Sunday, September 13, 2009

Election or No Election?

EI bill to avert non-EI election?

All of the talk in Canadian politics over the past couple of weeks has been about the impending 2009 federal election.

That talk may have changed today.

Following weekend comments by Jack Layton that a fall election could be averted if Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative party agree to work with the NDP, an Employment Insurance-related move by the Tories may help extend their government.

"We'll side with the Canadian people, that's who we'll side with," Layton said. "I guess I'm looking for results for Canadians. And I'm not ready to say that an election is somehow inevitable. We should be trying to make Parliament work."

"In a minority Parliament you either work with people or you go into an election. That's a choice that Stephen Harper has got to make," Layton added. "I think leadership would suggest that he should work with other Parliamentarians."

"I'm calling on Stephen Harper to show leadership, and choose a path which would make Parliament work, and that means you've got to work with other parties," Layton said later in the weekend. "There's still time for the prime minister to do the right thing."

Reportedly, Stephen Harper has decided that the right thing to do is to extend 20 weeks of extra employment insurance coverage for workers who have worked at their jobs for seven of the last 10 years -- what they are describing as long-tenure workers.

If passed, this legislation could provide coverage for 180,000 additional Canadians. It may be enough to get Layton's support.

This may be out of support for the legislation itself, or simply an out for the party. As Strategic Counsel's Peter Donolo suggests, the NDP may be assessing their situation much as the Liberal party is and seeing a different picture for them.

"The Liberals have made a calculation that I think makes sense for them -- that the longer they keep on supporting the government, the less they can differentiate themselves and set themselves up as an alternative," Donolo said. "In Canadian history, minority governments have always had third parties keeping them in office, not the official opposition."

"Mr Layton's probably considering that," Donolo added. "Mr Layton also has to consider how the NDP might fare in an election going forward."

If the NDP has enough votes to carry the balance of power, it wouldn't do to be seen not using it. At a certain point simple obstructionism isn't enough to obtain enough political capital to win gains in an election.

The NDP's obstructionism in Parliament has been counter-intuitive enough that this sudden change has been enough to surprise many Canadians, including Conservative house leader Jay Hill.

"When Jack Layton came out of the meeting he had on August 25 with the prime minister, he said the NDP would be the least likely of any opposition party to support the government," Hill reflected. "They've been bragging for three-and-a-half years that they've voted against government at every opportunity. They voted against this year's budget when they had the opportunity to at least read it before they voted against it."

"They've been completely obstructionist with Parliament."

This move by the NDP would mark a shift from functionally being the official opposition in Parliament to effectively reclaiming the balance of power from the Liberals.

While no one should read too deeply into the affair until the EI legislation is passed and the Liberal non-confidence motion defeated, the many Canadians who don't want an election must be seeing some light at the end of the electoral tunnel.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Civitatensis - "Jack Didn't Bite"

George Young - "NDP Posturing and Positioning"

Calgary Grit - "This budget is not good for Canada, it's not good for Canadian families"

Russ Campbell - "Propped Up by Socialists and Separatists

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