UPDATED: There will now be elections. I think.


Well. People familiar with the thinking of Stephen Harper convened reporters from all the big Ottawa bureaus this afternoon to the place where people familiar with the thinking of Stephen Harper work, and they told the dozen of us what one of the people familiar with the thinking of Stephen Harper told me yesterday: it’s looking like an election is coming, and it’s looking like Stephen Harper will call it.

The final decision will come after meetings between Harper and each of the three opposition leaders. Timing is a bit of a challenge. (Stéphane Dion has spent the week wowing ’em in Ontario, and Harper leaves Tuesday for a three-day Arctic trip, so the window for the two of them to sit down, at least, would seem to be Monday.)

If Harper doesn’t get an assurance from one opposition leader — he needs only one — that his legislative agenda will receive support through the fall session, he’ll call an election. We were left with the impression that this will happen very soon after the meetings with opposition leaders.

I can’t imagine an opposition leader giving Harper a blank cheque for the next several weeks, ahead of the fact. Because he only needs one, Harper will not decide what to do until he has met all three.

“An election would clear the air and give a government — ours or a Liberal government — some open water to manoeuvre in,” said one, um, person. Why had they gathered us all to lay out this plot line? “If you have to guess, you may guess wrong. So I’m telling you so you’ll guess right.”

The mechanism for kicking off an election would, we were told, be a visit to the Governor General, not a contrived defeat in the Commons on a confidence motion. Could that happen before by-elections? “We’re not ruling anything out; we’re not ruling anything in.”

UPDATE: I thought I saw other reporters in the room. It must be serious: Jean-Pierre Blackburn is staying in Ottawa. But what’s this? Gilles Duceppe, who’s wanted an election since a week after the last one, now says it would be “disrespectful” to have one now. Offhand, this looks like an attempt to frame an election call, not to avoid one.


UPDATED: There will now be elections. I think.

  1. yay! I hope.

  2. From the Wheat Board, to the courts, to the CRTC, Nuclear Regualtory Commission, to Elections Canada, and now to the legislative assembly (Queen’s rep included), does there exist a Canadian institution that Stephen Harper DOES NOT regard with utter contempt?

  3. He’s big on Corner Gas, I’m told.

  4. Not to make this more difficult (or easy, depending on your perspective) on the PM, but it will take more than just one party on side to ensure that he can get his legislation through committee (which is, doubtless to his annoyance) still part of the parliamentary process. In committees chaired by the opposition, it would only take one more vote (come on down, NDP) to control the agenda, but if the chair is a Conservative, the government plus the NDP is not enough to win a vote.

    Even if they do manage to get, say, the Bloc Quebecois to agree to shore up the government side at committee, if there’s one thing that the last few months have taught us, it is that it only takes one party to stonewall even the most tyrannical majority, at least for long enough to play havoc with the legislative agenda.

  5. Ahh… but Kady, legislation doesn’t *have* to go through committee. It’s part of the process, but it can be skipped.

  6. An imaginative opposition party can, even all by its lonesome, make life exceedingly difficult for a government that seems to be attempting to bulldoze the House. Hoist motions, quorum calls, adjournment motions, thousands of amendments, standing votes, concurrence — I’m getting giddy just thinking about it.

  7. I must admit, that would be *nearly* as good as an election. Is it a bad thing that I get excited at the thought of our parliament ceasing to function, at least momentarily?

  8. If he has decided on an election call, why on earth would he wait until the first set of Sep 8 by-elections are over before going to the GG? I would think he would want to wrap this up sooner than that.

    BTW, what are the GG’s travel plans? She isn’t going off on some trip somewhere soon, is she?

  9. Kady, that comment was very revealing in many ways. Tsk tsk.

  10. Likely to happen before the GG leaves for the paralymics on September 6th.

  11. Likely to happen before the GG leaves for the paralympics on September 6th.

  12. So, that’s his stated reason for calling an election. What’s his real reason?

    I have trouble seeing this sudden eagerness to go to the polls as anything other than fear over a possible federal deficit and/or fear of continued in-and-out revelations. But maybe that’s just my limited imagination…

  13. Ian There is no reason to think it has to do with the deficit because there isn’t one. There was a $1.74 billion surplus in June which means, overall, there is a $1.22 billion surplus so far this fiscal year.

  14. Will this bring back the “hidden agenda” theory? Harper was passing all kinds of legislation that was not completely unreasonable, with incredibly little opposition from the main opposition party. The only reason he could want another election would be a majority, in order to pass legislation which could not pass now.

    And a question I would like to see asked: if the conservatives get a minority instead of a majority, would that not be just as likely to create gridlock, and thus a complete failure of the plan to call an early election?

  15. Duffy Lover: Find me a procedural geek who doesn’t secretly – or not so secretly – love to watch a good parliamentary wrangle. I dare you.

  16. The only ethical response any leader could give would be “we’ll decide when we see your agenda”. It’s unreasonable to expect anything else and I hope that is clear in media reports.

  17. BTW, the best/worst unethical response would be to lie and then bring down the government a week or two into Parliament despite promises to the contrary.

  18. I’d love to see Peter Milliken’s reaction if some opposition members rose, in order, on points of privilege or points of order, for hours on end.

    Would he call for the sargent-at-arms to remove those in question? I think so. But what would he do if everyone in the opposition did so, save the folks supporting the government?

    Tee hee.

