Canadians know that this year there’s to be a federal election and that we must decide between very different people and approaches on how we will want our Nation to develop (ed. – more on this in the weeks ahead). As we hang our new calendars on the wall, there are some key questions being pondered by politicos and pundits in Ottawa. Many Party strategists are struggling with these questions, which will have a direct impact on the outcome of the impending vote.
1. Will the PM wait until October to call the election?
The election is mandated to be held on October 19th of this year – a new law passed by this Government. However, In the past, our country’s tradition is that the Prime Minister has the prerogative to call the election. This year, PM Harper may wish to ignore his new law and call a snap election – and he has good (political) reason to do so. In fact, there are many reasons: the sputtering economy and lower oil prices are dramatically altering the country’s fiscal situation; the trial of Senator Mike Duffy is slated to begin in April; each month that passes the Liberal Party’s war chest gains millions more for their campaign; and, recent polls show the support for PM and Conservatives within range of their Grit opponents for the first time in more than a year. All that being said, the PM has been adamant that he will not call an early vote (which is all the more reason to think he might).
2. Will the recent tax breaks and spending spree deny the Conservatives a balanced budget? (No. But is it realistic to think the budget is actually balanced?)
The Conservatives plan on delivering an early February budget, one that will serve as an attractive election document. They have already announced many new tax breaks for families at a cost of $4.6 billion next year. They have also recently announced a new country-wide infrastructure investment program of almost $6 billion – that is on top of the federal $70-billion, 10-year plan in place for infrastructure spending. Juxtapose the tax breaks and spending with the falling dollar, the falling price of oil and the stagnant economy and it leaves one to wonder what this all means for our country’s books? Just how much will the Conservatives need to fudge the numbers in order to deliver their balanced budget a few weeks from now?
3. Can Justin Trudeau be scripted?
He is every politicos’ nightmare, a walking accident about to happen. The Liberal Leader is a breath away from another of his quips: Harper is “trying to whip out our CF-18s and show them how big they are.” It is clear that if the Liberals are to win on the coattails of Pierre Elliot’s ghost, Justin will need to be tightly scripted (ironically akin to PET’s last “peek-a-boo” campaign of 1980). The public needs to believe Justin is capable of having serious thoughts and does not simply take one foot out of his mouth to insert another. Given Justin’s nature, this will be a Herculean task for the Grit handlers and, perhaps, the one that will most determine the outcome of the vote.
4. Is the NDP a spent force – before they even start campaigning?
The bodies keep piling up for NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair. Deserting Sudbury MP Glenn Thibeault is just the recent blow the NDP caucus has had to endure as there are now more than a dozen profiled Dippers running from Mulcair’s-Campaign-of-One. Ripping a page from the modern-day campaign playbook, the NDP is developing a Leader-centric narrative with talented Mulcair starring as the next Messiah. Trouble for the Party is that there are an increasing number of his apostles checking out; eroding the confidence of Party’s grassroots and their power of incumbency. With serious doubts that the new NDP Leader can repeat Jack Layton’s last campaign performance, one must ask whether these Dippers have already seen their best days?
5. Has the country had enough of Stephen Harper?
Stephen Harper is currently the sixth longest serving Prime Minister in our history. For years there have been more people who dislike the direction he is taking the country than there are supporters of his bold Canada. However, are there enough Canadians who are ready to vote “enough”? Unquestionably, the next election many will belabour the faults of this PM and his prickly personality. The Conservative will want the ballot question something other than a referendum on the longevity of SH. Former PM Brian Mulroney recently provided insightful context when he said, “In 1984, all I had to do was mention Pierre Trudeau’s name and I got 50,000 more votes. My policy was that I wasn’t Pierre Trudeau. And 10 years later, Jean Chrétien’s policy was that he wasn’t Brian Mulroney. Justin Trudeau’s program is that he’s not Stephen Harper.” No doubt that is how the election will play out. We will need to wait and see the outcome of the vote to know whether that was, indeed, enough.
Parliament resumes at the end of January and everyone in Ottawa is holding their breath – and asking the questions of how this year is about to unfold.