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October, 2007

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We’re in for some interesting times
Pit Stop
Neil McKenty
October 16, Parliament will assemble to hear the Harper government’s Speech from the Throne, which will outline the Tory agenda until 2009, the next date for a scheduled election.
But what are the chances of Harper surviving for another two years? His Speech from the Throne needs the support of at least one of the three Opposition parties. Is that likely?
The Bloc’s Gilles Duceppe has laid down several non-negotiable conditions before he supports the government. These include the elimination of all federal spending powers in provincial jurisdictions, that the Kyoto Protocol to be respected by the Tories, and that the government make a clear commitment to pull Canadian soldiers out of Afghanistan when the current mission ends in February 2009.
I doubt the government would acquiesce to any of these demands except the first. That would fit into Harper ’s strategy of catering to Quebec and would almost certainly help him win votes in this province, where he hopes to gain enough seats to form a majority government next time.
So don’t count on the Bloc propping up the government. (Somewhat of a change because, since the Tories were elected in 2006, the Bloc has helped them survive three confidence votes.) But what about the other two Opposition parties? St éphane Dion has laid down a couple of markers of his own, though he hasn’t said these are non-negotiable. Mr. Dion has asked for an early 2009 exit date from Afghanistan, a re-introduction of the clean-air legislation that died in the last session of Parliament, and a plan to combat poverty. Otherwise, Dion said, “you can understand we will not be able to rise to support the Throne speech.”
That leaves the NDP. Jack Layton has made clear on numerous occasions that his party cannot support the government ’s Afghan and environmental policies, a stance probably strengthened by Tom Mulcair ’s convincing victory in Outrement. It is difficult to see how Layton could back down from these benchmarks.
Does this mean the government will be defeated on the Throne Speech and that we are in for a late Fall election? History would say no. No minority government in Ottawa has ever fallen after a vote on the Throne Speech. This would be a first. Of the 10 minorities since Confederation, only five were defeated on the floor of the House of Commons (remember Joe Clarke).
There may also be political considerations that could prevent all the Opposition parties from keeping their policy powder entirely dry.  The September bi-elections showed the Bloc vote tailing off sharply.  They lost one riding and their support plunged in two others.
Nor can Stéphane Dion be sanguine about the Quebec results. The Liberals lost Outremont (one of the safest Grit seats in the country) and the party lost its deposit in the other two bi-elections. Dion himself, in a series of interviews “baring his soul,” admits his party was badly wounded. It is impossible to see how Dion could resuscitate his leadership before a November election. I by no means count Dion out, but he needs more time than that.
That, again, leaves Layton and the NDP.  Despite their resounding victory in Outremont, the party has had great difficulty in getting to 20% in the polls. Unless disaffected Liberal voters swing massively toward the NDP, I don ’t see the party winning all that many more seats than they have now.
Also, an election could be risky for Mr. Harper, especially if Liberals could steal back votes from the New Democrats using the threat of a Conservative government. And, despite Mr. Dion ’s leadership woes, the Liberals have been right up there with the Tories in the polls. As one Liberal strategist said, “It’s not as if the Conservatives are miles ahead of their opposition. It’s a very tricky situation.”
On the other hand, a Tory strategist has some advice for Harper in the run-up to a general election this Fall or later. Keep the opposition parties “at each other’s throats” and play hardball.
Politically, it should be an interesting Fall.
For more political commentary, check out Neil McKenty’s blog at: www.neilmckenty.wordpress.com.


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