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March 28, 2007

Election Season?

The immediate response to Monday's Quebec election results - beyond surprise - was a widespread assurance that the Prime Minister would ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament and send the country into a federal election campaign. The logic, as best I could tell, was that the combination of a strong ADQ showing and an historic low for the separatist cause mean that "conditions will never be better" for a shot at a Tory majority.

For some reason - perhaps because I've been out of the country for too long - the election talk seemed to me to come out of left field. It's not just that I didn't understand the logic, it's that - even on its own terms - I don't think it's right. Here are a few reasons:

  • Harper Has a Majority, if not in fact then in function. What has Harper tried to pass that he hasn't passed? The biggest legislative defeat, so to speak, was the failure of his attempt to reopen the same sex marriage issue, and that was a fight which I don't think Harper actually wanted to win. A majority could also have blocked the Grits' Kyoto bill - but the bill was a gift for the Tories, and a significant blunder by Dion. The biggest obstacle to Conservative legislation right now comes not from the House of Commons but from the Senate. Harper will need a majority to reform the Senate, but I don't think he needs it just yet; on the contrary, the more the Senate frustrates legislation, the better Harper's claim that reform is necessary - and that a majority is necessary to reform.

  • Harper can't count on Quebec, despite Monday's results. Two points: first, Monday's results took everyone by surprise. The day before - heck, the day of - the election, nobody could say with any confidence what Quebecers would do at the polls. Is this really the sort of support on which you'd bank your government? In other words, why are we assuming that Monday's results - results that were hardly within the realm of fantasy on Sunday - are now the permanent condition of politics in Quebec? It's true that we may be seeing a trend - that after the surprise Conservative showing in Quebec in 2006 and the surprise ADQ showing in Quebec in 2007, future strong conservative showings should not - and will not - come as a surprise. I certainly concede that something is going on, and something big, not just in Quebec but across Canada. But I don't think anybody knows what it is. The past couple of years have challenged Paul Wells's first rule of Canadian politics - that Canadian politics tends toward the least exciting possible outcome; that being the case, I don't see why Harper should take Monday's results as evidence of a new and settled political reality.

  • Harper can't count on anybody else either. The argument isn't just that Harper can now pick up enough seats in Quebec to get a majority; it's that Harper's handling of Quebec, evidenced by the strong federalist showing (or at least the weak separatist showing) in Monday's election, will have dividends in the rest of the country. But one key lesson from Monday - the message the ADQ especially is pushing - is that Monday's results mark the advent of a new stage of Quebec politics, a movement beyond separatist/federalist to left/right or something similar. If that's true in Quebec, isn't it at least possible that it's true outside of Quebec? The assumption is that folks in the 905s will look at the Quebec results, see a separatist defeat, and throw their support to Harper in thanks. But isn't it possible that the folks in the 905s will look at the Quebec results and see instead a right-wing populist victory? And if so, are we really confident that those suburban Ontario folks will thank Harper for it? I certainly hope they would, but again, would you bet your government on it?

  • The country doesn't need an election. Does it? This overlaps a bit with my first point, but from the perspective of the voter. What's not getting done? What's so urgent that Harper needs to get a majority? What message would it send, in other words, if Harper were to go to the country - except that he wanted more power? Now I've heard the argument that how a government falls is immaterial, since a campaign will almost necessarily shift the focus to the parties themselves; voters won't - so the argument goes - hold against a party the fact that it triggered an election. There's something to that, and though I think that a smart opposition leader could exploit the calling of an unnecessary election, I don't think Dion is nearly that savvy. But I wouldn't discount the discontent of a voter who sees no reason to send Harper back with a majority - beyond Harper's desire for a majority. Indeed, given Harper's strategy of appealing to the Tim Horton's crowd, and given recent revelations about the business-as-usual approach of some Tories towards lobbying and the like, at least some voters would, I think, take an election as a very Martin- or Chretien-esque power-grab.
That's not to say that there won't be an election - though I'm gratified to see that Paul Wells is expressing skepticism. But I wouldn't call an election. Of course I'm not Stephen Harper.

Posted by David Mader at 11:56 AM | (1) | Back to Main

March 23, 2007

Voting Ourselves 'Rich'

Tories Enjoy Post-Budget Bounce in the Polls

The federal Conservatives got the budget boost they were hoping for, putting them on the cusp of a majority if an election were to be held today, latest poll numbers suggest.

"Every government is a parliament of whores. The trouble is, in a democracy the whores are us." P.J. O'Rourke

INCIDENTALLY: Note that the Strategic Council poll, which has the Tories up three over the last polling period, has the Grits unchanged, the Dippers down two and the Greens (and the Bloc) down one. Assuming that the change isn't just noise in the margin of error, it's not impossible, then, that the Tory budget 'bump' is coming not from Grits but from the NDP and the Greens. Which is more or less all you have to know about the budget.

(The alternative is that the Dipper and Green numbers went to the Grits, but that the Grits lost an equivalent number to the Tories. But why would the budget have driven voters from the Dippers and the Greens to the Grits?)

Posted by David Mader at 12:53 PM | (1) | Back to Main

March 05, 2007

What's To Discuss?

I know, I know, I'm the worst blogger ever. All I can say is I'd like to be blogging more, and I'll try.

Anyhoo, this crusade has been bugging me for a while. Can someone make an argument against ATM service fees that doesn't rely on a subjective notion of unfairness? And if one does rely on fairness, how is it unfair for a bank to charge a service fee that Canadians are obviously entirely willing to pay? And even if there were some level of ATM fee that was 'unfair,' why couldn't Canadians be trusted to respond by refusing to get cash from ATMs? In fact, shouldn't we expect a bank to charge as a fee for the use of its ATMs a penny less than the cost to consumers of withdrawing larger amounts of cash from a human teller? (After all, the ATM fee is a fee for the convenience of withdrawing money from an ATM; if Canadians feel the fee is too high relative to the convenience, they can be expected (as rational actors in the aggregate) to withdraw from a human teller, and to withdraw enough money that they will have cash on hand for those instances when they would otherwise have used an ATM.) And would anyone argue that the current fee - I haven't heard of a machine charging more than $2.50 for a withdrawal - is anywhere near that level? And that being the case, aren't the banks in fact doing Canadians a service by under-charging for the use of their machines? And that being the case, can we expect Jack Layton to start campaigning for a public payment to the banks?

Any questions?

Posted by David Mader at 04:03 PM | (3) | Back to Main