Monday, August 18, 2008

One, two, three ... four

So the Cons think they can get away with it again -- according to Kady O'Malley all Con candidates are being required to sign a contract compelling them to accept any services that may be rendered by the national party and also to agree to non-disclosure; ensuring yet another firefight with Elections Canada if they attempt "in and out" once more.

And Stephen Harper has called another by-election even though a general election is almost certainly in the offing this fall.

Yes, Jean Chrétien of the Liberals pulled this one off in 2000 -- held a couple of by-elections late in the year, one of which was to make sure Joe Clark, the rechristened Progressive Conservative leader, had a seat in Parliament (in arguably one of the safest seats in the country, too); then pulled the plug for a late year election after presenting a mini-budget with income tax cuts that Clark openly supported. Not that Chrétien needed it as he knew he was going to get a majority, the third in a row, something that hadn't happened since Mackenzie King in 1945.

But it's easy to do something like that when you already have a majority and a relatively popular government. When you're the Prime Minister and you have a minority government, scheduling three by-elections for one day then suddenly calling another one for two weeks later is both cynical and risky. Cynical because he's forcing an extra bureaucratic burden on Elections Canada which would rather do all four at once so they don't have to burn the midnight oil on two Mondays within a fortnight of each other.

I just don't buy that John Godfrey's decision to not hand in his resignation until August 1st led to the split dates. When a seat becomes vacant, the PM has to issue a writ for a by-election to fill the vacancy within 11 to 180 days of the vacancy. Therefore the writ could have been issued on August 12th, and the by-election still held on the same day as the other three, September 8th.

Risky, because the results of the by-elections could definitely swing the balance of power against you -- a clean sweep would give the Liberals a net gain of one and the ability to join with any one other opposition party to topple the government. It's almost like bating, goading the opposition to vote no confidence and force a general election. The voters in those four districts will very well have reason to wonder why they're voting twice in less than three months.

My sense is that Stéphane Dion has been biding his time, waiting for the right opportunity to strike. He's had his caucus abstain time and again, inexcusably in my opinion; but perhaps he wants Canadians to see what Harper is capable of doing while running a minority government to show what could happen in a majority situation where a right wing PMO would have absolute power. And lately with all the security breaches, the clownish behaviour of Cons at the Ethics Committee, and a ho-hum shrug about the declining economy, Dion may have had his hunch proven.

Of course, the by-elections would be cancelled if the government falls even a single day before the first ones on September 8th since they would be superceded by a general election. Harper could prorogue the House for another Throne Speech, again, but that would only be shooting himself in the foot further. If he wants to engineer his own fall, then he should just go to the GG and call a general election, now. Otherwise, Dion should serve notice of a no confidence vote to happen on the earliest possible date possible. Kady O'Malley's disclosure last night has just given him another reason to do so.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.


The Pundits' Guide said...

"When a seat becomes vacant, the PM has to issue a writ for a by-election to fill the vacancy within 11 to 180 days of the vacancy."

You're right on that part.

"Therefore the writ could have been issued on August 12th, and the by-election still held on the same day as the other three, September 8th."

However, on this part, you forgot to take into account the other constraints, namely that the writ must be for a minimum of 36 days, and end on either a Monday or the Tuesday after a statuatory holiday.

You can find more detail in a blogpost here.


BlastFurnace said...

Point taken ...

Anonymous said...

Come on on BFC, Godfrey didn't resign until it was too late for Don Valley West to be included with the other by-elections. Whatever you say about Harper and trust me it won't be as bad as what I say ;), the timing of the Don Valley West by-election being different than the others falls entirely at Dion's feet not Harper's.

In terms of laying blame for by-elections being called when a possible fall election is in the offing is also not something that can be blamed on Harper.

The ONLY party leader that has been election-shy is Dion. Layton and the NDP caucus have been voting against Harper and crew all of last session. The Bloc has voted non-confidence in the Cons. Harper has been daring Dion to pull the plug. It was Dion and his caucus who sat on their hands or didn't bother to show up, vote after vote.