Why We’re Really Having A Federal Election

The leadership of the various political parties are all going to be asked, probably more than once, why we needed another election.  And I’m sure they’ll all have well prepared answers that produce a suitable sound bite.  But I’ll bet none of them will be honest enough to talk about the real reason we’re having this election – the simple fact is that most of the parties feel they’ve got nothing to lose and plenty to gain.

I suspect that if you got Stephen Harper drunk enough he’d probably admit that he’d have preferred to wait another 6 – 12 months; so he could pass one more budget, and give the economy a little bit more time to improve. The Conservatives would love to be able to take credit for a significantly improved economy. But the Conservatives knew that sooner or later the opposition was going to force an election and so they’ve been ready to go for a long time. Long enough that they might just want to get the thing over with. And if their polling numbers show that they might be able to pick up more than just a few seats, especially on the east coast where NL Premier Danny Williams has already said he won’t be spearheading another “Anything But Conservative” campaign, then they’ll be keen for a fight, if the other parties insist. On top of that, Harper is likely starting to feel some pressure within his own party to win a majority. So if he thinks he’s got a chance, he really does have to go for it. But if he doesn’t get a majority, he’s likely to retain a minority. And the failure of the other parties to replace the Conservatives will give Harper at least 12 months to pass another budget without serious opposition and take credit for an improving economy. Either way, he’s likely got nothing to lose and everything to gain.

The Bloc also probably feel that they’ve got a pretty good chance of winning a few more seats in the coming election.  For starters, history has shown us that parties with leaders from Quebec do better in Quebec than parties with leaders from elsewhere in Canada. In 2008 the Liberals had Dion, and while he did poorly in the rest of the country, he actually managed to pick up an additional seat in Quebec.  He was a Quebecer, and Quebec supports their own.  Ignatieff is not from Quebec (even worse he’s from Toronto) and that will hurt him in Quebec.  Moreover, the provincial Liberal party in Quebec is none too popular right now and some of that will surely rub off on Ignatieff’s Liberals.  Add to that the Conservative propensity for shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to Quebec and I’m sure the Bloc feel they have a good chance at picking up a couple of more seats. The only real risk to the Bloc is if Ignatieff is somehow able to do an amazing job campaigning in Quebec and can convince Quebecers that if they want to get rid of Harper they have to vote Liberal. Given that he hasn’t been able to make much headway with that message in his recent visits to Quebec I don’t think the Bloc have a lot to worry about.

While the Liberals might not be feeling strong about their position in Quebec they likely feel that they can’t do any worse in the rest of the country than Dion did in 2008.  Dion won a total of 77 seats compared to the 103 that Paul Martin managed to win in 2006; and that was at a time when the Liberals were being badly hurt by the Sponsorship Scandal and opposition to the Gun Registry.  Ignatieff has got to believe he can win more seats than Dion.  Which brings us to another reason why some Liberals want an election – certain factions within the Liberal party don’t feel that Ignatieff has been very successful at cutting away at the Conservatives. It’s likely that both Ignatieff’s supporters and detractors in the Liberal party view this election as an unofficial review of his leadership. If Ignatieff does well (likely at the expense of the NDP), it will solidify his position, revitalize the Liberal party, and help to set up a concerted run for a majority the next time around.  But if he doesn’t pick up a bunch more seats, he can bow out gracefully without officially having suffered a defeat; making it much easier for the next Liberal leader to take a serious shot at the Conservatives in the next election. And from the point of view of Ignatieff’s personal life, if he doesn’t do well enough in the election, he can finally leave the hell his life has become. I seriously doubt the last four years have been fun for him, after all, he isn’t a life long politician who lives for the fight. He ran for office because he wanted to govern, not to spend over 4 years in an almost non-stop campaign. So while Ignatieff might have something to lose in this election, the Liberal party as a whole has almost nothing to lose.

The NDP is likely the one party that didn’t really want an election. But Layton probably felt he had no choice but to support the non-confidence vote against the Conservatives. If he’d supported the Conservatives against the Liberals as he did in September 2009, it probably would have cost him too much with the people who voted NDP in the last election. The problem for the NDP in this election is basic addition and subtraction. In 2004 the NDP won 19 seats, in 2006 they won 29 seats, and in 2008 they won 37.  Almost all of those additional seats came at the expense of the Liberals.  If the Liberals do manage to pick up a significant number of seats in 2011, the bulk of them will come at the expense of the NDP. If the NDP lose too many seats, it will likely cost Layton the leadership the same way the dismal election of 2000 cost Alexa McDonough her leadership. Needless to say Jack doesn’t want to lose his job, and so he’ll be banging on Ignatieff just as hard as he’ll be banging on Harper, if not harder. And the one thing that Layton has that Ignatieff doesn’t is plenty of campaign experience. If Ignatieff doesn’t come out of the gates strong, Layton might actually be able to keep what he’s got.

So the Conservatives have nothing to lose, especially since they can’t be blamed for calling the election. The Bloc have nothing to lose. The Liberals Party has nothing to lose even if Ignatieff’s future might be at risk. The only party with anything at risk is the NDP. Given that three out of the four having nothing to lose and the possibility of some real gains, is there any surprise we’re having an election?

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