operate, then he has obviously lost the confidence of the House. That falls on him, not on those he was unable to persuade to keep his government in power. The election will not be about nothing – it will be about which parties the majority of Canadians have confidence in.

        • It's not his job to get anyone to do anything. It's his job to govern, and it's the job of Parliament to decide if it wants to support it.

          In this case, Ignatieff has clearly made a public choice for the quickest path to an election. Why? You tell me.

          • Perhaps you might explain how the leader of a minority government can govern without the support of the majority in the House?
            Ignatieff has simply tossed the hot potato back to Harper – the quickest path to an election is up to Harper, not Ignatieff.

          • I never said the government can't govern without the support of the House. I said it's not Harper's job to "get" people to support him. It's his job to govern, and it's Parliament's job to support him or not. If they don't want to support him, then fine. Funny how a party that says it can't support a government seems awfully hesitant to appear desirous of an election. Why is that?

            I also find it interesting how Harper critics can't sustain a coherent narrative against him. So, if they can't do it, can Iggy or anyone else.

            Again, an election about nothing. Unless, of course, someone can tell me what exactly it will be about.

          • If it's not Harper's 'job' to seek support from the opposition parties who represent the majority in the House, how would he govern without it?

            If my 'narrative' seems incoherent to you, then perhaps my initial point is made – it's not just ordinary Canadians who need a lesson on how this country is governed.

            The election would be about whether Harper has demonstrated his ability to achieve some degree of consensus with the MP's who represent any one of the three opposition parties elected by a majority of voters.

          • so, please tell us then what Harper did when agreeing to the stimulus package? Wasn't most of that stimulus package as per demand of the opposition parties? You are trying to tell me that a minority government must implement all of the opposition demands?

            I would say that some writers on this blog are incapable of reasoning. They demand or else. And they would call such the workings of a democracy. Give your heads a shake and try again.

          • I believe it was Harper's initiative to implement the stimulus package. Are you suggesting that the opposition should get credit for the stimulus package?

            What I'm trying to tell you is that this minority government requires the support of at least one of the opposition parties in order to stay in power. That would not require him to implement all opposition demands.

            Some commenters on this blog are simply trying to understand why the concept of parliamentary democracy and minority governments are so hard for some other commenters to grasp.

          • Trying to explain this over and over must be frustrating for you.

          • It's Harper's job to govern. He doesn't have to seek anything. If others want to support him, that's there prerogative. What is it about this concept that you don't get? If he tables a bill, and doesn't seek support, but still gets it, he keep governing, right? Next.

            As to the narrative, Iggy's campaign slogan is going to be: Harper didn't get consensus? Whatever.

            Never ceases to amaze me how some partisans and ideologues try to fit a square peg in a round hole, and try to sound intelligent in the process.

          • Please provide some credible evidence to support your insistence that it's not the 'job' of a minority PM to seek the co-operation of opposition parties to pass legislation. The general understanding in this country is the opposite.

            I agree wholeheartedly with your last statement.

          • Election about nothing? Dennis, while you criticize Harper critics, take a good look at a Harper supporter such as yourself who's lost all objectivity. Are you going to tell me that in the last three years your precious Harper hasn't made mistakes? In the eyes of the world, Canada is seen as a bottom-dweller in regards to environmental concerns. A ballooning deficit, with the best banking system in the world, that goes way beyond what a recession would cause due to favourable spending for propping up his party. An approach to politics that is anti-democratic by muzzling his own ministers…..that's just the appetizers. Care for dinner?

          • Can I see the menu?

          • Of course Harper has made mistakes. But what he hasn't done is
            1) Overtax Canadians
            2) Steal the EI fund and use it to balance the budget
            3) Download to the provinces.
            4) Create billion dollar boondogles
            5) Mire the government in scandals
            6) Engage in outright theft and lies.
            Those are all Liberal playbook moves. Is that what we want voted back into power?

          • Refresh me on which of those Iggy has done, if you don't mind.

          • Did I mention that Iggy has done those? No I believe I didn't. I was quoting from the Liberal playbook. So read it again and refresh me on which of those the Liberals did not do!

          • Hmm, isn't a big reason why we're in the huge deficit we're in because Harper is spending more than he is taxing for? Had he left the GST alone, wouldn't our financial situation look better right now? If he keeps spending without taxing, isn't he going to be responsible for a mounting debt?

            From my recollection, Harper has told many outright lies. And there have been several scandals.

          • Actually the deficit is part of the world wide economic meltdown – you may have heard of it. Encouraging people to spend by giving them some of their hard earned money back is actually what is necessary to bring about a turnaround. But hey if you are into high taxes then I guess you have more money than you need. Feel free to give it to the government if you like. And please, feel free to point out any of my above statements that are incorrect. I voted Liberal for years – but after the destruction of our health care system, the billion dollar gun registry that is still waiting for it's first criminal to register his gun and the endless public enquires into Liberal theft I woke up and said enough is enough. Let's give the Conservatives a chance to be worse for the country then the Liberals so that I can vote Liberal again. So far, that hasn't happened.

