Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Harper setting the table for a snap election

Permit me to dress the stage if you will.

Canada is ruled by a minority parliament headed by the Conservatives under Stephen Harper. The main opposition party has only recently appointed a new leader, and the Tories have come out swinging with attack ads meant to portray him as being unfit for the position of Prime Minister. The economy is a concern, but the ruling Conservatives are putting on a brave face, telling anyone who will listen that the fundamentals are sound and that things are being well managed.

You can be excused for thinking I'm talking about the current state of affairs, but in actuality I'm referring to the landscape back in the summer of 2008. Stephen Harper dropped the election writ without any real need last year, aside from his desire to govern with a majority...ridding himself of any tangible opposition.

Anyone think Harper might try it again? PEI's Guardian newspaper obviously does, given their August 4th headline: Duffy's speech hints at looming federal election

The Guardian reports on Senator Duffy boasting about all the tax dollars being tossed around by Harper's Tories, with promises of more to come:

“And you will receive millions more in federal spending on everything from a new Summerside raceway to the Confederation Centre and literally hundreds, that’s right hundreds, of projects in between.”

Some bloggingtories are already doing their best to downplay the prospect of a snap election being called in the coming weeks, but me thinks perhaps they protest a tad too much.

Harper's government may not be adept at handling money, or at making even reasonably accurate projections, but give Stephen his due...the man is a cagey politician. There are a lot of reasons why a snap election call, with a vote sometime in September, makes sense from a Conservative perspective.

First there's the economy. So far we've been able to avoid the coming monster hangover by gorging ourselves at the bar that is cheap debt. Sure its 'hair of the dog', but its worked for the time being. Obviously the cheap suds are going to start running dry eventually, people can only borrow so much. Better to go to the polls now before mortgage rates start edging up another 20 or 40 basis points, taking money out the pockets of those who bought into the recent bubble in real estate with dirt cheap variable rate mortgages.

Second, there's the economy. Just like last year, serious warning signs are there...but many Canadians are more than happy to believe spin master Harper and his merry band of lackeys. There are still people out there who truly believe we can rack up over a hundred billion in debt in the coming years, yet not have to worry about tax increases or cuts to government services. Harper can open up his Kool-Ade stand once again and calmly assure us that 'all is well, just drink up'.

And if that ain't enough, then there's the economy. All those Canadians who've recently seen their jobs disappear are going to soon start facing some tough choices. Summer is wonderful time to put things off, to use that severance package as a cushion before attacking a withered job market in the fall. That's when the reality of a "jobless recovery" starts to hit home, millions of dollars spent on Gay Pride events notwithstanding.

Do we need an election right now? That's debatable certainly, but we need it less now than we did last year. Harper can sit back and wait for the Liberals, NDP and Bloc to choose the timing of an election. Or he can do what he did last year and catch them off guard, probably less organized and certainly not as well capitalized. He can simply claim the need for a stronger mandate, with the global economic crisis as a convenient backdrop.

Harper is setting the table. Are Canadians ready to eat what he's serving?

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