September 07, 2008

It's on

It turns out that our neighbours to the south are not the only ones holding a national election this fall. When I went to church this morning, the street corners were unadorned; on the way back at noon, the campaign signs were already up. Prime Minister Stephen Harper took the walk across Sussex Drive to Rideau Hall and asked the Governor General to dissolve the 39th Parliament.

The current Conservative government was elected on January 23, 2006 and sworn in on February 6. This Parliament is the largest minority in the history of Canada, being short of a majority by 30 seats. Its term of office for 2 years and 214 days, making it also the longest serving minority government.1

Ironically, it was the Harper Conservatives who passed legislation last year to implement fixed election dates for national elections. Had the writ not been dropped, the next federal election would have been October 19, 2009. In effect, Mr. Harper has broken his own rule by calling for a federal election a year early. (Though if my understanding of the new system is correct, no rule was broken, really; this simply means that the next general election will be 4 years later on October 15, 2012, assuming nothing happens in the meantime to hasten it.)

Harper has demonstrated himself to be a canny politician. In 2006, the Canadian and American governments finally resolved a long-standing softwood-lumber trade dispute. They lowered the federal sales tax not once, but twice. The Prime Minister has especially showed his mettle in the last year: with the Opposition Liberal party reluctant to force an election, the Conservatives were able to pass a number of "confidence" bills that the Liberals opposed but could not defeat without forcing the government to resign: amongst them, passing the 2008 federal budget, and extending the current military mission in Afghanistan to 2011 (no later than 2009 was considered "non-negotiable" by Liberal leader Stéphane Dion). This strategy has shown up Dion as an ineffective leader and fomented dissent on Canada's political left between the Liberal and New Democratic Parties. On the other hand, there are also a handful of political scandals currently in the news that don't cast a positive light on the Tories, either.

So the next 30-odd days are going to be interesting. I'm projecting a Conservative victory, though I'm not going to commit to predicting a minority or majority government at this stage.

Meanwhile, I have to practice writing that little X within the circle.


1 You win some, you lose some footnote: I'm not counting the 14th Parliament of William Lyon Mackenzie King (1922-25), which ran longer but was not consistently a minority.