Saturday, 30 April 2011

Taming Stephen Harper is the name of the game in the Canadian election

What happens to Stephen Harper after the election and the potential for a NDP-Liberal coalition?
by Tom Thorne, Belleville, Saturday 30 April 2011
The polls I looked at this morning all trend the NDP as the official opposition and Stephen Harper’s Conservatives getting their usual core 37 percent popular vote on Monday. The following national numbers are a typical example of polls taken this week. I use the Angus Reid poll for 28-29 April and polling 3003 Canadians with an error of +/- 1.8 percent to indicate the base popular vote trend we can expect on 2 May.
Bloc: 6 percent
Conservatives: 37 percent
NDP: 33 percent
Liberal: 19 percent
Green: 4 percent
Many of the other polls by Nanos, Ipsos, Ekos, Decima also confirm this basic trend so what remains to be seen is how the polls play out as ridings are split and actually turn into seats for each party by Tuesday morning. The worst case scenario is we get a parliament much like 2008 but with a shift to more seats for the NDP than for the Liberals. This may mean personal change for Stephen Harper and likely for Michael Ignatieff.
NDP as official opposition
If the NDP becomes the official opposition then Stephen Harper’s worst coalition nightmare may come into play. The NDP with the help of the Liberals could control parliament. The NDP and Liberals could kiss and make up providing at least a minority bordering on majority government coalition. Their claim could be that they were endorsed by maybe as much as 52 percent of the popular vote versus 37 percent for the Conservatives. No one will want to entertain playing with the Bloc and they will have enough seats  to perhaps make a difference in who gets to form the government.
Of course the caution is that the NDP and Liberals may get fewer seats if the Conservatives come up the middle again. It will  likely be a cliffhanger minority government for Harper with the NDP likely forming the official opposition. The Governor General may be needed if the Liberals and NDP call Harper Conservatives to account with a vote of non-confidence when the House meets. Logically the opposition should do this since because that is the reason we are in this election at the moment. If the Governor General is needed watch Harper crying foul and that it is unconstitutional.
Harper will of course try to run the country with his usual 37 percent and the seats obtained by an NDP and Liberal split vote where the Conservatives gets seats with a few votes difference from both opposition parties. This is why I have been calling for a Liberal-NDP merger throughout this election.  
In one sense Harper has been repudiated at the polls for the third time because he has openly asking for a majority government and the people of Canada seem unwilling to give it to him.  Stephen Harper has been three times at bat and struck out on the majority he so much wants each time. The people are never wrong if you truly are an advocate for democracy. Harper keeps saying he will accept what ever mandate the people give him. That promise will be soon put to the test in the new parliament.
Harper’s future
If Stephen Harper gets another minority government and they are reduced in seats in vote rich Ontario and Quebec by anything like an NDP surge, then the Conservatives become a more regionalized party in Alberta (Between 60-65 percent), 42 percent from British Columbia and about 50 percent of the popular vote in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The Conservatives are also weak in the Atlantic provinces.
The Canadian electorate seems to be in a mood for upsetting someone’s apple cart or at least stalling a move to the right. The nasty nature of the last parliament often fueled by the divisive style of Stephen Harper have tired out the voters. The voters want and expect something better in Ottawa and so they flirt with an NDP change. Jack Layton’s campaign  contains the usual NDP wide-eyed agenda. It sounded hopeful but it is more form than substance because it will never have to be implemented. That agenda may sober the electorate if Jack Layton ever has to form a government or a coalition with the Liberals. It will be backtracking time if the NDP has to actually run the country or convince the Liberals to let them have a shot at government. The deficit looms large and more spending is not on the agenda.
Jack Layton certainly connected with voters.  Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has not connected with the public. Why is a mystery. He is a smart, savvy and sophisticated person with an excellent international background. He has weathered the negative personal attacks of the Conservatives. Despite this his campaign is strangely deflated. The Liberal brand is washed out for the moment.  Liberals have yet to revarnish their political mojo. 

Liberal insiders may think Ignatieff is to blame and try and dump him. Can Bob Rae do any better as Liberal leader? If he is Liberal leader he will be tarred with his debacle as the NDP Premier of Ontario. Many Ontarians remember the Rae Days and other fiscal foibles from that time.  I can already visualize the Conservative attack ads if Rae becomes Liberal leader. Ignatieff doesn't have that kind of baggage and yet the Conservatives dragged his career and motives through the dirt with impunity.
The Harper record
Harper has versioned the status quo and his record spending with low taxes as evidence of his economic mastery. He claims he only wants a majority to create stability.  Harper has been forced to the centre of the political spectrum but his heart remains on the right and possibly that is the reason why Canadians have yet to trust him with a majority government. 
In the past if you couldn’t get a majority the knives came out in the Conservative and Liberal back rooms. That may happen after this election or will this Reform led Conservative party be content with compromising their views to stay in power while remaining uncomfortably at the centre? It must be tough dealing with Jack Layton and Michael Ignatieff because they keep pulling Harper to the centre and perhaps even to the left. Harper would love to have the same clout as Margaret Thatcher or either of the George Bushes. That takes a majority government.
Stephen Harper to this point has shown very little inclination to work with the opposition parties and that will probably not change. I think that answers the question about whether he is comfortable with these centre political spectrum minority governments. He tolerates them because he has to.  A  Harper majority would be much more aggressively to the right of centre. Canadian voters know what they are doing when they tame Harper with three minorities.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.

1 comment:

  1. An afterthought: This story is my best attempt to really predict Monday's outcome. I doubt there will be an NDP sweep into government because of the vote splitting in each riding. If parliament has to be hung in a minority again then in two years we will be back at it. Maybe this situation is pretty good considering that the Belgian government has not formed a government of any kind for almost 18 months and things seem to go on in Belgium without a government. We should study what the Belgian parliament does each day when its members meet. Tom Thorne