          • Thanks for the enlightenment Andy. Sooo, are taxes a usual source of revenue tto pay off deficits? Again I ask, how do you propose we pay off the deficits that are projected well into the future?

          • Why don't you ask the Liberal party. I believe it was Iggy himself who just last week said they would take care of it without raising taxes. He didn't have any details though. I remember the last time they took care of things. They downloaded financial responsibility to the provinces and robbed the EI fund. That took care of a lot of things. And we are still trying to fix them.

        • Jack Layton brags about the 79 times the NDP voted against the government (on principle). I lost my last shred of respect for them when they decided to vote against the budget in January before they even knew what it was–now that's real cooperation!
          There are 4 Liberal Senators due to retire in Jan.2010. I'm sure some of Ignatieff's urgency for an election is to try to regain some control of the Senate before OMG Harper appoints more Conservatives resulting in a more balanced Senate.

      • In a minority government, it is Stephen Harper's responsibility to work WITH the other parties to run the country, and it is clearly evident that SH has failed to do that. He has spent his whole tenure launching attack ads, playing games. I keep hearing that he actually wrote a handbook for his party members on how to disrupt Parliament. Stephen Harper IS the Prime Minister, yes, but he did NOT get a Majority Mandate, and in the spirit on which Parliamentary Democracy is built on, his cooperation with the other parties is a Must for all Canadians to be represented and Properly Governed. Stephen Harper's DUTY is to rule in cooperation, not RULE, and he has clearly shown signs that he will be happy with no less than the latter, and that's what makes him a rather dangerous man. For him it's Parliamentary Democracy Be Damned.

        • Who protects the taxpayers of the country my friend. We are in an adversarial system. It is the job of the opposition to oppose and they will oppose anything that may look like the government is succeeding in running the country. So they argue Harper is not cooperating but when Duceppe proposes issues which further Quebec's interest but not the interests of the country what is Harper suppose to do? Agree so he appears conciliatory.

          When Layton wants credit card interest rates lowered what is Harper suppose to do to make that happen. Nationalize the Banks so that he appears cooperative?

          The only policy mentioned by the Libs is EI reform. Iggy wants 360 hours qualifier or 9 weeks of work. Economists suggest that is too generous. Harper has the numbers worked up and it shows it will cost an additional $4 billion in payroll taxes. Libs didn't want to talk further so walked away.

        • hollinm continued

          Harper's first reponsibility is to the Canadian citizenry not the self interest of the opposition parties.
          Look at the public demands of the opposition parties. If you were PM would you agree to these proposals. If you do then you are not interested in the well being of the country.

    • The public decides what the jobs are in a minority parliament. Historically Canadians have expected the opposition parties to give the gov't a little more slack the first year or so. If they can't take turns opposing gov't bills and want to bring down a first year gov't on what is doesn't propose, they'll all have a chance to test their theory of what job they were given.

  11. Excellent article. Really enjoyed it.

    There's only one point I'd make here: this "Never mind that Ignatieff has shown no interest in forming such a coalition…" was not quite true. He signed onto the Coalition, regardless of the fact that he was the last signatory.

    Rather, this: "… a Liberal-NDP coalition… really would be a strong possibility after an election, whatever those parties' leaders say before." is the dominant consideration.

  12. Excellent article. Really enjoyed it.

    There's only one point I'd make here: this statement
    "Never mind that Ignatieff has shown no interest in forming such a coalition…" was not quite true. He signed onto the Coalition, regardless of the fact that he was the last signatory.

    Rather, this: "… a Liberal-NDP coalition… really would be a strong possibility after an election, whatever those parties' leaders say before." is the dominant consideration.

  13. Excellent article. Really enjoyed it.

    There's only one point I'd make here: this statement "Never mind that Ignatieff has shown no interest in forming such a coalition…" was not quite true. He signed onto the Coalition, regardless of the fact that he was the last signatory.

    Rather, this: "… a Liberal-NDP coalition… really would be a strong possibility after an election, whatever those parties' leaders say before." is the dominant consideration.

    • But would the question of a possible coalition be asked during an election campaign? More importantly, would Ignatieff, Layton or Duceppe dare to answer to such question during an election campaign??

      If they would dare to answer, I might find some respect toward their so-called leadership.

  14. "a Liberal-NDP coalition, if those parties have the numbers to form one, really would be a strong possibility after an election, whatever those parties' leaders say"

    Suppose the polls show the Tories on the brink of a majority and a Liberal-NDP coalition short of a majority. The key to a Tory majority would then be how many folks believe last years 3 party deal as a srong possibility no matter what those parties' leaders say. Expect to see Iggy's signature somwhere in the ballot question.