    Oh… and what if everyone just kept barking and making noise and never came to order? Like, at all? Everyone? Would Milliken have the nerve to have the entire opposition removed? And if so, and the government passed legislation, would the GG not have very good cause to dissolve government, or at least postpone royal assent to said bills?

    *C’mon folks*. Why can’t we have fun?

  19. I know, I’m just giving you a hard time…but as Dion says, shouldn’t you be trying to appeal to the greater minds and hearts of Canadians? ie a Parliament that works for Canadians?

    Have a good weekend and rest up! It’s Christmas for us political junkies.

  20. Duffy Lover – Must I always have to remind you that Stephane Dion is not a leader? Not to mention that he’s not the boss of me.

    Actually, I think what makes parliamentary democracy so incredibly awesome is how it manages to adapt to even the most unexpected and anomalous situations. Although I’ll admit that this particular incarnation is giving it a run for its money, but still – when it comes down to it, even in the face of the most wildly creative monkeywrench-throwers, the House always manages to come out on top. Eventually.

  21. Admit it – you’re just saying the House always manages to come out on top because you do radio hits with Kathleen Petty.

    Though really, you should have a picture and a link to your blog on the Ottawa Morning page.

  22. Mike T: If Harper projects his chances as significantly worsening between now and October 19, 2009, an election, even one that comes out to another minority, gives them another two years, up to four, as opposed to just one.

    If this is the rationale, then I expect he’s thinking that the extra year might be long enough to whether the economic storm coming. Which, under a party with good monetary policies, it might be.

  23. Let’s get it on. I love elections.

    Wells says

    “Why had they gathered us all to lay out this plot line? ”

    To lay the foundation for the meetings to come?


    Come on now your a liberal.;) But that’s cool. My problem with you is that I now watch committe meetings. I had a life before I stared reading your blog(your a great writter regardless of my views).

  24. I actually LOLed at that Corner Gas quip, Paul.

  25. Whoa, hold on folks….Jack Layton who has consistently bragged that he wants the government brought down NOW for months on end….has had a change of heart. He doesn’t think this is the right time for an election.

    I’m sure he and Steve will work things out – they always do.

  26. I’m wondering whether, in addition to a desire to escape scandals, deficits, and economic downturn, Harper is privy to the “October Surprise” Karl Rove has threatened to spring on the eve of the US election. That this surprise may impact Canada in some way and Harper would rather not be at the helm in the aftermath.

  27. I do think that the Liberals have been caught a little flat-footed by the recent turn of events.

    Dion continues to play Hamlet on whether to defeat the government. But events have now passed him by – he’s waited too long.

    The Prime Minister will go to the Governor General to call an election. Having governed almost three years the timing it right. The election will be about who can better lead Canada in today’s more uncertain economic times. It’ll also be about the Green Shift and leadership. Tories will get at least 38% of the vote, maybe more. The Liberals will thereafter renew their search for a leader who can renew their party. Dion’s Green Shift will not have caught with either the public or the Liberal party.

  28. I don’t know; I have trouble believing that our PM envisions any scenario where him being at the helm would be anything but a good thing. Depending on what it is, a mid-campaign October Surprise could ricochet up here, but unless it was something really heinous, it probably wouldn’t be an outright election-loser for the Conservatives. I think maybe Stephen Harper is just sick of this meddlesome tyrannical majority, but who knows – maybe he’s playing chicken while the rest of us are reading the entrails.

  29. Jody – why is it that the left in this country who in general despises everything American also keeps making comparisons between American and Canadian politics? There is an unhealthy obsession at work here I think. The issues, the personalities, the electorate are all so different. But somehow what happens in the U.S. always is supposed to loom large here. Does no one else see the irony in this left-wing obsession with all things American?

  30. Sandi – the reason we’ve not had an election until now is that the Liberals have propped up the Conservatives. Not the NDP. The NDP have been principled, the Liberals, not so much. Dion has been clear on this point at least. He would decide to bring the government down not on policy, but on whether it suited the interests of the Liberal Party of Canada. Plus ca change, plus ca reste pareille.

    But we shouldn’t be surprised. Dion is part of the same cynical Liberal government who’s been governing these last number of years. That party is in dire need of new blood at the helm. Hopefully they’ll have the opportunity to renew itself very soon, for the sake of the long term interests of their party.

  31. Jarrid – Maybe it’s because I’m ex-US (left after the invasion of Iraq) and have lived through just how nefarious and internationally pervasive the machine down there actually is. One doesn’t have to be a 9/11 Truth advocate to be aware of all the tentacles. As, most recently demonstrated, in Georgia. Harper has been derided as a Bush clone with a Bush/Cheney poster in his office. But that’s more than a joke. IMHO his first loyalty is to something beyond Canada. He’ll likely know when to jump ship.

  32. P.S. Jarrid and Kady — If nothing more, something that would close the border would hurt Canada.

  33. Do we have any quality polls? I have not seen any polls that give the number of telephone calls made, refused or incomplete surveys. I have heard that there are many thousands of calls required to get the 1000 answered. As well there does not seem to be any quality filter. On one poll near the start of the Green Shift there was 3-5% of the respondents that had ever heard of the Green shift. I would like to see a qualifying question in the polls like name the Prime minister and or the Premier of your province. Who exactly accepts the survey requests that make up the Polls that the media and political junkies get so worked up about?

    I have an VOIP and cell phone.. not in any directory… would I be outside the sample?

