Maybe we'll have have an election in... 2011 -

Maybe we’ll have have an election in… 2011

Harper acts as if he’ll be around for a while; the Liberals hope the hard choices ahead will grind him down


Maybe we'll have have an election in... 2011“I don’t think 2011 should be out of the question,” a Liberal MP told me, leaning in conspiratorially.

For what? A summer full of sunshine? A return to three-button jackets? “For an election,” the MP said.

This guy’s thinking, which I’ve since learned is shared by at least a few other veteran Liberals in Ottawa, is as follows. The polls don’t favour Michael Ignatieff right now, and haven’t since he announced in September he would work to bring down the Harper government at the first chance. Indeed the polls have been so stinkeroo for the Liberals that Ignatieff has had to un-announce his September announcement. Now he’s in no hurry to replace the Harper government. Some Liberals suspect Ignatieff replaced his inexperienced, poorly connected chief of staff, Ian Davey, with the wily Chrétien-era fixer Peter Donolo because Davey didn’t foresee the popular backlash against Ignatieff’s “Mr. Harper, your time is up” announcement.

Well then. If there’s no election this autumn, will there be one in the spring? Perhaps not: the Vancouver/Whistler Olympics are in February, and for some reason an ironclad conventional wisdom has sprung up that elections must not be held near an Olympics. A federal budget will soon follow the Olympics. A budget gives the Harper Conservatives a chance to spend some $230 billion. It’s not easy to make enemies while spending $230 billion. Suddenly it’s summer, when we mustn’t have an election, followed by autumn when we mustn’t have an election, I forget why not. This is what we do in Ottawa these days: stare at the calendar, shaking our heads.

Anyway, by late 2010, the recession will be well and truly over, and (my Liberal interlocutor reasoned) there’ll be no more of this stimulus spending. Instead, the government, whoever forms it, will be belt-tightening to get out of deficits. Since belt-tightening is never pleasant or popular, Liberals are thinking it might as well be Harper who is stuck with doing it. Give the nasty work a little time to grind Harper down, and suddenly it’s 2011.

Let’s go with this theory a bit and see where it leads us. For one thing, Harper would by 2011 have passed Alexander Mackenzie, Lester Pearson and—aim high—maybe even R.B. Bennett in longevity, which would make him Canada’s 10th longest-serving prime minister. (He’d need almost another year after that to catch up to John Diefenbaker.) What’s perhaps more significant is that the very atmosphere in the capital would change, and not too soon either. Instead of careening from one crisis of parliamentary confidence to the next, the government and its opponents might finally have the luxury to take the longish view. This could come in handy for all of them. Whether in government or opposition, they all have work they’ve been postponing because they weren’t sure they’d have the time to do it.

All of this seems already to have occurred to Harper. Lately he’s started taking steps that assume he’ll be around for a while. His trips to India and China. His Supreme Court reference on Ottawa’s right to establish a national securities regulator. His judicial inquiry into the collapse of the Pacific salmon fishery. The latter two, especially, will take more than a year to play out. Harper appears to be betting he’ll still be Prime Minister when the time comes to act on their conclusions. It’s been so long since we had a government that thought about the long term that the very prospect is bracing and a bit disorienting. But good for him; even if he’s wrong in his calculations, Harper is beginning work that will serve his successor well.

Michael Ignatieff, meanwhile, gets to do the work that will improve his chances of being Harper’s successor. He, too, has already begun. He made do for nearly a year with temporary help to run the Office of the Leader of the Opposition. Now Donolo can give the place structure and order, really for the first time since 2006. Next comes a “thinkers’ conference” Ignatieff promised when he thought he’d have to fight Bob Rae for the Liberal leadership and probably now heartily regrets promising. It was to happen in September and is now scheduled for early 2010. Ignatieff’s minimal need is to impose a Hippocratic oath on this thing: first, it must do no harm to his leadership. So it mustn’t degenerate into a forum for clannish infighting or a source of quotes for future Conservative attack ads. If it actually produces any ideas that’s a sort of bonus.

