Harper mulls fall election; Dion, Duceppe say no
The last national vote was in January 2006, leaving the Conservatives with a minority of seats in the House of Commons and relying on the support of at least one opposition party to pass legislation and remain in power.
Opinion polls point to another minority government, with neither the Conservatives nor the main opposition Liberals enjoying a clear lead.
Harper says he wants to meet with the leaders of the three opposition parties to see if any of them are willing to let the government get on with its mandate.
1. At the meetings, Stephen Harper does what many expect him to do. He puts demands on the table he knows the other leaders can't meet. He plays them like violins and emerges to announce he'll be visiting the Governor-General. He wants his election before the American one. Pollster Frank Graves, for one, predicts that a Barack Obama victory will result in a big push - possibly a three-point gain - for the Liberals. Hence the prime ministerial rush.
2. The opposition leaders, Stéphane Dion in particular, don't give the PM an opening. Making promises they don't intend to keep, they agree to everything Mr. Harper puts on the table. They leave him without an election alibi, then force a vote themselves later in the fall when their timing is more propitious.
3. The opposition leaders decry the whole Harper gambit. "You're not going to hold a gun to our heads. You're forgetting this is a minority Parliament. The people didn't give you a free pass." They give him a mouthful and, in response to his claim that the House is "dysfunctional," call for the release of his 200-page secret handbook on how to disrupt parliamentary committees.
4. The PM plays it straight. He's really not all that keen on an election. He's just calling these meetings to show he's in control, that he's running the agenda. He's been reading polls and decides that Canadians won't respond well to his ordering up a campaign for reasons that can be readily seen to be bogus.
5. The "damn the torpedoes" option: During his meetings, Mr. Harper doesn't get what he wants. He can't really claim his adversaries will undermine his legislative plans. But that doesn't stop him. His mind was already made up. He goes ahead and calls the election for late October, swallows a couple of days of bad publicity for doing so and heads for the hustings.
Dion repeated his earlier claims that Harper wants to bypass parliamentary committee hearings into Tory scandals and distract Canadians from a weakening economy.
He also said Harper would be breaking his promise of fixed election dates every four years.
Harper has blamed opposition parties in recent days for paralyzing Parliament. But Dion said the minority government is working just fine.
"One thing is sure," said Dion. "The Parliament is working. The Parliament is not dysfunctional."
Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe is threatening to table a no-confidence motion when Parliament resumes, if Harper continues with his party's "right-wing" agenda.
Duceppe told a Bloc youth wing forum gathered outside Quebec City last weekend that a majority Conservative government is a menace to Quebec.
The Bloc leader listed several Tory policies he says have harmed Quebec's interests, including cuts to arts and culture funding and the rejection of the Kyoto Accord on greenhouse gases.
"Our American friends are getting ready to turn the page on the Bush administration," Duceppe told the forum gathered in Lévis on Sunday.
"Those ideological right wingers who are leaving behind economic devastation, and blood and destruction around the world. We here are confronted with the same gang," he said in French.