Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Friday, May 20, 2005

The longest election campaign in Canadian history

So the Canadian government has survived a confidence vote, and has lived to see another day. How numbered their days are, however, is still an open question. The Toronto Star's Chantal Hebert calls today "the first day of the longest election campaign in Canadian history," and that couldn't be more apt. For weeks now, the major parties have been holding nomination meetings, choosing candidates, gathering funds, and candidates and strategists on all sides were poised and ready for an election to be declared for the end of June. And with the excitement and drama behind us now and Ottawa heading back to business as usual, I know I'm not the only one thinking: "If not now, then when?"

There are no answers to that; only more questions. In approximate chronological order:

* Conservative leader Stephen Harper filed a notice of motion last week that proposed a no-confidence vote on the upcoming May 31st opposition day (specific days on which the opposition is allowed to set the agenda in Parliament). He isn't required to stick to this, and almost certainly won't if he doesn't think he can win, but this is would be the next opportunity they have to attempt to bring down the government, and he still hasn't ruled that out. If the government fell then, we would be looking at an election in early July.

* In addition to the May 31st date, parliamentary rules dictate that there must be at least four other opposition days before the summer recess on June 26th. And as with the May 31st date, those days can be used to put forward no-confidence motions.

* The two budget bills that passed yesterday also still haven't reached their final stage; they still need to come back for the report stage and third reading. If the sands of opposition fortunes shift between now and then (for example, if they eked out a surprise win in the May 24th Labrador byelection, or if a Liberal MP could be convinced to cross the floor), they could use that opportunity to attempt again what they tried yesterday.

* Another confidence vote that will take place before the summer recess is the one where the House is asked to approve the regular government spending for the year.

* If the government survives until after the summer recess, there will presumably be more opposition days in the fall session that could be taken advantage of if the timing seemed right.

* At the very latest, Paul Martin has promised to call an election within thirty days of the final Gomery report, which is currently scheduled for release in mid-December. Presuming he would wait the full thirty days, that would give us an election call in mid-January, and an election somewhere around the end of February.

The election reprieve could therefore last anywhere from another few weeks to nine long months. Given the Liberals' strengthened position with Stronach at their side, however, the later dates seem likelier than the earlier ones. Then again, when was the last time anything has happened in Canadian federal politics that's been *likely*? Anne McLellan could still decide to run away and become a Buddhist monk. The Liberals could serve tainted salmon at a party fundraiser that could permanently indispose five or six MPs. Paul Martin could decide to divorce his wife and marry Cheryl Gallant, and she could cross the floor as a wedding gift to him. At this stage, I'd believe anything.

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