  34. Dion was playing, “look, I’m a leader, I get to decide when there will be an election”, and now Harper just took that away from him too.

    Another good thing about potential elections, is seat predictions!!!

    0 – Sorry Lizzy.

  35. I’m surprised no one’s brought this up yet, but what happens if the Governor General says “No“. I’m not sure I’m convinced, but reliable sources say she could.

    Mr. Wells, did anyone at this meeting of journalists bring up the fixed election dates law, and the government’s (and more specifically the PM’s) solemn assertions that the whole point of the law was to take the ability to call an election at a time of the PM’s choosing out of the hands of the PM, and that they by all means intended to follow that spirit of the law.

    I’d be willing to accept “We had our fingers crossed”, or “We were just kidding” if it means we get to have the fun of an election, but I’d like someone on the government side to actually have to say one of those things.

  36. “I thought I saw other reporters in the room.”

    We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.

    What would Julie van Dusen call this? Embedded? In-bedded? :)

  37. Dot, do you believe Liberals never met with reporters on a not-for-attribution basis?

  38. LKO, a couple of questions were about the “fixed” election date law. One of mine was, “I’m left wondering what the fixed election date law changed.” Because the line of argument was that the law always stated that the GG could dissolve parliament at her discretion. Since that has always been the case, I was left wondering what the law was meant to change.

    The answer was that “In a majority government situation,” election dates would be fixed. I let that answer stand, but you’ll note that the law, passed by a minority parliament, set a fixed election date for this parliament. Which is not a majority government situation.

  39. It seems that the Prime Minister was once pretty proud of his fixed election date law. I have hard time believing that going against his own law won’t cause Harper’s campaign a decent size headache. Am I just a foolish old romantic?

    “We will do more than just talk about the need for democratic reform,”
    – Stephen Harper
    26 May 2006

  40. I’m sure they do. It just strikes me that when a selected group of reporters meet with “people familiar with the thinking of Stephen Harper” it’s a bit different, especially if there is still a standoffish relationship between him and the PPG.

    Or is the pre-Sarkozy solidarity thing over? You seemed to be pretty adamant back then, taking to task reporters who broke the bond.

    Are those days behind us now with Buckler gone, or is this just the same thing in a different form?

    Just askin.

  41. I think you make an excellent point. By ignoring the fixed election law Harper is handing the Liberals ‘the issue’ for the election.

    Given Harper’s deserved reputation for being a shrewd tactical politician I can’t see him making such a potentially harmful tactical choice. This move changes the conventional wisdom on Harper’s skills.

    This is a change in the narrative that Harper does not want to see.

  42. Blues I don’t think people will care. Too me, most people won’t have an opinion one way or another or they will think Harper’s a typical politician. It’s a dog bites man story, politician does something that he implied he wouldn’t.

    Dot I remember Wells being against the ‘band of brothers’ attitude but I could be wrong. I thought Paul was of the opinion that reporters were cutting off their noses to spite their faces and that newspaper owners would start wondering why they have an Ottawa bureau if they are not going to report.

  43. Burt,
    Sure, this may give the Liberals an “issue” for the first week of the campaign. But, they’d just be wasting their time. Only those who already are opposed to Harper will care.

    The real issue of the campaign will be economic stewardship and the green shaft, both of which are winners for Harper. He’ll win between 140 and 150 seats in my opinion.

  44. jwl, I can’t remember for sure either. It just strikes me that someone like AC wouldn’t get invited to one of these group things, given his position on this specific item as he articulated elsewhere.

    The group thing, as opposed to one-on-ones no doubt is to ensure a consistent message gets distributed as quickly and efficiently as possible.

  45. jwl: Come on, I’m sure you could be a bit more imaginative than that. Harper’s opponents could simply say–even if Dion never could–that “Harper broke his own law”. Not in so many words, of course, but since this is what would have roughly occured, it makes sense.

    And, yes, it’s an effective attack. Harper’s strength is that he’s seen as “resolute”, or “a strong leader”, or whatever terms they use to prop up dictatorial tyrants these days.

    But the flip side to that is that it means that he’s seen as somewhat of a tyrant. And you know what a tyrant does, other than destroying those who get in his way?

    He ignores the law when it’s inconvenient, that’s what he does.

    He says that “democracy isn’t working” or “times are too tough” or “the rebels are stockpiling weapons in the hills” or “look! Commies!”. Pretty soon you’ve got a vestigial “parliament”, ballots with one box on ’em, and/or some guy riding around in the back of a Jeep with way, way too many medals on his chest.

    And what is Harper saying? Well, he’s already called Canadians commies to American audiences, he’s clearly got contempt towards the guys who make elections work, and now we’re hearing “parliament isn’t working” noises… so that he can ignore his own law.

    Maybe it’ll get ignored, jwl. But I suspect that some people are gonna start expecting that Jeep.

  46. And a quick tip for the completely-not-bought-and-paid-for conservative mouthpieces that infest public forums like this one: the “green shaft” bit is ridiculous.

    Ask whoever emails you your talking points for a new line. I’m sure they’ll oblige.

