Tuesday, September 22, 20090 Comments
It’s a truism of Canadian politics that governments are defeated more often than an opposition party is elected. (iStock
Last Friday, a motion was passed in the House of Commons that saved Stephen Harper’s government from facing yet another election, at least for now.
The Conservatives’ ways and means motion, which included the tax credit for home renovation, was passed by a vote of 224-74 with the support of the NDP and the Bloc Québecois. The Liberals, who had supported or abstained from voting in 79 consecutive confidence motions, did not support the Conservatives this time around.
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff accused the opposition parties of propping up the minority government as part of a political game.
“Let's just stop these games,” Ignatieff told the press. “This is ridiculous. The issue is real simple: Do you have confidence in this government or don't you? Yes or no? We said clearly we no longer have confidence.”
It could be said that the opposition parties are playing a game of their own, perhaps called Who Hates the Government More? All three have been trying to prove they are the most outspoken opponents to Mr. Harper, making public declarations throughout the summer that they would no longer support the government.
But in the days following the return of the House, it became clear the opposition did not have the public support for an election, leaving the NDP and Bloc supporting the Conservative’s motion while continuing to insist they oppose the government. Meanwhile, the Liberals were arguably saved from making a big mistake. While many perceive Ignatieff to be a stronger leader than Stephane Dion, he needs time to develop a better public image. The Liberal Party also needs time to build policies which clearly distinguish them from the Tories. “I want to be in power” is certainly not a winning message.
Amid the intrigue over opposition and support in the 40th Parliament raises, the question should be asked: When should there be an election? It’s a truism of Canadian politics that governments are defeated more often than an opposition party is elected. Once in office, a government has to make an egregious error to lose power.
Last fall, the Conservatives nearly succumbed to such an error when they proposed cutting public funding for political parties. This was seen as a deliberate attempt to sink the Liberals and NDP, who rely heavily on public funding. The Liberals’ effective attack on Prime Minister Harper’s motives led to a threat of coalition government among the three opposition parties, and a desperate government was forced to suspend parliament for two months.
Compared a year ago, the case for non-confidence now seems less compelling. The current non-confidence of the Liberals is based on claims that Harper has been irresponsible, playing partisan games and showing lack of concern for the economy. It might have worked only a few months ago. However, most economic indicators show Canada is on its way back to growth, thanks in part to stimulus funding for infrastructure. This has allowed the public to see the government – Harper’s government – creating job opportunities and taking credit for the recovery.
The truth of the matter is that there is no official rule about when to have an election. Elections are called on a basis of mercenary choice; when a party thinks they can win, or when an opposition feels the current leader has reached a vulnerable level of unpopularity. But in politics, the stakes can change almost overnight. A natural disaster or epidemic could catch a government unprepared, or a scandal could cast a shadow over an entire party.
What would be a good reason to defeat the government? Perhaps over something that could bring true change to the nation, such as change in foreign policy or the economy. It’s never clear when a governing party or opposition should prompt an election. What is clear is that it is a true political skill, part of the craft, to pick that moment of support.
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