One other party must adjust to the yawning chasm of non-crisis that lies ahead. Jack Layton’s NDP doesn’t get much attention around Ottawa these days, but viewed properly, that’s a problem. Layton decided in January he would do the opposite of whatever Ignatieff did. When Ignatieff was desperate to avoid an election, Layton was voting non-confidence at every turn and mocking Ignatieff’s timidity. When Ignatieff reversed polarity in September, so did Layton. Suddenly he was the Only Man Who Wanted Parliament To Work. If Ignatieff’s moves have been dumb, Layton’s must be clever. And yet, in poll after poll, the New Democrats can’t get off the floor. I think Layton has been a good leader for the NDP, but there seems to be a ceiling to his appeal. Now that the party has time to replace him, he must ask himself whether to get that process started by handing in his resignation.


Maybe we’ll have have an election in… 2011

  1. "So it mustn't degenerate into a forum for clannish infighting or a source of quotes for future Conservative attack ads."

    So, three straight days of Dryden speaking?

    • Yes, it seems evident that few Liberals are capable of focusing on their own party without tangentially diverting themselves to a nonsensical tirade against the Conservatives.

  2. Layton's job of transforming the party isn't finished so it would be foolish for him to resign.

    • What is he transforming it into?

    • What is he transforming the party into?

      • In short, a party that wants to win instead of accepting that third place is all it will ever achieve. The most disastrous thing to ever happen to the NDP was the universal acceptance that they will never form a government so they should be happy being "the conscience of Canada." Screw that, I want the party I support to win and so does Jack. Unfortunately, as the furor during the NDP's recent convention demonstrated, there are still too many dippers out there that are content to remain losers.

        • "Lend us your votes." Remember that? Hardly the stuff of a majority mindset.

          That said, I agree that no party should define themselves as perpetual bronze medalists. I would suggest, though, that Layton's power lust has largely resulted in a disjointed series of campaigns that has seen the party lurching from one position to another (which isn't always a problem, but very much is when those positions are sold as highly principled and morally grounded).

          Also, one ought to ask if Canada needs a third moderate party. Because only a fool would take a relatively hard ideological stance and expect the mainstream to come on board (they might, but it's more of a long term exercise in crap shoots). Why should voters gravitate to an NDP moderate party over a Liberal moderate party, becomes the question, I'd argue.

          • "Lend us your votes." Remember that? Hardly the stuff of a majority mindset.

            Transformations do not occur overnight.

            Why voters should gravitate to an NDP moderate party over a Liberal moderate party, becomes the question, I'd argue.

            Why are voters gravitating to a seemingly moderate Conservative party?

          • "Transformations do not occur overnight."

            Indeed. So you mean Layton just recently caught the transformation bug? Or that he's been playing a quiet chess game of his own?

            "Why are voters gravitating to a seemingly moderate Conservative party?"

            So, you advocate the complete abandonment of principles and values to achieve power?

          • So you mean Layton just recently caught the transformation bug? Or that he's been playing a quiet chess game of his own?

            The theme at the NDP convention wasn't the beginning of the process. Layton began that pretty much when he became leader of the party.

            So, you advocate the complete abandonment of principles and values to achieve power?

            You don't have to abandon principles and values to achieve power. Layton has made the NDP far more powerful than it was and he hasn't abandoned either.

          • "Layton has made the NDP far more powerful than it was"

            Really? How?

          • 37 MPs compared to 13 when he took over. Becoming competitive in Quebec. Etcetera, etcetera.

          • Roughly back to the Broadbent years, and markedly less of the popular vote. Certainly they've had some clout due to minority parliaments, but I'm not convinced they are a growing force to be reckoned with.

            I'm more sympathetic to the NDP than I sound, but I honestly think their core values are fast becoming something of an historic survival (rather than a vibrant expression of popular will). Ironically, the increasingly dusty feel to their ideals is hastened by Layton's power ambitions, and his words feel more and more like lip service, and less and less like a committed battle he's undertaken.

          • Why should voters gravitate to an NDP moderate party over a Liberal moderate party, becomes the question, I’d argue.

            Exactly the right question to ask. if the NDP is just going to become another brokerage party they might as well just merge with the Liberals.

          • if the NDP is just going to become another brokerage party they might as well just merge with the Liberals.

            Why would the NDP want to merge with a busted up old party that's sailing around in circles. Now if the Liberals wanted to merge with the NDP then we might have something worth discussing.