  15. I can't see an election now changing a lot. The conservatives might lose a few seats here and there because Ignatieff is slightly less obnoxious then Dion was, but then what? Will we see the ugly specter of a Liberal/NDP/Bloq coalition again?

    What the result of that bizarre love triangle will be is hard to say, but I don't think many Canadians outside of Quebec will support it.

    • I don't know why you call Norman ugly. Perhaps you meant 'spectre'.

      • Perhaps you meant "Spector" (as in Norman)?

    • Oh, and I forgot to add that the one person who has had the greatest influence in making a coalition of separatists, NDP and Liberals possible through his wreckless contempt for Parliament last December and his continued refusal to act as if he has something other than a minority is Stephen Harper himself. If coalition is the sum of all your Conservative fears, Dakota, you had best dump your boy Stevie and get somebody else who has some respect for democracy.

      • I actaully hope the Liberals do enter into a coalition with the other two parties, it would be an ever bigger mistake then choosing Dion as leader. They would be reduced to a GTA party (although that is basically what they are now anyway.)

        • It's clear that this weighs heavily on the minds of you and your fellow conbots. Freud would have a field day. You know, psychoanalytic therapy is really not that expensive, you should give it a try. Perhaps they will give you and your colleagues at PMO a group discount.

  16. Another component in a potential Fall election is how many incumbents run again. I think Liberal incumbents have a pretty good advantage over Conservative candidates in the Ontario battleground. Should any of those consider this an opportunity to retire…

    • Huh?

      • I believe the liberals strength in Ontario has come largely from incumbency that was earned during the 90s early 00s when the right was divided. As more Liberals incumbents choose not to run again, those once Liberal safe seats will be more competitive.
        For example, as long as Peter Miliken is the Liberal incumbent in Kingston & the Islands, a conservative win is highly unlikely, but should Mr. Miliken retire, I would predict that a conservative candidate would have a chance at that seat. I would say the same for John McCallum and other GTA seats.

    • I'd love to hear what Ontario Liberal incumbents have to say about that.

    • I don't think Liberals have the advantage in Ontario anymore, not with the McGuinty government turning this province into a "have not" status. And the scandals at the provincial level just keep on with the body blows. Government agencies continue to spend taxpayers' money like it's their own. I think that is one of the rationale behind Iggy's sudden urge to go for an election – if he waits, liberals in Ontario will be an endangered species within a few months, certainly outside of Toronto. That would leave them with only Toronto, Montreal and Newfoundland & Labrador, although even Danny Williams has been keeping his mouth shut recently.

    • The Liberal stronghold ridings in Ontario are shrinking Very Fast. Since 2006 they have lost the rural vote, visible minority vote, Roman Catholic voters.

      Need those links?

      http://ces-eec.mcgill.ca/documents/Anatomy%20of%2

      This paper uses data from the 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2008 Canadian Election Studies to analyze the causes of the Liberal party's historic defeat in the 2008 federal election. The analyses reveal the importance of long-term factors for understanding the change in the party's electoral fortunes since 2000. The paper ends with a consideration of the implications for the Liberals' future electoral prospects, as well the larger literature on voting behaviour in Canada.

      Liberal Finances

      http://punditsguide.ca/finances_e.php

  17. "It's a high-stakes gamble. After all, the only way Harper can be sure of averting an opposition coalition is to win a majority of seats. He may feel he has little to lose. First because a third straight minority would endanger his continued leadership of his party. Also because a Liberal-NDP coalition, if those parties have the numbers to form one, really would be a strong possibility after an election, whatever those parties' leaders say before. So Harper seems to be calculating that he has to double down."

    Les jeux sont fait.

  18. Paul, A superbly written summary of documented facts with a little analysis based on a logic so indisputable it is beyond obviousnesity. Well done! enjoy your weekend

    • beyond obviousnesity

      Why do you insist on torturing the English language like this? What has it ever done to you?

      • It's a perfectly cromulent word.

    • Mr. Wells. I have some respect for you as a national columnist (you must have please someone to get this gig…).
      The only issue I have with this article is the following statement: “Never mind that Ignatieff has shown no interest in forming such a coalition (between Liberal-NDP-Bloc)”.
      Just what did he sign last November? Just what did he mean when he incessantly repeated, “coalition if necessary, but not necessarily a coalition”?
      Please fill us all in….

      Stewie. Check out the link. Nice stuff.

  19. I meant to say the Nova Scotia provincial election there, sorry.

  20. Paul, any rumblings on Liberals (or Conservatives) not likely to seek reelection?

  21. Mr.Wells, you are completely wrong in this statement offered above:" And then the NDP and the Liberals combined to try to form a government weeks after last year's election."

    It was an impossibility for the NDP and Liberals to form a government. Period.

    The average Canadian voter might not understand the workable configurations of a coalition, but you as a political reporter should know better; the numbers simply didn't add up.

    Please, don't mislead the public!

