For now, at least

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Well, we aren’t going to see an election call (this week, at least). The Bloc Quebecois announced Tuesday that it would support the government on Friday’s budget vote, and Wednesday the NDP said that it would support the Conservatives’ changes to EI. And this probably serves everyone well- the Tories, the Liberals, NDPs, and Bloquistes, and, most of all, the voters.

For Stephen Harper, this is good news. As much as he talks about wanting a majority government, the odds of his winning one are slim, if the latest polls are to be believed. The biggest problem the Conservatives have is that everyone knows Stephen Harper and many people have decided they don’t like him. The party’s ability to grow its support in a federal election, which is a must if the party is going to form a majority, is severely limited. In fact, if these poll results hold true in a federal election, likely the Conservatives would have a weakened minority. Making the current situation work – even if they have to soften their policies for the benefit of “the separatists and the socialists” – is not only the best way for the Conservatives to stay in power, but is also the best way to prove that they can be trusted with power – which may, conversely, help them inch towards majority territory.

The Liberals, meanwhile, have finally figured out the “opposition” part of this Official Opposition business. While blindly opposing any future confidence motion isn’t the most responsible thing to do in a minority situation, it beats the hell out officially opposing such motions, but mostly abstaining from the vote, which was the Liberal strategy under Stephane Dion. Michael Ignatieff is trying to walk a delicate tightrope: his party needs him to take a firm stand against the government (see the Bloc Quebecois ad below), but his party is in no shape, politically or financially, to fight an election right now – much less an election the party would probably get blamed for. The NDP and Bloc have, in a way, let Iggy off the hook.

The Bloc's strategy: Harper and Iggy are the same person. From the Bloc Quebecois website.
The Bloc's strategy: Harper and Iggy are the same person. From the Bloc Quebecois website.

The Bloc Quebecois is the party that would be harmed the least by an election. On the other hand, Quebecers really like the home renovation tax credit, which is the crux of the budget bill the party will support on Friday. Many Quebecers (like many Canadians) have undertaken home renovations this summer and would be rather irked if this thing wasn’t passed. Consequentially, the Bloc likes the home renovation tax credit and will vote for it. This is not a case of the Tories tailoring a bill to the Bloc’s taste, but of the Tories creating a bill the Bloc just happens to like. Besides, do you think the Bloc really wants to fight the Conservatives for voters in Quebec City on this issue?

Meanwhile, the NDP is using its position in Parliament to extract some concessions out of the Conservatives. Really, do you think the Conservatives would offer Jack Layton’s party that billion dollar Employment Insurance plan if it didn’t need the NDP’s support this fall? The unstated goal of any third party is to have leverage, to be in a position to use its standing in the house to influence government policy. It is not to mindlessly oppose the government because of ideology. Critics on the left can say the NDP’s sold out, that it could have done more, but I have to believe that 1-5 months more EI for 190,000 workers, in this economic climate, is a decent deal and probably the best the NDP is going to get out of the Tories right now. Considering the alternative is $300-million election campaign nobody wants, a possibly serious case of voter backlash, and that extra unemployment relief not being there, Jack Layton would have to be a fool not to make the deal.

Which brings us, finally, to us, the voters. We get to see how minority government is supposed to work – for now, at least. We get to see our men and women in Ottawa do their jobs instead of bickering over an election campaign – for now, at least. And we are spared the charade of an election campaign nobody really wants – for now, at least. Actually, that’s a bit harsh. If our friends on Parliament Hill continue to work together, though, this government can survive until at least winter – which can only be a good thing.

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