Sunday, August 24, 2008

Think Twice, Stephen

Conservatives seem set to trample their own fixed election dates law

Upon taking office as Prime Minister, one of the first things Stephen Harper did was declare his intent to set a fixed date for the next federal election (naturally precluding the possibility of a governmental defeat).

"Fixed election dates stop leaders from trying to manipulate the calendar," Harper announced. "They level the playing field for all parties."

However, if recent developments represent anything more than mere rumour, innuendo and sabre-rattling it seems that Harper may not be comfortable with a playing field that's a little too level.

"The only way we can have justice is to have a fixed election date, because an election without a fixed election date is a tremendous advantage for the party in power," Harper insisted.

Apparently, his previous comments to the contrary, Harper is intent on reserving that "tremendous advantage" for himself and going to the polls in defiance of his own party's legislation.

Despite having expressed his intent to meet with his fellow party leaders -- Liberal Stephane Dion, New Democrat Jack Layton and the Bloc Quebecois' Gilles Duceppe -- before making such a decision, word circulating South of the Queensway is that Harper very well may pull the plug on Parliament before it reconvenes on September 15.

Parliament could be dissolved shortly after Labour Day.

Naturally, a great many people are up in arms over this turn of events. It seems that a considerable loophole was written into the legislation in question which renders it effectively meaningless. In other words, this legislation was rather disingenuous in first place.

It seems that if Harper wants to go ahead and call a federal election, the ball is entirely in his court -- his previously-expressed sentiments and own legislation to the contrary.

But if he goes ahead and does it, he'd better be ready to pay the political price.

If Harper is truly counting on the Liberals' ill-concieved Green Shift to sway undecided voters toward his party, he may want to think twice. A recent study conducted by the University of Western Ontario and the University of Padova has suggested that even reportedly undecided voters have deeply-held biases that may serve to swing their decision.

Considering that polls have determined that most Canadians prefer the Liberals to the Conservatives on environmental issues, this study should give Harper pause to calling an election in which environmental policy will surely be front-and-centre.

The political price in question may very well wind up being the loss of his own government.

Even if Harper emerges victorious from an election, he has to consider what this would do to his credibility. After all, the fixed election date legislation was at least partially an olive branch offered to the NDP's Ed Broadbent, considered by many to be Canada's top expert on electoral reform.

Such an olive branch would be needed in the nearly certain event of a minority parliament.

Although Harper may know something the rest of us don't -- or at least have confidence in his party's ability to pull out another electoral victory -- calling an election before October 2009 is almost certainly a no-win scenario for Harper.

So he'd better think twice before doing it. Then think again.

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