  47. Points to Kady this round : and by the way kady it seems to working very well. The longer Stevie sits in the PM seat the more I have to admire his ability to draw his opponents into his game plan right around now ordinarily the media should be full of Dion is here and there and everywhere and promising oodles of money to one and all and wait for the Shaft but what do we have but a whole bunch of people divining the spots in the sacred political chickens liver. Brilliant : and it costs nothing to the PM as well as there has been no promises to go the GG just the threat that he will be thinking about it and the best part is that all the opposition leaders agendas have been scrambled until they find out if he is serious or not. Then again this exactly why most people think he is far stronger leader (Wayne walks away shaking his head in admiration)

  48. If the opposition wastes their time during a campaign saying “we don’t like the way this election was called, the PM lied when he said he would not call one this way”, then they will lose.

    Especially considering that Dion spent the last two years continuously threatening to call an election.

    But, on the other hand, this is the same guy who created a carbon tax that is clearly not revenue-neutral for anyone who actually pays income taxes.

    But frankly, I would love to see the opposition try to win an election on these issues.

  49. The “Harper broke his own fixed election date law” attack works for about a day or two at most. It gets trumped by other issues, boredom by the media, lack of fresh information to give it legs and the good old “you can only beat a dead horse horse for so long” dictum.

    In December, 2007, CPAC had a one hour documentary on Harper. One comment that stood out, from one of his closest friends, is that “Harper likes to spring surprises on his opponents”. This move is clearly a big surprise, likely catches the Libs off-guard, and takes hardball tactics to a new level.

    Anyway, let’s see how it plays out. Harper surely has made the calculation that the upsides outweigh the downsides. Another consideration–the quarterly payment to political parties for their $1.75 per vote is due Sep 30th. Does that get cancelled if the writ is dropped before then ?

  50. It’s cute that the Conservatives are now talking about the “fixed election date” law as though it was always supposed to be about MAJORITY Parliaments, but by no means binding on them. In other words “Oh, yeah, sure, we passed a law… and it’s a great law… but it doesn’t apply to US”. It fits nicely with the tenor of this whole government, who CONSTANTLY do things they used to absolutely EVISCERATE the Liberals for doing, and then turn a round and say “Well, of course it’s all right for us to do that… the Liberals always did”.

    Plus, it’s particularly hilarious that they now apparently want us to believe that the law they passed, which has no power whatsoever to constrain Harper and his minority government, would suddenly bind the hands of a PM with a majority in the House like some magical pair of selective hand cuffs. Sure, the law can’t stop Harper, but just wait until there’s a PM with a majority. THAT PM will be powerless to resist!

    One also wonders, if they always intended this law to be all about MAJORITY Parliaments why the only specific date written into the law at all was the date on which THIS Parliament is mandated to end (not that this Parliament will end on the date written in the law… that would be silly).

    I’m less convinced that what Harper’s doing is “breaking his own law” exactly, so much as showing definitively, once and for all, that the law he introduced and passed (to great fanfare and much trumpeting of the great democratic reform, and how amazing it was that a PM was essentially tying his own hands… how purely selfless of him!) is of NO PRACTICAL EFFECT WHATSOEVER. That it’s always been nothing more than a vehicle for misleading self-serving political rhetoric, but doesn’t actually DO anything.

    Haprer’s line was ““We will do more than just talk about the need for democratic reform”, and they did. They also passed a patently ridiculous, constitutionally dubious, meaningless, do nothing law to make it APPEAR as though they were doing more than just talking. And now they’re going to simply ignore that law (and why not since it’s meaningless and powerless anyway) and get on with acting like any other government would. It makes one kinda wish all they’d done was just talk. Just lying to us is much less offensive than both lying to us AND passing dishonest, powerless legislation to back up the lie (“back it up” that is so long as no one reads the actual legislation… which was probably the plan).

    Meet the new bosses. An absolute carbon copy of the old bosses.

    I renew my call for us all to refuse to vote en masse in protest. Let’s try anarchy for a while. Surely it can’t be worse than what we have.

    (And Paul and Kady et al… we’ll find something for you to write about… I promise!)

  51. LKO – give it a rest already. This is another masterstroke by Prime Minister Harper. People don’t have to agree with his politics or his agenda, but we can all admire his political acumen. He can do politics with the best of them.

  52. This is another masterstroke by Prime Minister Harper.

    Only if he wins.

  53. Look, I know I seem a bit obsessed by this, it just bugs the heck out of me that our Parliament would waste it’s time passing legislation that does ABSOLUTELY NOTHING; that our government would then TRUMPET said meaningless legislation as a great reform; and then, that our government would have no compunctions whatsoever about demonstrating openly to the nation that the great reform they passed does ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

    I mean fine, jerk us around… we all expect that. But either do it with a bit of finesse, or show a little shame about it.

    As for the “fixed elections date” law being some sort of masterstroke? How? Given that the law is powerless and meaningless, what would be different today if they’d never passed it? (other than that the government wouldn’t be openly demonstrating that a law they passed was both powerless and meaningless?). Since the law apparently didn’t change anything (and I have to presume MPs knew it wasn’t going to change anything… to think otherwise is too depressing) how is it a masterstroke?

  54. Drop the writ.

    Harper will then, be soon deserved, history. He’s afraid to govern.

    Which is understandable, he has legitimate opposition and he has no policies.

  55. He reminds me of Mulroney. Except for the cash filled envelopes.

  56. Demosthenes

    Are you being ironic, or something, when talking about wanting new quips and use the ‘talking points’ line.

    I think I have read ‘memos from finley’, ‘talking points’ only a few thousand times from ‘independent’ thinkers of the left.

  57. LKO, you are letting the rule of law cloud your vision. Rest assured that Stephen Harper does not suffer from your affliction.