    • Yay! Steak knives to FVerhoeven for Super-Genius of the Day!

      The Libs and NDP couldn't have formed a government because "the numbers simply didn't add up" — i.e., they would not, together, have commanded a majority of seats in the House of Commons.

      Now riddle me this, Batman: How does Stephen Harper form a government? What does he have a majority of?

    • "the numbers simply didn't add up. "

      NDP + Liberals = 114
      Conservatives = 143

      Magic number for having a majority government: 154

      So, you see, Francis, neither the Conservatives nor the NDP + Liberals have enough to form a majority government. If either is to be in government, they must depend on support from another party. The NDP + Liberals were going to depend on Bloc support. The Conservatives have used Bloc and Liberal support to govern. Either formula results in a governing government, though both would be very fragile. Welcome to the MGE (Minority Government Era).

      • inkless and Jack, hey, I'm not dense. Of course I am well aware that the conservative government doesn't have the number of seats to form a majority, but they do have the most seats compared to all other parties. It is wrong for Mr.Wells to state that the libs and ndp could have formed government under the current number count. They did need additional conservative seats or BQ seats to make the numbers work for them. Since counting on the conservative support in a reversal of power would have been a bit too absurd to consider, the only option left to them was the BQ support, which they did get in writing for the time being (see signed formal coalition agreement)

        • The party with the most number of seats is not necessarily the governing party. Tradition states that they are given the first opportunity to form the government, but this is by no means an essential element to the governing party.

          It is not, at all, the case that the Liberals and NDP don't have the numbers to form the government. You can do it with a single member – heck, an Independent can technically become PM if he governs with the support of parliament. That is the key – support of parliament. Whoever has it governs. When it's lost, either an election is called or another government, formed of the same MPs, takes over. You assertion that Paul Wells is wrong has no basis, unless you consider last year's Conservative propaganda as valid and factual…

          • The libs and ndp could not have formed government. The Conservative numbers would have defeated them, pronto. Only with the support of the BQ could the libs and ndp form government, which was clear to them (hence the signed coalition agreement with the BQ).
            And since the BQ is indeed a separist party (they are the first to claim this, not to mention that they are a provincial party not offering any federal platform of any kind) the signed coalition would indeed have been an un-canadian coalition.

            You can spin it any way you want. Indeed, an independent mp could ask the gg to form goverment. Long before that option becomes reality however, will have withdrawn myself from any political debate because there won't be any left to speak of.

          • You are, among many other things, confusing the formation of the government with holding the confidence of the house. If you're against a coalition that requires the support of the BQ, just say so and be done with it (in fewer than a dozen semi-coherent paragraphs would help, too).

            Craig O. isn't spinning anything. You're making yourself dizzy all on your own.

          • ok, let me get this: you are now telling me how to write down my thoughts, how many paragraphs to use etc. Why, for a change, not focus on the issue I raised. I am most certainly not confusing formation of government and holding onto confidence of the house. In case the libs and ndp would have formed a coalition on their own, without formal signed support from the BQ, the gg would have had no reason to appoint such shorthanded coalition precisely because the holding onto a confidence would be practically none-existent. Why would a gg appoint a coalition goverment with a lot less seats than the conservatives? So together as two parties the libs and ndp could not have outperformed the conservative numbers. The likelyhood of two parties working together at all times would be tough (working with 143 as one party is much less risky for the gg to consider). Now imagine a coalition of two parties in need of a separatist party setting the tone for this country. Toxic, to say the least. I certainly would not like to be gg and make such nation-dividing decision.

          • The issue you've raised is simple: Coalition bad. Very bad.

            Look at that. I recognized your issue, and summarized it, in four words. No conflating opinion with fact. No errors. No need to take on tangentally related points to wedge in your own. No need to invent a "lack of debate" when what you really mean is you're pissed off about that very bad coalition.

          • simple mind, simpe sentences.

            No, I am not against coalition governments, be they good or bad. As long as the parties which intend to form a coalition after election results are in, expose themselves during federal campaigns to be speaking for Canada I will go along with such democratic right.

            Have you ever heard Duceppe utter the words: "what is best for Canada? "

            How is it that the BQ runs in federal campaigns arguing against Canada to then be willing to form part of the Canadian government after election results are in?? Too absurd to consider, yet it seems that more than some could swollow such eventuality. Ignatieff was one of them.

            enough said

        • No, I have to agree with Mitchell and Wells that you really are dense. Anyway, don't despair, I won the steak knives once, and they are great knives.

          • it's always good to read on what point I have been the most dense, just for clarification sake.

            In any case, no explanation is offered because apparently there aren't any.

            Empty debates, as usual.

  22. Is this just all about Iggy comparing the ticking of his biological clock and confusing it with his political clock ?

    Either way it looks like Iggy wants the election for his vanity not the benefit of Canada. Spending $300 million so Iggy can show us he has a pair should be an easy sell. Right ?

