Monday, March 21, 2011

Choose your own confidence week adventure

As a follower of Canadian politics, I've ceased being surprised by the regular swings in the supposed consensus opinion in Canadian politics. Every pundit and politico will know something to be the case one day (election for sure) and then the next day they'll all know the opposite (election, no way). I've ceased being surprised by the regular 180s in consensus opinion, but I am still amused by how fervently they all claim to know it. Sure, we believed the opposite yesterday, and may flip back tomorrow, but today we're certain, dagnabbit!

I don't have the energy to research it, but it would be amusing to chart the swings in election consensus over just, say, the last three months. It would look like the rocky mountains, no doubt, or a heart monitor. As I write this Tuesday evening it's election no-way, but by breakfast on budget Tuesday it may have changed, so stay by the news ticker for updates. But apparently the current consensus began forming when politicians didn't act like total a-holes in question period this afternoon, and solidified with evening budget leaks on NDP-friendly items.

The fact is, no one knows for sure what is going to happen and any supposed expert that claims otherwise is lying, but there's certainly enough pieces of information out there to allow you to cherrypick ones to fit your desired conclusion and south authoritative.

Let's take it by party, shall we?

Big lead in the polls, they want to go now.
Mounting scandals, no way do they want to go.
Mounting scandals, they want to go before they can solidify and things get worse.
NDP-friendly budget leaks sign CPC wants to deal.
NDP-friendly budget leaks clever ruse to set the cat among the NDP canaries on budget eve, actual budget won't be palatable.

Well behind in the polls, why would they want to go now? It's a bluff.
Can't get ahead in polls pre-writ, may as well go now, it's not a bluff.
Mounting scandals make this the window, go now on ethics.
Mounting scandals will heighten if explored in committee, wait and drive down numbers.

Reasonable-sounding budget demands show they want to make parliament work, don't want election.
They don't expect demands to be met, just want to appear reasonable, they want an election.
They feel if they can get concessions their base will support them propping up government, they'll take what they get and call it victory.
They know their base won't accept them supporting the government, no way they will.
Listen to Jack Layton, no election.
Listen to Thomas Mulcair, election.

They're doing well in the polls, they want to go now.
They're doing well in the polls, they're cool with waiting until whenever.
No way would Harper ever buy off the separatists.
Meh, if it's good for Quebec...

For what it's worth, here's my uninformed two cents.

I think the Conservatives aren't as eager for an election as they may have been a few weeks ago, but they won't go out of their way to avoid one either. They'll toss a few goodies to the NDP, but they won't be major and won't meet all their demands. If the NDP bites, fine, and if they don't they're fine with going to the polls, they like their chances and the ethics things could get worse with time.

I think the Liberals have decided they have to get out of the cycle of propping these guys up and if that means an election, so be it. But they can't pretend to be an opposition anymore while regularly voting confidence. So they'll vote no (their budget demand of reversing corporate tax hikes will never be met) and take their chances. If the NDP props up the Cons, fine, they'll have as much fun with that as the NDP did when we were doing it, and keep hammering on ethics. And if it means an election, we'll finally be on an equal footing for the media cycle and ad spend and, as the saying goes, campaigns matter so anything can happen.

The BQ presented such a long and ridiculous list of budget demands it's hard to take seriously the prospect of them supporting the government on confidence. A deal on HST harmonization might give them pause, but if I were the Conservatives I'd rather have that as a promise to campaign on, rather than wait potentially a year and remind them of that billion-dollar payday. it's a big ticket item to give away when other suitors are cheaper dates. The BQ are in great position in the polls, with the potential for pick-ups, particularly in the Quebec City area. I think they vote no, but if HST money is actually in the budget (word tonight is that it's not) they may waver.