          • That kind of attitude (describing a party you're considering merging with as "busted up" and "old" and saying 'no, you talk to me first') will deservedly get you many many more years in opposition :)

        • As far as I know, the high-water mark for the NDP (in terms of votes and seats) was under Ed Broadbent, not Layton.

        • If what your saying is accurate then when is the used car salesman going to start proposing realistic policies that work in the real world and will not bankrupt the country. Even if he did it would take Canadians a long time to accept that he has any credibility and is serious about what he is saying.
          The HST is a good case in point. Layton sees it as a wedge issue rather than seeing it as a way to help improve the economic prosperity of the respective provinces which could in turn encourage investment and more jobs. Surely he can get some economic advice to teach him how the economic/prosperity of a country is dependent on sound fiscal policy.

    • Robert i'm guessing you're acively involved with your party and consequently frustrated at never grasping the brass ring – completely understandable. But i can't except this loser tag. Was T Douglass a loser? "Those also serve who only stand and wait". A principled and commited opposition can and does achieve and effect change. There is honour in this – sounds to me you're in the wrong party?

      • The only involvement I have with the NDP is serving as a bit of road for their bus to run over.

        A principled and commited opposition can and does achieve and effect change.

        A principled and committed party in power can effect more change in a single year than a principled and committed opposition can achieve over several decades.

        • Unless you're the Reform Party, which was very influential in opposition, but does not seem to have much influence in its daughter party which is currently in power.

    • Here's a good rule of thumb for any political party:

      While a leader is gaining seats in every election, it's foolish to get rid of him.

      If Layton loses ground in the next election, _then_ it may be time for the NDP to think about getting a new guy. (But not necessarily.)

      Same goes for Harper and the Conservatives.

  3. 'A party that wants to win"
    By moving slowly into the centre. If the job of a strong voice for social justice and the left doesn't fall to the NDP, where does it go?

    • If the job of a strong voice for social justice and the left doesn't fall to the NDP, where does it go?

      It goes where it belongs; to the social justice and progressive organizations.

      Political parties have one main objective; winning elections and that's something politicians all know. Layton understands that because he's the first politician to ever lead the NDP/CCF. Harper understands that too because he's a politician. Chretien and Mulroney understood that because they too were politicians. All four of these men know that a political party must be primarily political in order to win. That's why Layton is transforming the NDP from an activist, moral conscience party into a political one.

      • RM,

        Are you saying, then, that it matters more which sweater the team you vote for wears than the type of game they stand for? It's like Leafs fans cheering madly for a group of no-talent misfits just because they wear the blue-and-white. In other words, the "party you support" matters more as a brand name than what it stands for? Because "to win" means not standing for their traditional voting niche. The niche demonstrably won't grow, so you're proposing that your party move closer to the centre. In that case, why not just vote for the party(ies) that already occupy(ies) that spot?

        • Isn't that what Leafs fans do now?

  4. When will the next round of embarrassing threats and bluster be coming from Ignatieff and the Liberals? How long will it take this time before they tuck tail and run away?

    It's good to see the tradition for Stephanie Dion being faithful carried on by his equally incompetent replacement.

    • Whereas Harper's prorogue was the epitome of courage and competence?

      • Nope, that was bad idea right from the get go. He should have let the coalition go to the GG themselves and then allow the Canadian voters the chance to tell the Liberals what they thought of it.

        Hopefully Harper learned his lesson. Sadly for Liberals, Ignatieff seems to enjoy the embarrassment of having to back down from all his bravado and crying of wolf.

  5. ROFL – I love it .. how quickly the political conversation can tack to a new gust of wind. If any pundit had proposed that not only would there be no election in 2009 but maybe not evejn 2010 they would have flamed off the forums. Indeed .. I have to give Kudos to my boy Stevie again who would have thought .. all of this while conducting an unpopular shooting war in war in a foreign country, the worst global recession since the Depression, 2 successive minority gov't's fighting 3 other oppostion party leaders … and still he runs circles around the whole lot of them.

    • It's easy to look like a genius when your opposition is weak. That is about to change.

      • why are the LPT getting rid of Iggy?

      • Yes! Hopey-changey in Liberal land… or Dipper land.

      • Would that be the same change the libs have been promising, albeit without a single clue as to how that will happen?
        Any monkey they throw in as leader will face the same fate against Harper – because the libs are about power only and have no ideology to bring to their party follower(s).