    Since Iggy seems to want to campaign on some vague Big Canada platform, I'd like to suggest he get some green kudos and recycle a previous Liberal campaign theme and go with:

    "The Land is Strong"

    I can feel Trudeau smiling from here.

    • And who called the last election, and why?

  23. The analysis makes a lot of sense.

    When it was the Conservatives vs the coalition, back in December and January, the Conservatives polled 46%. So that is obviously the route to go. 32% of those voters are Conservative voters. 6% can be persuaded to vote Conservative. The other 8% would normally not vote Conservative, but would vote Conservative rather than have a coalition.

    • scf nails it by the numbers. If this election boils down to CPC-stick, Harper wins a majority.

    • scf nails it by the numbers. If this election boils down to CPC-contra-mundum ("stick", as we used to say), Harper wins a majority.

    • And the Liberals would be further reduced to a one city party.

      • A very big if Gaunilon, considering the NDP fundraising email I recieved last week,

        "In fact, the only real difference between the two is that Ignatieff is on record supporting the use of torture in Bush's war on terror. Even Harper never went that far."

        Still, I do think Harper and Co's coalition fear mongering has potential…

    • But if it comes down to its going to be a majority, then it becomes a question of who should get the majority….lots of reasons to think it would just as likely be Ignatieff not Harper….

      • Yes, well, it is just a year since the last election. Most of the people voting this time will be the same people voting last time, and there has not been a lot of time that has passed for people to change their party affiliation (my personal feeling is that older Canadians rarely change their vote).

        This makes me think a few things.

        1. Is a year a long enough time for people to give up on Harper? Sometimes people change their votes because they tire of the current government. The only people I hear expressing fatigue with the government are people that would never in a million years vote Conservative in the first place.

        2. Are the people really willing to believe that the Liberals under Ignatieff are different than the Libs under Dion? There are mostly the same people. Is the leader really gonna change 26% of voters to 40%? Because the voters will be the exact same voters, and the rest of the leaders are the same, and the platform is no longer any different than what the Cons are offering. Iggy is the only difference.

        3. Those exact same voters were polling 46% for the Conservatives against the coalition. So there is a theoretical majority for the Conservatives there. I've yet to see a creative poll, or a rogue poll, somehow manage to give the Liberals a majority.

        I think the Libs could potentially win a minority, if the Cons make mistakes in a campaign and the Libs don't. I think it is nearly impossible for the Libs to win a majority, unless Harper gets hit by a bolt of lightning or Adscam 2 comes out.

        • Don't underestimate the fatigue factor that might set in with seeing Harper 24/7. After having seen so much of him (while Iggy has at least a shot of looking like a fresh face), voters might just get tired of him, especially if the narrative that he's only interested in endless political games, and lacks integrity in a big way, can take hold.

          • Harper is not an in-your-face type of leader. He doesn't do a lot of speeches. And he's only been in office since 2006, which is only three years.

    • If this is the conventional wisdom in the Conservative party then you are doomed. Ignatieff started distancing himself from the idea of the coalition almost immediately. I bet the Liberals are *hoping* this is the Conservative strategy.

      • What gives you confidence Ignatieff is a serious factor in this election? His political experience or record?

        His background? The improvement of the Liberals compared to 2008? Can you provide 2-3 reasons how the Liberal Party will shift the ballot question, control the narrative?

        Did you discount the ability of the Bloc,NDP, CPC to dismantle the Liberals in the first campaign run entirely by the "Rosedale gang" heavy with "Martinites"?

        Do you think the MSM will be balanced or more critical of all parties in 2009?

      • What gives you confidence Ignatieff is a serious factor in this election? His political experience or record?

        His background? The improvement of the Liberals compared to 2008? Can you provide 2-3 reasons how the Liberal Party will shift the ballot question, control the narrative?

        Did you discount the ability of the Bloc,NDP, CPC to dismantle the Liberals in the first campaign run entirely by the "Rosedale gang" heavy with "Martinites"?

        Do you think the MSM will be tabloid again or more critical of all parties in 2009?

        • That's quite a slew of questions unrelated to my comment. Let me clarify: (1) my opinion is that an Ignateiff campaign will be much better run than the Dion campaign was and (2) not only will they be predicting the colation line and prepared to refute it, most Canadians either do not care about this issue or view it as Dion-led not Ignatieff-led. If the CPC is to be successful, they ought not to rest their laurels on this line of attack.

          I am not a Liberal and as my other comments clearly suggest, I'm pretty underwhelmed by all parties at this point.

      • distancing? You call "a coalition if necessary, but not necessarily a coalition", you call that distancing?

  24. A third straight minority would threaten Harper's leadership? You really think the Conservatives would gas a sitting prime minister, to say nothing of a prime minister who won three consecutive mandates?

    Whatever I may think of Harper, it's hard not to argue this is the best time since the early Mulroney years to be a Tory.

    • What mandates? He didn't even have a platform til the last weeks of the campaign.

      "it's hard not to argue this is the best time since the early Mulroney years to be a Tory."

      Is being a Tory merely an absence of Liberals? The delight of not drowning? The thrill of treading water?

    • What mandates? He didn't even have a platform til the last weeks of the campaign.

      "it's hard not to argue this is the best time since the early Mulroney years to be a Tory."

      Is being a Tory merely an absence of Liberalism? The delight of not drowning? The thrill of treading water?

    • If they felt that the sitting prime minister was the reason those three consecutive mandates were only minority governments rather than the desired-for majority ones? That's how conventional punditry puts it, at least: that a third minority might be interpreted as Harper himself being the weight holding the party back from achieving loftier heights.

      Whether that's true or not remains to be seen.

    • But what if they felt that the sitting prime minister was the reason those three consecutive mandates were only minority governments rather than the desired-for majority ones? That's how conventional punditry puts it, at least: that a third minority might be interpreted as Harper himself being the weight holding the party back from achieving loftier heights, at which point he'd likely start feeling pressure from insiders to step down for the good of the party.

      Whether that's true or not remains to be seen.

      • I don't get this "Harper is in trouble if he fails to get a majority" In trouble from whom? The only reason he can't get a majority is the Bloc. He has an enduring majority in ROC. The only possible rival around which any dissent could have coalesced crossed the floor to Martin in 2005 and has since disappeared.

        Harper lost one round and won another against Paul Martin who, despite the Dithers jokes told now, was a very formidable politician as well as an incumbent Prime Minister with a well-financed party machine behind him. Harper doesn't fear a pipsquesk parvenu like Ignatieff.

  25. Your photo editor must have such fun creating these collages of the party leaders.

  26. Great article, Paul. I don't think Ignatieff has much of a choice but to seek an election soon rather than endure anther multi-million dollar barrage of attack ads by the Prime Minister. We know how Mr. Harper works, if Ignatieff waits, Harper will just call an election when his poll numbers are high enough. This is what he did just last year with Dion.

  27. It is not true that the Conservative party needs another political party for support in order to stay in government. In fact, the conservative minority government needs only 12 additional mp's to carry them over the 155 bench mark. That cannot be said for any of the other parties at this moment. All other parties need at least one complete other party and then some to carry them over the 155 benchmark. Of course, all minority governments need additional support from other parties to govern. The Conservatives have implemented many of the demands of all three opposition parties, yet not 12 mp's on the opposition benches can find the courage to acknowlegde that much. Sad, sad indeed!

    • 154 seats would still not be majority government. 154 would be a hang up in the balance.

      • You see, here's the thing: almost daily we are bombarded by pundit's opinions how Harper muzzles his mp's, how Harper won't let his mp's speak their mind. Yet, now that only 12 opposition votes are needed to agree with the Conservative plan of action, the libs, ndp and bq members seem to be muzzled 'extraoridair'. Will we read about them being muzzled? Not a chance!

        First things first: let's get things straight!

        • Are you shouting all this out loud as you type?

          Don't know why, but that image comes to mind.

          • LOL!

          • and so, SeanStok, do you think there would be any lib mp's or ndp mp's or BQ mp's who could support the government. There only need to be 12. Last go around some to the libs were free to vote against the wishes of Ignatieff. Why the difference now?

            (I don't shout, I sing the lines out loud)

          • Sure.

            There's also the chance all MPs will show up wearing gorilla suits to the first sitting of the house.

            Why are you belabouring a hypothetical point? Presumably MPs could start crossing the floor at any time.

            And your initial assertion, about a Liberal-NDP coalition was wrong. At the time, those two parties would have formed the government, with the understanding that the Bloc would have supported them for a limited time. Even as the government, they would have been free to court Conservative support on a bill-by-bill basis. Which is how minority governments work.

            As for the case of the Atlantic MPs – that came down to their very survival in the face of regional pressure. There is no currently pressing regional issue that so threatens any MP from the opposition who follows their party line.

            Which gets us back to your hypothetical rambling. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that a history of acting like confrontational jerks, with little more vision than pissing on their foes at every opportunity, has made the Conservatives an unappealing option for floor crossers these days. And that party loyalty still counts (everyone's free to run as an independent).

          • Sure.

            There's also the chance all MPs will show up wearing gorilla suits to the first sitting of the house.

            Why are you belabouring a hypothetical point? Presumably MPs could start crossing the floor at any time.

            And your initial assertion, about a Liberal-NDP coalition was wrong. At the time, those two parties would have formed the government, with the understanding that the Bloc would have supported them for a limited time. Even as the government, they would have been free to court Conservative support on a bill-by-bill basis. Which is how minority governments work.

            ).

  28. Yeah, I don't think we will see an election. Before any coalition talk, each party has to see themselves making gains to want an election. I just do not see, right now, a situation where the Block, NDP, and Liberals all stand to gain. The Bloc in particular is looking shaky right now.

