Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fall election? I'm not so sure

The latest conventional wisdom is that there will absolutely, positively be a fall election, triggered by the Cons. Now, granted conventional wisdom has a horrible track record of forecasting these things, and the laws of averages hold they need to get it right at some time. Still, I'm not totally buying it.

The argument for Harper trying to force a fall election draws largely on the result in the three Quebec by-elections. It would infer that the Cons will sweep the Liberals (and the BQ) out of Quebec, that the Liberal losses will sow division in the LPC that will spread nationwide, and that Dion's leadership has been weakened to the point the Cons will make gains across the country. And they also might want to go before nasty little time bombs like the ConAdScam scandal explode.

I'm not buying it though. Before this week, I saw Harper likely planning a spring election based on the budget, and I wondered, although it wouldn't be ideal, if it wouldn't have been better for the Liberals to try to pull the plug in the fall, rather than let Harper have an goodie-filled budget election. While naturally I'd now like to see the Libs have a little more time, from the Con perspective all that has changed is three Quebec by-elections, and I don't think that outweighs the negatives for the Cons against a fall vote.

Harper is a smart guy. I've already covered the Liberal problems yesterday; but he arranged this narrative by calling just the three Quebec votes, and not the others in B.C. and Ontario. While he probably didn't think it would work out as well as it did, I still think he's smart enough not to buy into his own media narrative of Liberal doom and gloom. Because he knows the fundamentals are a bit different.

Nearly every poll for the last six months or so has shown the Cons and Liberals neck in neck. Yes, the Liberals have been steady at around 30 per cent. They haven't been able to build support, the other side is they've found their basement, that 30 per cent is a pretty solid base. But while Canadians haven't warmed to us, they've cooled to the Conservatives. They're down off their peak numbers, and at or below their result in the last election. They're in trouble in Atlantic Canada (and maybe Saskatchewan) because of equalization, and in Ontario the last SES poll had the Liberals opening their lead and Dion passing Harper in popularity. So, the fundamentals don't fit the narrative.

So, the question is, in a fall election where is Harper going to make his gains? The only real avenue with some visibility at the moment is Quebec, probably at BQ expense. The regional polls have showed the Libs and Cons polling pretty closely in Quebec, break it down though and you'll probably see Lib support concentrated in Montreal, with the BQ and Cons fighting it out in the rural areas.

I don't see the potential Conservative gains in Quebec though bringing them to majority levels. Indeed, they'll need a few of those seats to offset potential loses in Atlantic Canada to the Liberals, in Saskatchewan to the NDP (and maybe the Libs), and B.C. to the NDP and Libs. And Ontario? I haven't looked riding by riding, but it's hard to see many Conservative pick-ups at the moment.

So, at the moment, with a fall election the best case scenario for Harper would be a strengthened minority. The question becomes, is Harper willing to pull the trigger on that basis, and build towards a majority in another two years, or does he want to wait for majority visibility? If it's the former, he may try to go this fall. I'm betting the latter though. He may hope the Liberals can't get their act together, some negative momentum builds, and with a spring budget he may have his majority shot.

Because remember, the Cons are crap in the polls too, and governing parties traditionally dip a few points over the campaign. A fall vote would be a be a huge gamble, and Harper doesn't strike me as a gambling man.

If I were Harper though, I'd bluster and thump like I wanted a fall election, and dare the opposition to bring me down. Would any of the parties take them up on it though?

I don't think the BQ would. As a few have pointed-out, they were the big losers this week. They stand to lose a good chunk of their seats to the Conservatives. I don't see them keen on a fall vote. The NDP? The big winners in Outremont, but while they hope for a Quebec breakthrough I think the upper ranks are a little more realistic. And the last SES poll numbers had the NDP at just 13 points, the lowest they'd been in some time. They could use some time. And the Liberals? With the work we have to do we're not keen on a fall vote either.

So, even if Harper really wanted a fall election, he can't do it without opposition help, and I don't see any of the parties playing ball at this point. He'll huff and he'll puff, and that'll be it.

However, should the Liberals vote against the speech from the throne and risk a fall vote anyway? I'll tackle that question in another post.

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ALW said...

Fall election? You must be joking. Not going to happen.

tdwebste said...

Please focus on the issues that matter, justice, good government, and economical and social development;
not naval gazing and back office politics. Buy focusing on the essentials you are always ready with a better alternative when the election is called.

Proudly Canuck said...

"Harper is a smart guy."

A Liberal actually giving Mr. Harper some credit for being smart...WOW

IMHO that seems to be where the Left generally is shooting itself in the foot. They continuously under-estimate Mr. Harper, and then wonder why he runs rings around them.

Kudos to you for giving him his due. If more Liberals were to see the obvious they would be better off. In the meanwhile as a Conservative it is fun to watch them fool themselves.

burlivespipe said...

You missed one big part of the equation -- the economy.
Everything points to a big trap door opening under the US's feet this fall and unfortunately that thing around your waist that you think is just a belt? It's actually joining us at the hip to them. Harper's habit of spreading money all over the Quebec fields and occasionally elsewhere is going to be severely choked off in that case -- and see with the manufacturing issue in Ontario already wheezing heavily, that's hurting his economic reputation (hah! smart as a dumb-ass, thanks for the tax increase and taking my savings in the Income trust scare-fest)... his window is now. He'll push for an election.

Jeff said...

A Liberal actually giving Mr. Harper some credit for being smart...WOW

I've never denied Harper is smart. I just think he's evil and heartless... :)


You missed one big part of the equation -- the economy.

That's a very good point, I did forget the economy. Harper may want to go before the economy turns south, and he can still pretend he can both slash taxes and spend spend spend without going into deficit. Will that outweigh the other factors though? I guess we'll see. He still needs to get the opposition to play ball though, or put a nasty poison pill in the throne speech.

Demosthenes said...

The problem is not underestimating Stephen Harper's cunning, paul. The problem is overestimating his decency.

Jason Townsend said...

A minor point; Harper's unpopularity in Atlantic Canada is more than purely an equalization question. It is true, obviously, that equalization is a huge and potentially determining question because of the undelying fiscal realities of the provincial governments.

And one can point to 1997 as an example of when there was somewhat of an "Economically deterministic" reaction in an election.

But Harper's been shooting himself in the foot over here in lots of ways. I imagine (without having access to Tory circles) that his Reform-style conservatism and tiffs with MacKay and MacDonald have done him no good with the PC base here. And more obviously, he never made good his amateur-hour attempt at "candour" in referring to Atlantic Canadians' "culture of failure."

My feeling - local but impressionistic - is that Atlantic Canada is fundamentally up for grabs if Harper ever manages to actually recraft his image here. It just doesn't seem like he's really bothered trying. Granted, the electoral pickings here are slim, but it's still an absolute gift to the Liberals on Steve's part. Atlantic Canada has turned into a sort of enigmatic area of Liberal strength in the last 10 years without any real quid-pro-quo rationale, I think more because of the enduring weakness of the new Canadian right than anything else.