  58. What I like about LKO’s call for all the lefties to sit on their hands and boycott the election is that it would help give the Tories a majority.

    Or, is it just that even the lefties can’t stand the thought of voting for Dion?

  59. Oh, I’m not calling for “lefties” not to vote, I think NONE of us should vote. I’d like to think that right leaning people are as enraged by Harper’s shenanigans as they are underwhelmed by Dion’s potential. I’d like to think that crap like the “fixed election date” wool pulling would upset everyone. (Now sadly, I feel most conservatives were in the wilderness for so long that there’s little the Tories could do that would rock their base… including the many examples of them acting just like the hated Liberals… but I continue to hold out faint hope.)

    However, I mean, sure, the Tories passed meaningless legislation and trumpeted it as a great democratic reform. But the opposition let them do it. Everything the Tories have done that I didn’t like the opposition let them do. I don’t want any of these guys in charge frankly, and I just wish there was a way we could avoid letting any of them run the joint.

    Anarchy! Anarchy! Anarch..


  60. That was supposed to say “crickets…” afterwards above, but since I put it in hash marks I guess the system thought it was cricket html.

    Trust me though, it would have been funny.


  61. LKO – the fixed election law never made sense in a minority context. It can only really work in a majority context.

    Anyway, as I’ve stated before, Dion will look ridiculous if he complains of Harper calling an election when he’s been threateining to do just that.

    If he and the rest of the opposition had stated they would wait until October 2009 for an election, that’s one thing, but all we’ve been hearing from the opposition in the last year and a half is threats to bring down the government and force an election. Now that Harper wants to force an election it’s supposed to be illegitimate? Huh? It’s that old double-standard leftist logic that I’ve always had trouble following.

    And by the way, Harper is following the law, it allows for going to the GG precisely in situations such as this where the government no longer has the effective support of the opposition.

  62. Isn’t the whole point of the fixed election law to take the power of deciding when an election is called out of the hands of the Prime Minister? Why should it matter whether it’s a minority Parliament or a Majority Parliament?

    The reason the Tories are throwing out that spin now is that they need to rationalize showing to the world that the law they trumpeted is a sham, nothing more. The Tories were EXPLICIT that this law was about curtailing the powers of the PRIME MINISTER. Majority vs. Minority never came up until now, and as you point out, the law refers SPECIFICALLY to the end of THIS (minority) Parliament.

    As for Harper “following the law” well, in as much as the law is meaningless, yes, he’s not violating the meaningless law that’s basically impossible to violate (being meaningless). The law doesn’t allow for going to the GG “precisely in situations such as this”. It allows for going to the GG in pretty much any case, for any reason. It doesn’t actually change ANYTHING. It doesn’t mention the PM at all. It doesn’t even mention the dissolution of Parliament at all except to say “nothing in this law changes the manner in which Parliament is dissolved”. It’s a sham, and THAT’s what I don’t like.

    As I think I’ve mentioned, I’m much less peeved at the Tories for possibly holding an election now; go ahead, call an election! I certainly never meant to imply they’d be breaking any law if they did so. My point is simply that the law the passed is meaningless and powerless from the beginning. The only thing that THEORETICALLY gave it “moral power” was all the Harper rhetoric about following the “spirit” of the law. All that rhetoric about how this law took the power for calling an election out of the hands of the government in power, and what a noble and self sacrificing thing it was for the Tories to do that. My problem’s less with what they purport to do now, it’s with what they did then. They wasted everyone’s time on impotent spin. What’s worse, on impotent spin they didn’t even really believe in themselves.

    And don’t try to tell me that that legislation is going to “work” in a majority context. Show me a Prime Minister with a majority in the House of Commons who will be bound by a law that’s incapable of binding a Prime Minister WITHOUT a majority, and I’ll show you a unicorn.

  63. Actually, the only people who don’t think “Harper breaks his own laws” won’t do damage are those who are already bought in.

    I fully understand that the party faithful don’t see what the big deal is, but they’re not the votes that Harper needs — that’s why polls in Alberta mean squat to the federal scene. The problem is that in order to retain their minority or grow it, they have to show the voters who aren’t decided one way or the other that they’re the best choice. When every idea the conservatives come out with can be responded to with “You broke your own law, your own statement of intent. How long will you keep this one?” it makes it really hard to show the undecided voters how you’d actually be a better government.

    Of course, I still think Harper’s pulling the other parties legs. What better way to get them all hot and bothered than to think that Harper would pull the plug himself, giving the Conservatives this great big goose-egg going into an election. But the only way that he can do that is if they don’t pull the plug first. I’m starting to think that’s what this is about. Make all the other parties think that he will so that they don’t.

  64. Just for those who might buy the new Tory spin that the fixed election date isn’t a sham, it just was designed solely for dealing with Prime Ministers in majority situations, I’d mention two other things (beyond the fact that the legislation makes no mention of minority vs. majority Parliaments, the PM, or anything that would change the process by which Parliament is dissolved and an election forced in any conceivable scenario).

    First, even if you believe that this law could, theoretically, constrain a PM with a majority in a way that it can’t constrain a PM in a minority situation, I believe that pretext vanishes COMPLETELY if Jean dissolves Parliament for Harper (which I think she would, because I think she must, because I think the law doesn’t change anything). One could, theoretically make the (imho weak) argument that the law was meant to constrain only PM’s who already have the added power of a majority in the House. However, since the law is silent on that point, I presume it must apply equally to all PM’s and their GG’s (sorry, all GG’s and their PM’s!). So, if Harper gets a pass (as I think he should) then that’s the ballgame, imho. Precedent set (not that I think the precedent NEEDS to be set… the law’s meaningless on its face I think, but we’d then have impotent law backed by precedent demonstrating it’s impotence… it’d be like the anti-viagra!).