    • In quebec the only possible gains are for the liberals. Conservatives will be lucky to hang on to one seat and the NDP seat is decidedly shaky. A liberal gain of 20 seats in Quebec is possible or even likely based on current polling numbers.

      • Do you have riding by riding Polling Data to back that up? The Liberals have not been a FACTOR in Quebec for a Very long time.

        Take a long since 1993 the Liberal held ridings in Quebec. The Bloc are not going away. Every year pundits talk about the collapse of Bloc votes.

        http://punditsguide.ca/elections_e.php

      • Do you have riding by riding Polling Data to back that up? The Liberals have not been a FACTOR in Quebec for a Very long time.

        Take a long since 1993 the Liberal held ridings in Quebec. The Bloc are not going away. Every year pundits talk about the collapse of Bloc votes.

        http://punditsguide.ca/elections_e.php

      • Do you have riding by riding Polling Data to back that up? The Liberals have not been a FACTOR in Quebec for a Very long time.

        Take a long since 1993 the Liberal held ridings in Quebec. The Bloc are not going away. Every year pundits talk about the collapse of Bloc votes.

        http://punditsguide.ca/elections_e.php

      • Do you have riding by riding Polling Data to back that up? The Liberals have not been a FACTOR in Quebec for a Very long time.

        Take a long since 1993 the Liberal held ridings in Quebec. The Bloc are not going away. Every year pundits talk about the collapse of Bloc votes.

        http://punditsguide.ca/elections_e.php

        • Agreed. The fight is between Ignatieff and Duceppe, not Ignatieff and Harper. Harper won a significant majority in 2008 outside of Quebec. That won't change much. Ignatieff is unlikely to win many new seats in ROC. The Liberals are nowhere in the West, and are not very competetive in Ont outside of GTA. For Ignatieff to make any significant headway nationally, he has to destroy Duceppe in Quebec. Ain't going to happen.

          As for Harper, he has everything to gain and nothing to lose by emphasizing the "scary" Coalition. I would not be surprised that the TV debates will be between the Prime Minister and the wannabe PM, the leader of the Liberal-NDP-Bloc-Green coalition. No pesky Jack Layton, No annoying Elizabeth May. Just Harper and Ignatieff. If Ignatieff disagrees, fair enough, no debate then. Harper has nothing to lose if there are no debates.

          • The CPC will have several "frames"

            Economy is weak election is a distraction Liberals are talking down the economy and Canada.

            Coalition regarding the opposition to steal Power

            Adscam Trials, Trust = Renovation Tax Credit

            Liberal leader elitist, arrogant,

          • The CPC will have several "frames"

            Economy is weak election is a distraction Liberals are talking down the economy and Canada.

            Coalition regarding the opposition to steal Power

            Adscam Trials, Trust = Renovation Tax Credit

            Liberal leader elitist, arrogant, selfish

            I think that how the opposition parties are going to frame the Liberals and their leader.

  29. If the Liberals were to win a slim minority, should the Conservatives be forbidden from forming a coalition with the other parties? Why not just remove this option from our system and be done with it – if you win the most seats, whether a minority or majority, then you are in the driver's seat – case closed?
    A sharp reporter should be asking Stephen Harper if he is open to a coalition if he loses? Would he answer? Would he stand by his answer? Hmm….

    • Wow. Bob Rae is really getting sloppy.

    • Sorry. My mouse turns into a hooded cobra when I hover on that link.

    • I heard the same thing yesterday and thought my mind was about to explode.
      I would have had the same reaction as the interviewer. First he seems dumbfounded. Then he gradually becomes concerned that Mr. Rae may actually be insane beyond rehabilitation. Sad really…. but still fun….

      • Bob Rae is correct, no coalition with ze Bloc… next.

        • What was the signing ceremony with Dion-Layton-Duceppe all about, then?

          You should actually read the agreement between the 3 leaders.True, the signed agreement refers to the Bloc only in regard to a special consultation mechanism, not ministers in cabinet. However, this would have provided the Bloc with ample control over legislation without the actual responsibility of having to defending it.

          Also rather hazy at the time, was what the Bloc had been promised in return for their support . Do you seriously think that the Bloc offer a guarantee of support for a limited time unconditionally.

  30. I'm still trying to get my head around Mr. Ignatieff's assertion that the isotope crisis is a creation of the Harper government and that the failure to solve it overnight after the reactor unexpectedly breaks down is has something to do with the Coonservative Party and therefore one of four reasons to vote Liberal. This is a simplistic approach to a complex issue and makes one wonder if Ignatieff understands the complexities of running a government.____Sure, Gary Lunn's handling of the original crisis left something to be desired, but Lunn was demoted by Harper.____Perhaps Ignatieff could explain what his party intends to do differently from the Tory government on this issue?____

  31. I'm still trying to get my head around Mr. Ignatieff's assertion that the isotope crisis is a creation of the Harper government and that the failure to solve it overnight after the reactor unexpectedly breaks down has something to do with the Conservative Party and therefore one of four reasons to vote Liberal. This is a simplistic approach to a complex issue and makes one wonder if Ignatieff understands the complexities of running a government. Sure, Gary Lunn's handling of the original crisis left something to be desired, but Lunn was demoted by Harper. Perhaps Ignatieff could explain what his party intends to do differently from the Tory government on this issue?