        • Explain to me how Stephen Harper is about ideology.

      • How? By appointing a new Chief of Staff in the OLO. Come on get real. Iffy is a turkey and you can't teach a person anything when he thinks he is the smartest guy in the room. Will Donolo be able to get rid of those irritating mannerism. The bushy eyebrows going up and down, the lizard like tongue flicking in and out of his mouth. My wife says he looks creepy. The way he speaks in that arrogant, pomous way and the fact that elitism oozes from his pores. I don't think so.

        Donolo has taken on a job which will see him fail. Remember Donolo was only Director of Communications for the old political war horse Chretien who knew more about politics in one finger than Iffy has in his whole body. Being Chief of Staff is an entirely different job and the skills sets are not interchangeable. Good at one does not necessarily mean being good at the other. So time will tell.

  6. "Harper acts as if he'll be around for a while; the Liberals hope the hard choices ahead will grind him down"

    The risk for the libs in particular of course is what if he in fact governs effectively, where does that leave them? I hope they take the high road, really what choice do they have? If that happens we all win, and the libs get a chance to renew – or die. Better get busy living or get busy dying [ great movie ] Just pick one…please!

    • Effective opposition + developing an attractive alternative = becoming a contender for government. High, low or whatever, as long as the opposition is effective it doesn't really matter. To develop an attractive alternative, we need to know in a visceral way what Iggy the man stands for at his core – he understands this, but now he needs to develop it in the public mind. The algebra, in any case, isn't complicated …

  7. This topic reminds me of Ali – laying cak against the ropes and taunting Foreman – Yo man your Mother hits harder than you – waiting for his arms to get tired – waiting for events to grind harper down … please folks … the guy loves this stuff just like Ali did – especially when everyone around you tells you that you are wrong it will never happen and then presto he gets the job done – a true ever ready poltical bunny banging that drum and trucking along over the leaders he retires from the ring. I have no doubt that the next leader harper will retire from the ring will be Iggy and who knows Bobby R coming up? after all 3 – 0 theres a historical record



    • Caps key stuck?
      Please provide some proof of foregone world respect. And Canada's national identity is only now recovering to it's true self after years of Liberal-agenda brainwashing (unless you are mistaking worshiping at the altar of political correctness as some sort of identity).

      Histrionics and Ignorance – Hallmark signs a liberal is in the house -LOLOLOLOL!!!!!!!!


  9. I highly doubt that Layton, whose ego is the size of a planet, will ever step aside, no matter how low the NDP registers with Canadians. Also, he and his wife must now be addicted to the public teat for their champagne socialist lifestyle.

  10. estelle

    You are so correct, and more and more each day all people care about is when are we getting a big blue check with lovely big "C" on it ….. or when is there local TV journalist becoming a Senator so he/she will deliver the cash. Ya know Estelle there was not one article on the fact our AG mentioned the helicopter project was almost 100% over budget and the first one has not been delivered yet and who signed the contact with George Dubya Bush? The Republican North Wing (Ottawa) is alive and well ….all that is missing is daily hoisting of the Stars and Strips.

  11. Libs seem awfully passive, if you sources are typical. Waiting around for Harper to shot himself in the foot is not much a strategy.

    Also, if your sources represent what most Libs think, they seem to be desperately spinning themselves/public(???). Only a few months ago they were waiting for recession to tarnish Harper, now we are being spun that Cons will be damaged when recession is over. Liberals should stop deluding themselves, embrace belief that Harper is popular enough with public and start coming up with strategies to defeat Cons. Politics is battle of ideas/strategies/tactics, winning elections just don't fall in your lap.

    "I think Layton has been a good leader for the NDP, but there seems to be a ceiling to his appeal."

    I see this differently. Layton has been a good leader but there seems to be a ceiling to his party's appeal and there is nothing Layton, or anyone else, can do about it. But since you can't fire the party, I guess Layton will be on his way out soon enough and next don quixote will take their turn.

    • "Liberals should stop deluding themselves, embrace belief that Harper is popular enough with public and start coming up with strategies to defeat Cons."


      • I have no idea what Liberal brain trust thinks but I have this impression they don't respect Harper, think he's recently fallen off turnip truck and everyone else is going to see it the same as them any minute now.