    The further problem with constraining PM’s who have a majority in the House is that THEY HAVE A MAJORITY IN THE HOUSE. Remember that the only time in history that a Governor General has refused to dissolve Parliament at the request of a PM was when the PM in question had a minority. Only in a minority (arguably) is it even possible to reasonably assume that any other person could possibly form a government. If the PM has a majority, how does the Leader of the Opposition even PRETEND to be able to form a functioning government? This is arguably the whole problem of Prime Ministerial power that the spinners used to try to tell us the “fixed election date” law was supposed to, well, fix. But it didn’t. If Jean dissolves Parliament for Harper (who has the support of what, 40% of the House?) how on Earth could she refuse a similar request from a Prime Minister who had an even STRONGER democratic mandate? I just can’t see a subsequent GG saying “Sorry, I know my predecessor acquiesced to the wishes of Prime Minister Harper back in 2008, but he only had the support of 40% of the House. You have the support of 55% of the House. I’m afraid I’m going to have to deny your request”.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I think a Governor General refusing a request of an elected Prime Minister who has the support of the majority of the House of Commons just MIGHT be seen as a bit of a problem. And I don’t see anything in the newly adjusted Election Act that makes me think differently.

  65. Hey LKO, (and others who may know) something slightly different but related for you to mull over.

    Where does the Senator until age of 75 law originate? Is it in the BNA Act? If so, would the fate of Harper’s plans to have term limits for Senators be any different than his fixed date election laws?

  66. The mandatory retirement at 75 dates from 1965, according to wikipedia.

  67. LKO – I agree completely, and I’d like to add that the people fantasising about GG’s denying PM’s requests for dissolution are missing a large part of the picture. Constitutional convention has constrained the GG to basically rubberstamping decisions made by the PM, so there is basically no chance that Jean (or any other GG) would ever decline the request.

    Fixed election dates are an unnatural addition to our system of government. But this is typical of Harper, preferring to trim around the margins, just like with his elected Senate thing.

  68. Wow, a lot of MontyPythonesque debate about whether the fixed election date legislation debate fixes election dates or not. Yes it does, no it doesn’t, does too, does not, too, not… Well, it was always meant for this minority Parliament only — no, actually, it could do no such thing in a threatened-to-fall minority Parliament, it could only apply to future majority Parliaments, except that it has no place in the Westminster-style Parliamentary democracy we practice here, but for the fact that other parliamentary democracies have done exactly the same thing without collapsing on its own contradictions. Have I got it right so far, and is anyone following?
    If someone has a link to the actual text of the passed-and-royally-assented legislation, that would be great. Meantime, I will do my websurferdude best to dig it up. Stand by…

  69. OK, found the royally-assented text of C-16. Subsection one has the “nothing stops the GG…” text. Subsection two: “Subject to subsection (1), each general election must be held on the third Monday of October in the fourth calendar year following polling day for the last general election, with the first general election after this section comes into force being held on Monday, October 19, 2009.”
    So indeed Harper loses hypocrisy points for having GG dissolve Parliament this year, and sets enough of a precedent to have future PMs completely disregard the legislation by calling earlier elections as well.
    So yes, either the legislation was sloppy by accident or useless on purpose. My Vulcan-chess theory points to the latter.
    If Harper crosses Sussex Drive soon, he must figure that the price to pay for the hypocrisy accusation is lower than the price of waiting till the earlier of loss-of-confidence in the House or October 2009. If he does NOT cross Sussex Drive anytime soon, then the current public posturing seems similar to the “war room” facade shown to the press (whenever that was) just to spook the opposition.

  70. Does anyone know if Friday’s cancellation of the Coast Guard patrol vessels the same patrol vessels he promised to help protect sovereignty in the Arctic?

    I know he’s not going up there to make a climate change announcement — so if he’s going up to talk sovereignty and these are the same ships — it was poor timing for Friday’s announcement.

  71. IF Harper ignores the fixed election law it will definitely be an issue in the election. Be it for a week or a couple of days, it would be a very bad way to start the election.

    In all likelihood it will only be a 5 week writ for the next election. Far too short to cede a couple of days or maybe a week to the opposition. Harper is far too shrewd to make such a tactical error.

    It appears that Harper is simply trying to goad Dion into finally pulling the plug. Looking at the way he’s got so many people foaming at the mouth about the idea on this comment section alone.

    Harper occupies the high road on this issue and will continue to do so unless he goes to the GG and breaks his promise. The Conservatives are ready at pretty much anytime for an election. Harper won’t break this promise. He’s probably watching how the Liberals are getting worked up over the issue.

  72. October 6..I’m on my way to vote..just left the Timmy Ho’s with my double double..I’m going to vote for the Conservatives..I like the Liberals, but Dion can’t be PM..then I remember..wasn’t there some legislation that said the election was supposed to be on the 3rd Monday in October!?!?!

    So I vote NDP.

    As-if. I’m a political junkie too, but even I realize that C-16 will have no impact on the actual election. And of course it was written for majority governments.

