…at least until day four of the election campaign, by which time it’s forgotten. But we’re not there yet, so let the obsession over how the government may fall, or not, continue.
The conventional thinking has been that the likely trigger will be the budget due to be tabled March 22nd, with confidence votes in the days to following. With the Liberals making clear they won’t support a budget that doesn’t reverse corporate tax cuts and the BQ holding out for HST money, ice storm relief and a pony, all eyes have been on the NDP and whether or not the Conservatives will do enough in the budget to meet their ever-shifting demands.
An interesting spanner has been thrown into the works though, with reports the Liberals may be considering a confidence motion that could defeat the government on an issue other than a budget that could be loaded with vote-buying goodies.
Liberal MP Scott Brison acknowledged Monday the Liberal Party has been discussing the possibility of using an unusual confidence motion to bring down Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government, but played down the internal talks.
The manoeuvre would centre on a ruling Speaker Peter Milliken (Kingston and the Islands, Ont.) is expected to make either this week or in late March after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty (Whitby-Oshawa, Ont.) tables the federal budget, and could result in an election being forced over a series of scandals and events the opposition says show Mr. Harper (Calgary-Southwest, Alta.) has broken past election campaign promises of accountability and trust.
I’m skeptical about how serious any strategy is that I read about in the media. I have no idea how serious the Liberals are about potentially going this road. This could purely be a communications exercise. Putting this story out there signals that despite some rough polling, the Liberals are serious about holding this government to account. I like it in that sense: it’s a signal of continued (hopefully) Liberal backbone, and signals to the NDP that we’re not letting them off the hook.
Still, academically such a motion would be an interesting strategy. Letting the budget be the trigger, if it goes that way, lets the Conservatives frame the trigger, and use the budget pomp and circumstance as a taxpayer-funded commercial to set their ballot question. A specific confidence motion written by the Liberals lets them attempt to frame the beginning of the narrative. It would also leave less cover for the NDP, who would need to justify voting against a confidence motion that condemns the government while justifying to its supports that it’s worth it because of budget concessions. As a Liberal I’ve been there and, trust me, it’s a hard sell.
So we’ll see what happens in the weeks ahead and if this was just a trial balloon, communications strategy, or an option to pull the trigger they’ll, well, pull the trigger on. Nice to see a little aggressiveness from the Liberals though. I just hope they keep it up.
UPDATE: Dan the man makes a good point in the comments:
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The 4 Con cons have a court date coming up on March 18th. If the writ is dropped before that date, that news cycle will be dominated by the scandal, throwing the Cons off message for that day, and maybe all weekend.
Recall in 2006 that Libs were leading right up until trumped up allegations against Mr Goodale. After that, the polls reversed themselves and have been that way ever since. It was a key turning point in Canadian history, and March 18th could be also, if 2 Senators have to make a court appearance for election fraud on Day 4 of the campaign.
If there is no writ, and the budget comes down on March 22, then the court appearance is forgotten, and the whole thing was just another in a long list of scandals, and the budget will be the focus of the campaign.