There has been a lot of speculation about whether we will face another federal election this fall after barely a year since the last one. To some degree, it has become a game of chicken.
This week, Parliament will finally be reopened with a Speech from the Throne and currently all signs point to a significant move to the left by the Trudeau Government. There will be more spending, more government programs and, likely, little more than lip service to the incredible national debt—already exceeding a trillion dollars, not to mention the current deficit of nearly $350 billion. These are unenviable records for Canada, outside of wartime. There is little doubt that both of those potentially devastating economic statistics, which the parliamentary budget officer states are unsustainable, will be significantly increased in the coming week.
Will the Trudeau Government get away with it? Clearly, they are gambling on doing so, one way or another. They will style it as a “recovery agenda”, perhaps even with a recovery tax, intended to continue to protect Canadians from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and to pave a new path to the future that leans heavily on a green and progressive agenda and the costs that go with them.
Of course, events during the past year have made a good deal of this increased spending necessary, but as we move forward Canadians will have to ask themselves if even larger deficits and the accumulation of more debt, in the name of the COVID-19 pandemic, is anything more than an opportunistic move by a scandal-ridden government to escape from that narrative and continue to hold on to power.
This week, the Trudeau Government will be throwing down a gauntlet to the opposition parties, daring them to force an election. That likely will not happen.
Jagmeet Singh, leader of the New Democratic Party, has said they will vote against the Government if they do not bring in universal pharmacare. He is just blowing smoke. The Liberals may throw him that bone, but even if they don’t the NDP will not join a move to bring the Government down if they have the slightest belief it would succeed.
First of all, they are broke and cannot afford an election. Second and more importantly, with their new agenda and platform, the Liberals will be moving directly into NDP territory, making it harder for many of their members to be re-elected.
In my view, it is Justin Trudeau in spite of what he says, and not the opposition parties, that would welcome a quick and immediate federal election. There have been at least three signals indicating this.
First there was the $2 billion gift to the provinces to assist them in reopening schools. Not part of a federal mandate, but clearly an opportunity for a popular election goodie. We can expect more of these next week.
Then there was Trudeau’s very recent support for Julie Payette whom he described as an “excellent Governor General” at a time when she is under investigation by his Privy Council Office for workplace harassment. Many people thought this was surprising. I did not. After all, if the Prime Minister concludes it is in his best interest to hold a snap election, he needs her good will. It is she and not he who has the ultimate power to make that decision.
Finally, and most illuminating, was his carefully crafted political-speak when asked last week if he thought a snap election would be appropriate. He said this: “I do not want an election…[but]I think it’s irresponsible to say that an election is irresponsible.” Right.
The movers and shakers in the Liberal Party want a quick election. They just do not want to be blamed for it so soon after the last one, and in the middle of a pandemic.
After all, the Government has regained a lead in the polls by six points. They also know that with the more progressive agenda they will be proposing, they will pick up seats from the NDP and possibly the Bloc Québécois. A new mandate, especially a majority mandate, would allow them to bury any further attempts to hold them accountable for previous scandals including the fallout from WE Charity. They would be able to hold on to power for another four years and pretty well do whatever they want. Not a bad strategy for them when you think about it.
Failing a successful vote of non-confidence by the opposition parties in Parliament, it will be interesting to see what the Prime Minister will do. He could move ahead and try to get promises made in the throne speech into legislation and have them successfully passed by Parliament. But to do that he would have to keep the minority Parliament sitting and at any time his government could be brought down.
Or the Prime Minister could approach the Governor General and say his political agenda is so ambitious that he needs a new mandate to ensure that he can get it through Parliament and, therefore, ask her to issue a writ of election and dissolve the current minority Parliament.
My bet is that sometime relatively soon that is what will happen. Unless of course the three main opposition parties recognize it is not in their collective interest to go to the polls in the near future, and they find enough common ground to form an accord that would ensure a stable government for at least the next two years, giving them time to get their respective houses in order and to be ready to effectively fight an election. That is exactly what David Peterson and Bob Rae did in Ontario in 1985 to depose the Conservatives, without an election, after decades in power. There is precedent for this, and Governor General Payette would have to listen seriously to such a proposal.
All of this is to say that the next few months will be an interesting time for all Canadians and especially for political junkies! It is definitely a game of chicken.
It will be fascinating to see who blinks first.
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