  73. Twice I’ve read an unattributed Conservative spokesthingy comment to the effect that an election would “clear the water” for a new Conservative OR Liberal government. Is this just more smoke, is there any possibility Steve wants out of office for some reason? Just asking.

  74. And of course it was written for majority governments.

    Does anyone know where this patently false line came from first?

  75. Dot,

    The link for the wiki entry Jack cites is here. So, the mandatory retirement age is a part of the Constitution (The BNA Act 1965 was renamed the Constitution Act 1965 and made part of the modern Constitution by Section 52(2)b, which incorporates all of the earlier BNA Acts (except those previously repealed of course) into the 1982 Constitution we know today). The Schedule referred to in Section52(2)b can be found here and the Constitution Act, 1965 is number 27 of the list of included documents.

    So, I believe that makes Harper’s plan for term limits on Senators extremely difficult to achieve without amending the Constitution (if not utterly impossible without amending the Constitution). But I’m no constitutional scholar.

    What I am certain of, is that if the government passes a federal statute meant to impose term limits on Senators, and the first section of that legislation reads something like “Nothing in this section affects the powers of the Senate, including the right of Senators to serve until the age of 75.” then no matter what the government says, that Act will NOT limit the terms of Senators.


  76. What’s this about it only applying to majority governments? Is that in the actual legislation? Harper has said that he doesn’t expect any majority governments for the forseeable future. So, …is Harper now writing legislation for the twenty-second century?

    When Harper introduced this legislation, he made a big deal about it making the government so much more accountable and predictable. Now it seems we will have to wait another century to see that effect.

    Monty python indeed. Someone has to make a skit of this.

  77. LKO, I take full credit for the patently false line about majority governments! Or rather, I reported it from the briefing the other day! Do I get steak knives?

  78. I’d say Battling Tops would be a better prize.

  79. PW & Dot, you have both jumped the gun by 23 and 22 comments respectively.

    If the Fixed Comment Marathon Law (mandating the knives at 100) isn’t sacred, what other laws might one suspect to be grossly hypocritical and uninformed meddlings with our constitutional system for the sake of partisan showmanship?

    You have 21 more comments to decide.

  80. Floating trial balloons. Gravity.

  81. Jack, don’t forget: Of course, we are talking Maclean’s here, where, with the ascension of Kenneth Whyte as editor and publisher, the contrarian and the counter-intuitive have become the leitmotifs of editorial policy.

    I seen it Saturday with my own eyes in the G&M. Honest!

    (down to 19)

  82. Hmm, that certainly is a powerful argument for reconsidering the steak knives policy. Perhaps they could be sent at the behest of the GG, on the Advice of Kenneth Whyte? Or would that be insufficiently Dadaesque for the new Maclean’s?


  83. I think sending a belted Karlheinz over with the request would provide the dignity this dissolution requires.

    He is the forgotten master strategist who most welcomes a change in gov’t, further postponing the day when parts of his torso will be the daily subject of flattering German curiosity.


  84. I tried twice to address Dot’s early question about Senators and the 75 year mandatory retirement, but for some reason it just won’t take. (perhaps my unfortunate tendacy to babble on and on upset the comment machine!) Here I go again.

    The mandatory retirement age for Senators of 75 years IS in the Constitution (originally BNA 1965, later Constitution Act 1965.. incorporated into the totality of the Constitution in ’82). So, I imagine it would be EXTREMELY difficult (if not totally impossible) for Harper to impose term limits on Senators through the use of a mere federal statute or other similar instrument.

    What I am absolutely certain of, is that if the government passes a federal statute meant to impose term limits on Senators, and the first subsection of that legislation reads something like “Nothing in this section affects the powers of the Senate, including the right of Senators to serve until the age of 75.” then no matter what the government says, that Act will NOT limit the terms of Senators.


  85. Can I also just say I love it when a post gets to over 80 comments and remains so civil!

    86 comments, and not so much as a single, even subtle, oblique reference to a certain German dictator and/or his totalitarian political party! (and since I mention neither his name, nor the name of his party, I consider the streak completely alive).

    We could possibly set some sort of record! (In which case, steak knives for all?!?!?)

  86. It’s been pointed out that this election speculation occurs right as the government announces that it’s scuttling the plan to purchase new supply and other ships to keep their promise of maintaining our sovereignty in the arctic.

    Coincidentally, with this cancellation announcemnt, Mr. Flaherty has suddenly announced that we have a budgetary surplus of 1.2 billion, merely a month after a deficit of half a billion dollars.

    How much do those ships cost again?

  87. T.Thwin,

    I don’t think there’s a link.

    While some time ago, there was much discussion over the fact that for one month the gov’t ran a deficit, to me it is expected.

    IF the objective is to have balanced books at the end of the year, one would expect, on average, deficits for six of the months and surpluses for six of the months – balancing out at the end – budgeting being inexact at the best of times.

  88. LKO, interesting.

    I wonder what people familiar with the thinking of Stephen Harper might respond to your analysis, if asked.

  89. I see in the third reading of Bill C-16, Harper’s government addressed the charge from the opposition that this bill was “illusory in nature” since the Prime Minister (minority or majority) could still call an election whenever he/she wanted. Basically, the response is that the bill had to be illusory. I particularly like the argument that this illusory bill would reduce voter cynicism. I’m certainly feeling a lot less cynical.


  90. I always thought most Liberals WANTED an early election. Some are confident they would form the next government, others just content to get Dion out as leader.

