Friday, September 11, 2009

Where there's smoke, there's election fire


(Written for "Root Issues" in the Barrie Examiner:

Deja vu as my phone rings: it's A Channel needing footage for a story about preparing for a potential fall election. Pull out the signs, pose for the camera. The cycle repeats; election-calling begins in earnest.

Another fall, another election? That would be four federal elections in just over five years. At $300 million each, what a waste of public money. There's your billion- dollar boondoggle.
Being a Green Party politician, I'm constantly asked, "Will there be an election?" and "When will it be?" Well, it's not up to me or my party, so I can't answer categorically. But since I pay more attention to this than most people, I can watch the smoke signals and speculate if smoke means fire.

Much of this election talk misses a key point, focusing on whether Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff will trigger it or not. Often forgotten is that it's not Ignatieff's call. He doesn't have enough MPs to vote down Prime Minister Stephen Harper's minority government. That requires the near-unanimous support of all three opposition parties. So if Iggy wants an election, he'll need New Democrat Leader Jack Layton and Bloc Quebecois boss Gilles Duceppe on his side.

Are they?

On one side are those who see MPs guided by principles, with motives broadcast in public statements. These messages say: Election. The NDP have long opposed Harper's government and voted against it (inconsequentially) at every turn. The Bloc's sovereigntist sentiment is repeatedly slapped in the face by Harper's messaging, not to mention many slights against Quebec overall. For them to prop him up seems unimaginable. Furthermore, both parties risk alienating their base supporters if they even give Harper the time of day.

Yet this ignores a critical factor: polling. Right now, the Bloc and NDP are each polling around 10% below their support in the last election. They would have to increase their vote just to hold on to current seats, and have little hope of real gains. Even treading water will mean spending millions of dollars of money they don't have, still paying off last year's debt. When it comes to a conflict of noble principle versus partisan advantage, which do you think wins out? The ambiguity or life-lines we've seen both parties throw toward Harper in the last week should answer that question.

Then add Iggy's first consequential act as leader, unilaterally ripping up the coalition agreement he'd signed just the month before. Since then his attitude towards them has been . . . less than collegial. On what basis does he assume they'll happily hand him the election he wants? More likely they'll make him wait powerlessly, for a few weeks or months at least, just to even up the score. Maybe they'll take a page from former Liberal Leader Stephane Dion's book, and skip the vote. That way they aren't directly supporting Harper, but won't trigger an election, either. That they criticized Dion for doing the same last year is problematic, but not insurmountable.

Conservative mouthpieces have been set loose, so Harper takes the situation seriously. Minister John Baird and columnist Monte Solberg have both been recently quoted in this paper criticizing Ignatieff for selfish posturing. Rather than following the will of Canadians who want government to focus on the economy, Iggy wants to trigger an unnecessary election merely to increase his party's power. They're right.

Yet these exact same criticisms applied to Harper himself when he unilaterally pulled the plug last fall, breaking his own promise and law to do it -- just to gain some seats. I'm not sure who's the pot and who's the kettle, but blue and red call each other black with breathtaking hypocrisy.
But my view of Ottawa is second-hand and from afar. I know another person with a much closer viewpoint, and she'll be at the Southshore Community Centre in Barrie, today.

Although Green Party leader Elizabeth May has no vote in the House, she has decades of connections with the people -- elected and appointed -- who will be making these decisions. And unlike any other party leader, she actually takes audience questions -- and answers them.
So if you want the real lowdown, come out and meet Elizabeth at this public event, and bring your old electronics for the E-waste drive by PALS Computer Tech & Training in support of the Seasons Centre for Grieving Children.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a teacher, father, volunteer, and politician.


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