        But their attitude only acts as a blinker and they can't see they now have very narrow vision. Harper knows his onions and Libs have to realize they are competing against formidable opponent and need to get serious.

        Clearing out the OLO like they have yesterday/today is a good start but it will depend on who Libs bring in.

        • Also, yup.

    • I detect no ceiling for the NDP the longer Iffy is leader of the LPT! – don't you get it? the writing is on the wall and Stevie, jack and indeed Gilles are carving up the remains of the previous natural governing party

      • "carving up the remains of the previous natural governing party"

        I hope that is true but we will have to wait and see. Liberal party is a zombie as far as I am concerned, always rising from the dead and virtually impossible to kill off.

        • Mmmmmm, brains !!!

    • The only thing that Harper has EVER done is unite The Right. The Left (who respresent the majority of Canadians) can defeat him. This article makes the basic assumption that the recession will be over. Sorry, but stimulus spending will be over, the deficit will be massive, and all the good things we treasure will be cut or in disarray. Harper's even feeding the Chinese donated food, already. Ignatieff has nothing to lose by waiting and, by the way, the Liberals are working hard, growing the party and money is flowing in.

  12. So Paul you are now predicting that Harper will no longer be PM after 2011? or whenever the next election comes?

    Are you saying he will lose the election, or he will step down if he wins?

    B/c I find it amusing that the PPG where all predicting that Iggy would be PM right now and Harper would have step down by now because it was going to be to tough againts iggy.


    • Hey everyone! Let's babble incoherently in the Maclean's comment pages!

      • What, no steak knives.

        Sorry I am not up to your standards of intellgent thought. I honestly just wanted to know your opinion, I ment no malice or hate. I honsetly trust your view on these matters over other media members. But you are right. I was babble incoherently. Now back to just reading not commenting.

        Sorry for asking.

  13. Dakota:

    Like Dion or not ( so his English was not good) Canada needed and needs a PM who love Canada not power. In any rate google to your heart' s content. There was a report by a whistle blower the IEA was hiding the fact there is a world oil shortage. They of course denied it but went on to say that the world (G-20) better be prepare to kick in several trillion dollars for climate change soon! Perhaps Dion knew and was right that Canada should be on the leading edge, matters not now anyway, Canada's train has left the station (emty) and there are ominous clouds on the horizon.

  14. Concerning election timing, I think Ivison has identified the key determining factor :

    "There is great concern in Conservative ranks that any gains in central Canada at the next election could be wiped out if the party lost some of its 22 seats in B.C. to the NDP over the harmonized sales tax issue. For this reason, if no other, one suspects the government will be keen to avoid a general election around the time the HST is introduced in B.C. and in Ontario next summer."

    If the polls stay the way they are now, Harper will engineer his own defeat in the spring.

    • Harper doesn't have to engineer his own defeat as the budget has to come down so the only question remains who will support it the NDP = that'll be the day and thea first the LPT = maybe it might be their only option to survive to fight another day .. but Ouch! that would cost them the BLOC = maybe they have done it before

      • Thanks, psiclone, you just proved my point.

        • Also, that is exactly what one would expect from the reciprocal Fibonacci constant. Hum.

          • fibonacci doesn't work on dyslectics

    • Is the HST being tied to the conservatives? In BC, I hear none of that. It is Gordon Campbell and the Liberals who are taking the brunt of it.


      • It doesn't actually matter whose fault it is, the voters will punish the first ones they can at the polls. Just ask the Martin people about the Health Tax in Ontario …

    • Watch for the House being recalled in mid January with a budget presented. Watch the Libs scramble then.

  15. Nice pic of the Prime Minister gazing menacingly at a something being torched! No photo credit – photo-shopped? (If so, a bit of black smoke might have helped.)

    Also, no description, the reader is left to decide what it is that he is scorching. Probably something Canadians cherish. Wow.

    • classic example of media narrative number 1 : evil meanie machiavellian Harper no doubt imagining various ways to stab a knife into the heart of the lieberal party.

      • Hey, he's done well so far. :p

  16. He's scorching his principles…burn them in hell for power.

  17. The picture? I went back and looked again – thanks guys. It's a GREAT picture! If I was forced to be there, like he was, I'd have the same look on my face. Guess both of us are against Bread-And-Circus governments.