    So now it looks like Harper will deliver that early election. AND he’s doing it in such a way (“breaking” his own fixed election date law), that the Liberals get a useful talking point. They can use it as part of a larger narrative about “Harper being untrustworthy … what OTHER laws will he break” and so on.

    So Libs, quit your nitpicking about HOW this election gets started. You have your Greenshift, and more anti-Harper talking points, now run with them. Look at it this way … Harper is giving Dion a 100 yard head start in the election marathon to come. It’s not a lot, but it’s something.

  91. Dot, although you might expect fluctuations from month to month, Flaherty’s numbers are peculiar. He reported a $500M deficit for the first two months of the fiscal year, then a surplus of $1.2B for the first quarter — a surplus of $1.7B in just one month. Given his new growth rate projections, this is more than the surplus he is projecting for the entire year. Sounds like we already had the best month of the year by far and it is all downhill now. This could be connected to why Harper wants an election sooner than the illusory fixed date.

  92. CJ, I hear you, but Hamlet’s running the show for the Libs.

    The NDP – Let’s have an election!

    The Bloc Quebecois – Let’s have an election!

    The Conservatives – Let’s have an election!

    Dion’s Liberal Party of Canada – To have or not to have an election, that is the question…

  93. More Freudian than Shakespearian.

    Dion backwards = No Id.

  94. catherine

    True enough. But we’re still in the 3rd inning, or 3rd end if you’re a curler.

    You going long or short on the price of oil?

  95. “You going long or short on the price of oil?”

    Neither. I’ve hedged on oil, but I’m going short on Harper.

  96. Brilliant re: Dion, Dot.

    Hmm, why don’t we see more Kabbalah-type analysis in the MSM? Or does that beg the question?

    Layton = Not y’al(l)
    May = Yam
    Bernier = Rein reb.
    Brison = No, sir. B.
    Emerson = No’s re: me.
    Pollievre = Er, veil lop.

    These are less compelling, I’ll grant you.

  97. Were I invited I’d insist the meeting be in camera.

  98. steak knives!

  99. I love it. Don’t the Liberals realize they are giving the Tories some wonderful sound bites by teling everyone who will listen that there is no need for an election because the Parliament has been so productive for the past two and one-half years? Just wait until half way thru the election campaign when the ads come out quoting Dion as saying the Harper Governemnt has accomplished a lot.

  100. A thought occurs: wouldn’t it be funny if Dion said it was impossible to meet with Harper while he is bringing a (frivolous) lawsuit against the Liberal party?

  101. Or better yet, skipped the meeting, showed up two days later with his Mom, barged into 24 Sussex and demanded a hearing?

  102. Brian: they would only be useful if Harper was trying to push a “we got a lot accomplished” narrative during the campaign. Which is very doubtful: they’ve played the game like an opposition so far, so they’re likely to continue to do so. It’ll be attack, attack, attack.

    Plus, those ads would be stupid. Impossibly stupid. “I write for townhall.com” stupid. I thought your boss “chosen party leader” was supposed to be smart.

    (Steven backwards= “ne, vets!” Guess somebody should have predicted him screwing over his navy, huh?)

  103. (Apologies, that should have been “boss…ahem… ‘chosen party leader'”.)

  104. Just to be 100% clear here, has Constitutional Convention constrained the GG to act on orders of the Prime Minister, or orders from the House of Commons?

    In a majority government, these are one and the same.

    In a minority government, especially one where the House of Commons has already said “There shall be no election until October 19, 2009”, is that significantly different?

    I’m not suggesting that she’d try to put a coalition of opposition together to rule, but instead come out with an announcement along the lines of, “Mr. Harper has approached me and asked for me to dissolve Parliament and call an election. However, I do not take my guidance from any minority within the House of Commons, but rather upon the wishes of the majority of the House. Most recently, the House of Commons has agreed that no election is desired before October 19, 2009. I shall meet in the coming weeks with Msr. Dion, Msr. Duceppe, and Mr. Layton, to determine if the House has decided that it is now prepared for an election earlier than that time they agreed to in the legislation which I have signed.”

    Now, since one of the three opposition parties will likely want an election, it’ll probably go through, but it will be delayed for a few weeks, certainly long enough for the by-elections to go through and for Zytaruk and the court appointed third-party expert to begin their testimony on the authenticity of the tape where Mr. Harper admits he was aware of financial considerations being offered in exchange for the vote of a sitting MP.

  105. Hah. Scenario 2, if Harper really wants an election all he really needs to do is put forward a motion of confidence in the government, and then have the Conservative MPs simply not show up.

  106. If the Bloc doesn’t want an election, does it have any power or even a role in these scenarios? If Gilles Duceppe says ‘it’s fall 2009’ does it mean anything? I guess not.

  107. Elections cost $300-350 million a pop, so having them more frequent than every four years is expensive. Assuming 1/2(?) of future years are spent in minority territory (until the Green Democrat Party forms), this is 11.11% more elections, or about $35 million a year in increased costs. An idea for the next government: how about tacking on the North to the Maritimes, and if any party gains a majority in all four areas (West, ON, Que, Maritimes + North), the party gets 5.5 or 6 years in majority?

  108. There is nothing sadder than watching this bunch circling around each other, trying to pin the blame for the election on the other one.

    It would be kind of funny if Duceppe, Dion and Layton together decline to meet Harper and tell him to “fish or cut bait”. Not sure what the great tactician would do then.

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