Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Election inducements

Norman Spector muses about one route to a fall federal election which I'd wondered about as well:
No one can say for certain - perhaps not even Stephen Harper himself - whether the PM will be hitting the hustings later this month. However, if that were his preference, there's no way the opposition could thwart him: Mr. Harper need only instruct all but a handful of Conservative MPs to skip the vote on the Throne Speech.

Too cynical? No doubt. But no more so than reports of Liberals hoping to avoid an election by voting in sufficient numbers for the Throne Speech, a confidence matter, while awaiting an opportune time to defeat the government. Judging from the reaction to what would be Parliament Hill's first "absent opposition," perhaps this degree of cynicism no longer falls below acceptable standards in federal politics.
Now, Spector seems to confuse the possibility of some portion of the Libs merely sitting out the throne speech with an actual vote in support. The Cons could indeed force the Libs to either vote for the speech or face an election if they decline to show up in sufficient numbers. But contrary to what Spector suggests, the Libs could well succeed in propping up the government by voting for the speech if the Cons simply sat out the vote.

In any event, though, I have my doubts that the Cons would actually follow this strategy on the main vote on the throne speech.

After all, based on the structure of the vote itself (yeas before nays), the Cons would be forced to register their precise number of votes first. That would allow the Libs to have the final call as to whether or not to actually bring down the government - at least giving Dion his choice of options. And if the Libs did decide to bring down the Cons, they (and the other opposition parties) would then be able to muster their full forces for a resounding non-confidence vote, trumpet the government's lack of confidence in its own throne speech as the sole reason for the election, and spend the campaign asking why Canadians should have confidence in a party which doesn't have confidence in itself.

In contrast, if the Cons are determined to force an election, the more likely play would be to declare one of the Libs' throne speech amendments to be a matter of confidence, while refusing to telegraph in advance their own vote on the amendment.

Presumably the Libs would have to vote in force for the amendment due to the embarrassment that would result from their voting down their own proposal in order to avoid an election. And most likely, the Libs would phrase the amendment such that the other opposition parties would be unwilling to vote for it - though the Bloc and NDP would have the option of throwing a monkey wrench into the works by voting against type. (For that reason, the Libs couldn't even be sure to avoid an election by voting against their own amendment.)

If all went as expected, though, the Cons would then have the choice to precipitate an election by simply declining to vote against the amendment. And all without demonstrating any direct distaste for their own agenda.

For that matter, any number of other possibilities also exist. The Cons could declare a confidence motion on an NDP or Bloc amendment designed to be consistent with the Libs' own platform, or indeed the Cons could virtually ensure an election by outright voting down their own throne speech - with not much more apparent political cost than they'd take on by simply refusing to vote.

About all that can safely be concluded for now is that the Libs' telegraphed strategy of refusing to vote down the throne speech has opened up a virtually infinite array of possible countermaneuvers. And if the Libs continue to signal their fear of an election by hinting at ever more embarrassing maneuvers to prop up the Cons, that only increases the likelihood that the Cons will be motivated to force a trip to the polls.

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