Saturday, October 3, 2015


When Stephen Harper called the election at the beginning of the summer, he was hoping for two things. First, he hoped that the campaign would go so long that the Canadian public would lose interest, particularly in the summer months. And second, he was hoping that other issues would crop up, distracting from two negative aspects of his administration: the Mike Duffy scandal and the poor performance of the Canadian economy.

He was incorrect on the first item. Canadians have been engaged and interested in the campaign from day one, and have been more so since Labour Day. Whether this will translate into a larger voter turnout on Oct.19 remains to be seen. But he was correct on the second item. Since hiring an Australian "rain maker" to manage a faltering campaign, the Conservatives have been able to turn a relatively small item, the wearing of a niqab by two women in citizenship ceremonies, into a major issue, particularly in Quebec.

What has happened throughout the campaign is a series of wild fluctuations in support for all the major parties. For many weeks, the NDP under Tom Mulcair had been cruising along based on his solid if unspectacular work as Opposition Leader and the good feelings generated in Quebec from the last election. Then, the Liberals under Justin Trudeau have responded by his perhaps surprising good performance on the campaign trail and especially in the TV debates. Finally, the Conservatives under Stephen Harper, trailing throughout the early weeks and portrayed as a tired and arrogant government which needed to be turfed out, have rebounded based on hot-button items such as the niqab and security and perhaps a new trade agreement with Pacific Rim nations.

This means that the election on Oct. 19 is by no means certain. As of this writing, the Conservatives have a slight lead in the polls nationally over the Liberals, with the NDP seemingly bleeding badly. Depending on how this support plays out in ridings, it seems that two results will occur. Either the Conservatives will win another majority in a similar way to their victory in 2011 (caused by slim wins in many ridings over their rivals and a split in votes on the "left" between the Liberals and NDP ), or the results will give the three parties fairly even numbers in the House of Commons.

If the second scenario proves to be true, get ready for even more intense campaigning. If you thought this election campaign was long, nasty, at times laughable, and edgy, the aftermath in a three- or two-way split of seats will keep us guessing.

If Mr. Harper emerges with the most seats, but not a majority, he will undoubtedly try to form a government. It will not last long. Both Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau have said there would be no way they'd support a Conservative minority. Should Mr. Harper try and fail to win the confidence of the House, it would all fall into the hands of the Governor-General, Mr. David Johnston.

Mr. Johnston is a capable though quiet individual, which is probably why he is well suited for the Constitutional task he may be given. As Governor-General, he has the Constitutional authority to ask anyone he pleases to form a government. But the practice is that he takes advice and acts upon it from the Prime Minister. There will be no prize given for anyone who correctly guesses what advice Mr. Harper will give Mr. Johnston.

But the Governor-General would be well advised to listen to the mood of the country. And if the mood were to suggest that the voters do not want another election so soon after this one, then Mr. Johnston may indeed ask either Mr. Mulcair or Mr. Trudeau to try to form a government. And this is where it gets interesting.

Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau do not necessarily like or trust each other. Just because their parties are both seen as left of centre, they don't always see things the same. A political marriage between these two men would be rocky, to say the least. But, in order for either of these men to form a government, they would need to have the support of the other party to make it work, certainly in the short term. And, if the marriage is seen to work, pressure would be immense on the two parties to consider a permanent merger, as happened many years ago between the old Progressive Conservative Party and the Reform Party. That merger ended the continual splitting of the vote on the right and allowed the new party, the Conservative Party of Canada, to form governments. The current Liberals and NDP would have to seriously consider such a permanent move. If that move happens, it would undoubtedly be over the objections of the current leaders. It would then be probable that such a merger would spell the end of the careers of both Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau.

(The other parties, the Bloc Quebecois under Mr. Gilles Duceppes and the Green Party under Ms. Elizabeth May, will probably not win more than a handful of seats and will probably not be factors in the election result. But, if the three main parties are in a virtual three-way tie, these smaller parties may have a role to play. )

But, unless we want another election soon, this short term marriage is our best option failing a majority for the Conservatives or the others. We must keep in mind that our task, as voters, is to elect a Parliament, not necessarily a Government. It is up to the Parliamentarians we send to Ottawa to make a Government work. That is the nature of Canadian democracy, which is badly in need of rejuvenation.

Whatever the case, the result on October 19 will probably not end anything, unless Mr. Harper can squeeze out a majority. Failing that, we will see more manoeuvering and posturing than is going on now. As voters, we can't stop paying attention. We must be alert and demand that our elected officials do what we wish. If we do not want an election, they had better not plunge us into one. And the blame game, if another election is sprung upon us, will be explosive. Which leader wants to be portrayed as the one who forced us back into another divisive election? So, the campaign will continue: nasty, bitter and never-ending.

We get the government we deserve. If we are disinterested and unengaged, Parliament will continue to be a gong show. But, if we stay involved and vote in large and significant numbers, it will show the Parliamentarians that we demand they make the Government work. And it will convince the Governor-General that we, and not the Prime Minister, decide what is best for the nation.

Stay tuned.

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