Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Belinda's choice and some of its consequences

In case I have a reader or two who happen to live on the other side of the moon and haven't heard about this yet, let me start by pointing everyone at the story of the day. In a nutshell: Conservative MP Belinda Stronach has crossed the floor and is now sitting as a Liberal.

This would be a big deal any day of the year, but it's a far bigger deal a mere two days before a vote of no confidence based on some rather precarious math. To recap: There are 308 seats in the House of Commons, but one riding is vacant, which means that whichever side ends up with 154 votes is the one that wins the prize. The alliance between the Conservatives and the Bloc has 153 votes, and the Liberal-NDP pseudocoalition has 150, so both sides fall short of the magic number. This leaves the three Independents. Most recently, Carolyn Parrish has said she would vote with the Liberals and the NDP; Chuck Cadman has said he'd vote according to whatever his constituents tell him in a poll, the results of which should be in tomorrow; and David Kilgour has said he's inclined to vote to bring the government down, but will vote to support them if Canada commits 500 Canadian combat troops to help protect refugees in Sudan. The prime minister seems disinclined to do that just to please David Kilgour, so it's been looking pretty certain that the Liberals would lose on Thursday by at least one vote (i.e., Kilgour's), and possibly two (i.e., Kilgour's and Cadman's).

So what does this mean politically? Well, the most important thing, of course, is that it makes the math precarious again. It's looking less and less likely that the alliance of the Conservatives and the Bloc will have enough votes to defeat the government on Thursday. The Conservatives have already said that if they're not successful, they will let sleeping dogs lie and stop trying. The prime minister has also promised, in his highly publicized television address, that he will call an election himself within thirty days of when the Gomery inquiry reports. We don't know exactly when this will happen, but it will be sometime later this year. This puts us in a situation where we might have an election as early as the end of June, but we could also have one in July, August, or even sometime in the fall.

Just so that the process story doesn't overshadow the actual practical consequences of this, let me also bring up a couple of other possible political consequences of Stronach's move. The first thing that comes to mind is that if the existing Liberal government survives through June, the same-sex marriage legislation will pass. If it survives longer than that, we could still see the Liberals' national child care plan come to some form of fruition, and even the decriminalization of marijuana, currently stuck in committee. And of particular importance to this proportional representation fan, it's interesting to note that Stronach is now a cabinet member, and one of her new responsibilities is Democratic Renewal. She's also far more open to entertaining the possibility of proportional representation than just about anybody else on that side of the aisle. This may be almost enough to offset the huge loss the movement will sustain by having the eyes of the media entirely on Stronach instead of on the B.C. referendum. Here's hoping.

No comments: