Surviving for 18 months has been an impressive achievement for the Conservatives, but mere survival will become increasingly less rewarding unless it is matched by legislative achievement. No government can survive politically if it acquires a reputation for weakness, and that is the risk the Conservatives face if they remain tied up in Parliament.
By using confidence measures more aggressively, the Conservatives can benefit politically. If the opposition parties retreat, the government gets its legislation. If the opposition unites on a matter of confidence, the Conservatives get an election for which they are the best prepared.
Flanagan claims the fixed election date legislation, which the Conservatives pledged and is now the law, has weakened their influence within the minority parliament and hence he suggests the government declare their bills to be matters of confidence.
It is impossible to believe that Mr. Flanagan says anything without consulting the PM. This suggests to me a none too subtle threat: let some our bills get through or be prepared to go to the polls.
The catch is that the Tories are not doing well enough in the polls to win their coveted majority. In the most recent poll, released by Angus Reid on July 20, the Conservatives had only 33%, three points below their showing in the 2006 election. The Liberals were at 28%, the NDP 19%, the Bloc at 9% (36% in Quebec) and the Greens 8%.This poll would give us a very weak Conservative minority:
Conservative - 115
Liberal - 99
NDP - 42
BQ - 51
Other - 1
The numbers suggest that getting legislation through is the principal purpose of Mr. Flanagan's threat of an early election.
Update: I found an error in my spreadsheet today (four more seats for the Conservatives, five less for the Liberals and one more for the NDP) and a correspondent pointed out that I had omitted the BQ, both errors now corrected.