  32. I'm still trying to get my head around Mr. Ignatieff's assertion that the isotope crisis is a creation of the Harper government and that the failure to solve it overnight after the reactor unexpectedly breaks down has something to do with the Conservative Party and is therefore one of four reasons to vote Liberal. This is a simplistic approach to a complex issue and makes one wonder if Ignatieff understands the complexities of running a government. Sure, Gary Lunn's handling of the original crisis left something to be desired, but Lunn was demoted by Harper. Perhaps Ignatieff could explain what his party intends to do differently from the Tory government on this issue?

    • According to the punditry their is a disconnect with the "Rosedale Gang" and the Campaign Team, unnamed Senior Liberals.

      Dion's own team did not listen to the wisdom of those "nervous nellies". It appears the Rosedale Gang is confident the other opposition parties will not show up to defeat the government.

      Try as the Liberals might to articulate some high-falutin' ballot box question, any fall election will be a referendum on recession economic management, setting it up as a showdown between Conservative optimism at the budding recovery versus Liberal negativity that the worst is yet to come.

      A delusional Ignatieff seems to think the economy won't drive the campaign as he wraps himself in a visionary flag.

      – Don Martin Ignatieff seeks your vote to remake 2017 Posted: September 01, 2009

  33. Is Layton telling a private joke about some A+ anatomy?

  34. Good read.

  35. Yes, I don't think we will see an election. Before any coalition talk, each party has to see themselves making gains to want an election. I just do not see, right now, a situation where the Block, NDP, and Liberals all stand to gain. The Bloc in particular is looking shaky right now.

  36. Mr. Wells. I have some respect for you as a national columnist (you must have please someone to get this gig…).
    The only issue I have with this article is the following statement: “Never mind that Ignatieff has shown no interest in forming such a coalition (between Liberal-NDP-Bloc)”.
    Just what did he sign last November? Just what did he mean when he incessantly repeated, “coalition if necessary, but not necessarily a coalition”?
    Please fill us all in….

  37. good to see you're engaged in the political theatre…..you were getting boring in the summer.

    I predict Harper majority in the next elections. Libs still keep underestimating him. hehehehe

    Former Ottawa Public Servant in Oil Patch Now.

  38. I just watched the Liberal ads. They're pretty lame, although the two French ones were better than the English. Is this what they mean by "we can do better"? They'll need more than that to justify an election.

  39. Michael is so intelligent and handsome …he has my vote.

    • HANDSOME, Yikes!!! I am afraid not… But besides the point I sure hope people vote on the persons qualifications, not their looks!

  40. Post-coalition the choice is now crystal clear. Whether Iggy chooses to call it a "coalition" or and "arrangement" with the NDP (with or without the Bloc), Canadians will sooner or later have to CHOOSE whether they want a Canada governed by a "Blunderal" Coalition led by Iggy, or to stay the course the Conservatives. The choice is simple really.

  41. Ignatieff exposes his arrogance when he insults Canadians by labelling Canada as a small,mean and petty country under Harper but if we choose the Narcissist that somehow presto magico he will make us big ,smart ,healthy?open minded.
    This guy is really full of himself to think Politicians can influence what Canadians are.

    • You are right! And by the way the rest of the world think very highly of Canada!

  42. Liberals and conservatives are both power hungry. Niether will do anything that actually makes a difference in our country. Let's stop messing around. We need some NDP action.

  43. Good post. As for Iggy's chances…he's only visiting!

  44. Soldiers marching in Canadian cities—With Guns!!! Let's expose that Harper/ Bush Secret agenda this time .No more beating around the G.W. Bush.

  45. Harper is playing chicken with an election by forcing bills down the opposition's throat with the threat of an election with every bill, its about time the libs said enough is enough. i totally agree with the doubling down theory, Harper needs to walk out of this election with a majority or he is dead in the water.

    • Canadians are going to give him the majority and it is to show the other 3 parties, that we wont play their silly games anymore, no theats to the governing party and no more waste of taxpayers money just because they have take in so personal that they can see what's best for the country!

  46. Soldiers-with guns-in Canadian cities. Iggy should have the guts to run that ad this time. CBC exposes Harpo's Secret Agenda: A Majority Gov't! Who knew ? Thank God we've got the CBC digging around for such diamonds in the rough.

  47. Well dah……you can't expect anyone to win a fight without stepping into the ring.