Conservatives can taste an election

First published: March 23, 2007

There is nothing that would make the federal Conservatives happier than to hold an election today. The party is salivating. There is only one major roadblock: they need a reason. And, it looks like the Bloc Quebecois are the spoilers.

It was looking like an election was imminent. Everything appeared to be going in the direction.
Nobody else on Parliament Hill is remotely interested in going to the polls. Despite their objection to the budget delivered by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, the opposition are breathing a sign of relief. Knowing it will pass, it is merely an act performed for the benefit of party stalwarts. No Canadian are fooled.

The Liberals are a mess. Leader Stephen Dion is scrambling, running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to get some recognition from the Canadian public and build momentum for his beleaguered party. All kinds of stalwarts are leaving. With all the new faces, it resembles a junior high school prom where a room full of awkward kids line the walls fantasizing about being asked dance. Sadly, Canadians are barely interested.

The NDP must be in a panic. With the Liberals on one side and the Green Party on the other, the squeeze is on. It will be fascinating to see what issues capture the voter’s imagination. Afghanistan is one possibility, since the NDP have consistently opposed the war. But, unlike the United States, where the popular sentiment has turned dramatically against the war in Iraq, Canadian are more ambivalent. Polls show enough support for the troops to leave them there for now. Still, sentiments could turn quickly if the Taliban launch the highly publicized spring offensive and dead soldiers start coming home in body bags at a more rapid pace.

Alas, the Block Quebecois are not too anxious to go to the polls either. With the Parti Quebecois about to get trampled in the current provincial election and separatist sentiments sliding, Gilles Duceppe isn’t going to have an easy go of it. The Conservatives are working hard to find some traction. So, it is no surprise they announced their support for the budget.

The Green Party must be having the most fun. With little to lose and everything to gain, party leader Elizabeth May announced she will run against Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay in Nova Scotia. After coming second in a by-election in the riding of London North Centre last year where she stomped the Conservatives and NDP, she has proven it is possible to shake things up. This party could easily represent the spark in an election that could blow the entire race wide open.

So, it is going to be interesting to watch as the budget is played out this week. Will Prime Minister Stephen Harper taint the waters enough to force the opposition to call a non-confidence motion; giving Conservatives the opportunity to blame them for an election call? Or, will there be some other strategy to seek a mandate?

Locally, the players are ready. Northumberland NDP candidate Russ Christianson is the most recent addition, while the Liberals are bringing out retread Paul Macklin. The Green Party has not publicly entered the fray, yet.

Meanwhile Northumberland MP Rick Norlock is scooting around the riding having a party. Last week’s announcement regarding $600,000 for economic development in Northumberland is just one of a series of good news stories. Whether it is presenting a citation to the new Rotary International President Wilf Wilkinson or commenting on gas prices, Norlock is getting a free ride from his opponents, the press and voters.

Really, the election campaign is already underway. Unofficially, it started in January with the American-style negative advertisements against Dion. This was followed by the prime minister’s endless stumping over the past few weeks. Still, with all the signs of an election underway locally, the other parties are nearly silent. Somebody ought to tell the local Liberals check the funeral homes to see if they can find their candidate.

Meanwhile, voters shouldn’t be too complacent. The Conservatives are poised like a wolf ready to pounce on its weakened prey. To come this close and walk away may be more difficult than anyone can imagine. Maybe they will wait until the fall, spending the summer on the BBQ circuit and plan an election after the Ontario provincial race is over in October? This would further deplete the Liberals resources in a crucial province that has cost them a majority government.

But, the trouble is finding a rationale that will work in the minds of voters. Canadian don’t want to go to the polls. There is no driving issue that demands a mandate. But, with politics, you never know.

Maybe it is time to govern. While frustrating, the Conservatives are acting like they have a majority. So, get on with business. Let’s stop wasting time with posturing. And, let’s move on. There is plenty of work to be done. And Canadians deserve better.

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