Second Thots

Sometimes one has to step back, take pause, and have some "second thots"

Thursday, May 10, 2007


The most precarious minority government in history?

Prime Minister Harper
Some might remember way back, right after Harper first won his current minority government, characterizations that went from "tightest minority in history" to "most precarious government we've ever seen."

Some might also remember, although less likely, my own criticisms of such depictions. I believed that they failed to recognize just how strong Harper's position was, especially after Frank McKenna and all the other A-list contenders decided not to run for the leadership of the Liberal party. At that point, there was no way that the Liberals would dare bring Harper down any time soon. They were weak, leaderless, and broke.

It's therefore not surprising to come across Greg Weston's piece today speculating about just how long Harper's minority government can go. He is still in a relatively strong position and, perhaps more importantly, the opposition is as weak as ever.

In other words, this has not been the tightest or most precarious Parliament that Canada has ever seen. The pundits, analysts, and journalists were wrong — at least most of them.

Weston makes another point worth addressing briefly. He suggests that the Harper government might regret not orchestrating an election this spring, given how weak the Dion Liberals have been. I tend to agree. We witnessed the perfect storm when it came to winning conditions for Harper, but it looks like he has decided to take a pass. You don't get many golden windows of opportunity like that, and he may well come to regret not pulling the plug now.

Then again, perhaps Harper is not as cynical a political leader as he has led us to believe. Perhaps he does believe that he and his government should be judged on the way they govern. And perhaps he's willing to dare the opposition to bring him down at any time they have a problem with that. Who knows?

The overwhelming political consideration must be "who forced the election", because Harper will most certainly say that the Conservative government was good for Canadians.

If the opposition want to cause an election, the most opportune time will be on the vote for a Spring '08 budget. Harper will be happy to oblige and call an election accusing the opposition of "causing the election nobody wants".


I think it's really amusing that all the so-called pundits have been agitating for an election all spring, while the Conservatives have consistently said they did not want one. To be fair to Weston, he is the first one to realize that while Harper technically does not have a majority, the chances of the opposition parties banding together to bring him down are non-existent. Harper spent most of last year governing as if he had a majority, since the Liberals were embroied in a marathon leadership race, and it looks like it will be business as usual for the next year or so also.

I'm one of the few people who think the conservatives did not want an election this spring, for two reasons: the longer Harper is PM, the more people get used to him, and the more difficult it becomes to topple him; and as one of the famous "unnamed Conservatives" once pointed out: "Better the loser we know ..." A spring election would have forced Dion, and it certainly appears in hindsight that any one of Rae, Ignatieff or Kennedy would have been a tougher opponent for the government.

There is always the chance of some didsaster happening, which could wreck Conservative hopes, but I think it's a risk that the Government has decided to live with. I actually see them trying to go until fall of 2009. Next year's budget is probably the opposition's only opportunity, but if the Conservatives put some tax breaks in it, one of the three amigos will likely blink.


You make a good point. I think one of the reasons Harper had so much trouble toppling Paul Martin was that it was obvious he was using scandal as a political opportunity, rather than as a prolonged statement as to why a change in government is necessary.

Canadians don't look too kindly to people interrupting duly elected government for political advantage. That has to be a major reason why Harper and co. feel they can back off and just govern.


Most precarious minority government in history?

Surely, they forgot Joe Clark. (Then again, maybe he doesn't count.)

That being said, I think not calling an election was an important move for Harper to make. The new argument vis a vis the "Conservative Hidden Agenda" is that, while we have yet to see any such hidden agenda implimented, the Liberals insist it's because Harper doesn't have a majority. The arguing point is thusly that Harper will spend the duration of his minority government chasing a majority.

By not engineering an election while his party was at nearly 40% in the polls, Harper has defied this characterization. In fact, it has appeared more to any Canadian with a lick of common sense that it has, in fact, been the Liberals trying to force an election by trying so hard to defeat the budget.

I think Harper should try to govern right up to 2010. There are various reasons for this. First off, you-know-who will be out of office in the United States, and probably will be replaced with a Democrat. The Liberals top scare tactic will be, by necessity, gone from their arsenal. Harper could then focus on continuing to make the Canada/US relationship stronger, as well as build important in-roads between the Conservative Party and the Democrats (who are much more alike than the Democrats and Liberals in everyway that actually matters), that will make it harder for the Liberals to paint the Conservatives as "Republicans North".

In short, Harper has nothing to lose by continuing to govern, and everything to gain.


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