Monday, June 29, 2015

On delay tactics

Following up on this post, let's look in a bit more detail as to how the Cons might try to make excuses for a delay in this fall's expected federal election - and why they might be happy to use the more questionable means to do so.

As noted in the previous post, the fixed election date set in October was set by an act of Parliament, and could easily be changed through the same process given the Cons' well-whipped majorities in both chambers. So why then might Stephen Harper prefer to ignore or flout legislation rather than changing it?

Let's start by asking what factors might stand to work in the Cons' favour during a campaign whenever it arises.

From an issue standpoint, there doesn't seem to be much room for doubt that barring some miraculous, pork-based turnaround on the economy, the Cons' lone remaining perceived strong point is security. Their only extended stay atop public opinion polls in the last few years came about in the wake of security concerns last fall. And if they do decide to delay the election, I'd expect that plan to be based on either the hope that somebody will hand them a crisis to be seen responding to, or the expectation that they can manufacture a threat.

But given that the Cons' message (embodied in C-51 among other actions) that democratically-elected officials can't be trusted with security, I'm not sure they'd want to send the message that Parliament should make the call as to what trumped-up threat would explain a delayed election. Nor would they likely want to saddle their MPs with having to explain votes against the same election date they previously approved.

Instead, any decision to delay the election would fit best with the Cons' expected core message if it's made solely by Stephen Harper, coupled with the theme that Canadians should take his word for what's best for them.

Of course, there would surely be a backlash against a decision to delay an election that way. But I'm not sure the Cons would much object to that: in fact they'd likely point to easily-foreseen protests as evidence of instability to rationalize the delay after the fact, and also focus further public attention on the Cons' issue of choice.

Again, it will likely be some time before we see whether Harper decides to follow his own law. But it's not hard to see how a legally-dubious executive action to ignore it could fit into the Cons' wider strategy - and we should be prepared to make sure that course of action isn't rewarded.


  1. Anonymous6:24 PM

    Another reason Harper might not want to hold off on having an election is for perceived cowardice. This is a guy who likes to present himself as being tough and strong-willed, so it doesn't really look good if voters think he's afraid of facing the electorate.

    1. True enough, and the other parties would surely work with that message. But that doesn't mean the Cons wouldn't try to paint Harper as "tough" and "strong-willed" in being the lone person to decide when he thinks the country (read: his party) is ready for an election.

    2. Anonymous10:18 PM

      They could try that, though I can't see anyone but the most die-hard of partisan Conservative supporters falling for it.

  2. As an addition to my comment on your last post there is another way to tell if Harper is planning to have the election on time: when he chooses to manipulate economic policy. Generally the scenario I pointed out last time of parties manipulating when to call an election occurs in systems that allow an election to be called at any time. Systems where the date is set in stone suffer from another problem: just before the election the government tries to push the economy into rebounding through subsidies and other wastes of taxpayer's money.

    Since Canada's fixed term laws are by necessity very weak we are arguably effected by both factors. So, I suppose an additional way to tease out whether Harper intends to call an election on time or not is whether the government have recently been spending money or indulging in other forms of risky economic tinkering (the paper notes that this rarely works).

  3. A fair point to be sure. And to the extent one wants to look to election-oriented spending announcements as a hint, it does signal that all systems are go for the fall:

    (Of course, that fact also signals that the Cons aren't above doing what "rarely works". And I'd think a delay will happen only if the funding announcements don't move the needle in the Cons' favour.)