Saturday, February 23, 2008

Election Eve?

It is TC's sense that the Liberals have been dampening election speculation as we head into Tuesday's budget. However, it is clear Harper wants one. I think it likely that he will try to insert a pill in the budget, poisonous to Liberals but not to the electorate. It is a balancing act but the Conservatives must be concerned that the Liberals are not going to push them into the election they clearly want and expect.

The polls on their face don't look particularly favourable to the Conservatives. An average of all the national polls conducted since the start of 2008 produces the following result:

Liberal Cons. NDP BQ Green Other
32.0 33.6 15.2 9.0 9.3 1.1

The source of Conservative confidence appears to lie in Dion's weak leadership numbers. It is likely, however, that they are also worried about what lies ahead for the economy. Certainly they will be giving every impression of confidence in the numbers on Tuesday but I for one won't believe them.

The Dion Liberals made a mistake when they agreed to collaborate with the government in extending the Afghanistan mission. For one thing, they can't be certain what four more years of military involvement there will bring. For certain, it is a gift to Jack Layton that potentially could be important to the outcome of the next election. Pundits like Chantal Hébert seem to think only the Liberal view on Afghanistan among the opposition parties matters. In a recent column she said:

Less than a year ago, it seemed that nothing except winning a majority would allow the Conservative government to pursue a military mission in Kandahar beyond next year. Now Harper has not only secured Liberal support to do so but on the most explosive issue of his tenure, he will also spend the next campaign under the relative protection of an opposition shield.

While conceding Layton benefits from the Liberal accord with Harper, Hébert simply overlooks what might happen if the issue blows up either during the campaign, or before. It is not as if the news from Afghanistan gives the proponents of the war cause for optimism. This Sunday New York Times Magazine article makes that clear. There are war opponents in Canada and the NDP and the Bloc will give them voices in the campaign but Ottawa pundits are far too prone to funnel all politics into a Liberal/Conservative filter.

That said it is not clear to TC what would dominate the campaign if it happens this spring.

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