I think the NDP is more of a wildcard, because I don't think they know what they're going to do yet at this point. I think internally the party is torn. Look at polling and an election doesn't make much sense for them (nor does it for anyone, really) but certain incumbents are vulnerable. And Jack Layton is recovering from serious health issues; he's a gamer so he'll answer the bell but it's not ideal at all. I think there's a camp that wants to take what the Conservatives give and call it a making parliament work victory, whether it actually is or not (the Liberals demand and got billions in stimulus, didn't work out well for them and the NDP weren't impressed). Call them the pragmatists. And then there's the idealists, who couldn't stomach truck or trade with a Harper government they fundamentally and deeply dislike and disagree with on every level, and are adamantly opposed to supporting Harper no matter what the give.

I think at this point it's on the NDP, and I think at this point the jury is out. If I was forced to put money on it, I'd say they don't support the government, and we'll have an election. I've been surprised before, though. But to decide to prop them up, in the wake of the mounting ethical dramas, would be a bitter pill for their supporters to swallow. It would invalidate their years of messaging (they baked a cake to celebrate the Liberals propping up the Cons). And it wouldn't be a one-time thing. They'd either have to abstain or vote against the contempt findings, or explain why they're supporting a government they believe to be in contempt. Their attacks on any number of issues would ring hollow. It would mean eating a lot of crap sandwiches, for monts and months of budget implementation bills and who knows what other curve balls the Cons may throw. As a Liberal who has been there trust me, it really, really sucks. And I can't imagine doing it when, for the first time in Canadian history, not just one but two contempt findings are before the house. "Well sure, they're in contempt of the house and basic democratic principles, but we got some money for making homes more efficient, so..."

So, tonight I still believe we go this week, but not as strongly as I did yesterday. And I reserve the right to change my mind again tomorrow and believe the exact opposite. And with authority.

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Dan F said...

I think there is at least one more possibility to consider (haha, you thought you covered them all!)

Jack decided weeks ago that he doesn't have it in him to do a cross country tour (right around the time he had hip surgery) and he wants to step down as leader. He can't do it on his timing, because he doesn't want the party to be in the middle of a leadership campaign at budget time. He bluffs that he will be able to campaign, but makes enough reasonable requests that he's ready to back down and support the government if even 2 of his 4 demands are met, then in a few weeks retire gracefully. If somehow he miscalculated and Harper really wants an election (I don't think he does, which is why this works) then he falls on his sword as the writ drops, caucus chooses Mulcair (who has been chomping at the bit for a campaign, either election or leadership, doesn't matter) and the NDP might even pick up a few seats in Quebec.
This was all planned out more than a week ago, possibly in concert with the Cons, who don't have any reason not to go along; what's good for the NDP is good for the Conservatives, with the exception of a few seats out west where they are directly competing.

Jeff said...

Now that, Daniel F, is a devious conspiracy theory so fiendish it would never have occurred to a good Canadian boy such as myself...

Tim said...

I actually think there is a possibility of an election sometime else this year. One scenario I see is that NDP supports the budget at first then after a huge backlash from there base pulls the plug later on either later in the spring or the fall. Now I know everyone everyone says a fall election is impossible but I don't buy it. I think the pressure on the NDP if they support the government now will simply become too much to bare by the end of the year

Jeff said...

Tim, I think once you decide to bend over, there's no point in getting up quickly. The damage is done, so you may as well stay down awhile. Time will tell, though.

Tim said...

I guess what I'll be looking for is what is the response from the Bill Tielleman/Adrian Dix types in the NDP if Jack supports the budget. Do they flip out or start making every excuse up in the book for Jack. If they flip out does that force Jack to withdraw support a few weeks from now.

On another note I don't think in the short term there will be a deal on HST for Quebec notwithstanding what is being said in the press. I am actually quite surprised the whole HST issue has not blown up in the face of the Conservatives in either Quebec, BC or any other ex Ontario/Atlantic provinces. What is interesting is that the Conservatives by pushing the HST and a national securities regulator at least in Ontario have made inroads in the Toronto/Bay St business establishment while at the same time have not hurt themselves yet among their more traditional supporters in the west and Quebec.