Monday, 3 August 2015

A Lot Can Change in 11 Weeks


The Canadian Prime Minister has many powers.  The Prime Minister is leader in Parliament and controls the legislation, additional to controlling the Cabinet and machinery of government.  In the Parliamentary system of Canada it is close to absolute power during the Government's term.  One of the key powers of the Prime Minister (or Premier in a Province) has been election timing, where Governments call an election as soon as two years into a usual four year term.  An early election is called when the Prime Minister thinks he can win a new mandate based on current popularity. Things can change even during an average length campaign and some governments have lost the gamble of an early election, but usually they win.

The Harper Government has not been particularly popular for the last few years and there was no reason for it to call an early election.  Had the election been a year ago, it would have likely been a majority Liberal Government headed by Justin Trudeau as the outcome.  Now after all the "not ready" ads Mr. Trudeau's popularity has faded, at least temporarily.  This summer it appears, or appeared, that an NDP Government would be the likely outcome.  More recent polling just before the election decree shows the Liberals coming up again. It really is a close three way race which any of the three parties can win.

Due to fixed date election legislation Stephen Harper could not delay an election beyond the October 19 fixed date.  But he could call the election earlier and extend the official campaign. which he did.  The election called on August 2 for October 19 includes the longest campaign in modern Canadian history.  If the polls showed the Conservatives with a strong lead, no doubt it would have been a shorter campaign and probably the Prime Minister would use his power to move up the election to an earlier date.

Mr. Harper could not avoid the embarrassment of the Mike Duffy trial and its revelations about possible misconduct in the Prime Minister's Office at the highest level.  We will hear that and we will be bombarded with unbearable attack ads for almost 3 months.  But 11 weeks is a long time and the polls can change and change again.  The Prime Minister of course is hoping that there will be change in public opinion, and that people will get tired of the idea of change, and become as tired of other leaders and their parties as they are of the current government.

Most importantly, the new Elections Act among other things, allows for greater spending limits in a longer campaign and thus the Conservatives can spend up to fifty million dollars on campaign advertising instead of the normal twenty five million dollar limit.  The other parties do not have as effective fund raising or as many wealthy donors and will not likely be able to spend even the twenty five million dollars contemplated in a normal campaign.  This gives the Conservatives a very big advantage and that could make the difference.  They will no doubt continue to bombard us with "Justin's not ready" ads and new attacks on the NDP.

I have for several years been an advocate of co-operation between Liberals, NDP and the Green Party whose policies are all very similar and more to my liking.  Unfortunately egos, the drive for personal power and distrust have kept the Opposition disunited and that has kept the Conservatives in power. Now the NDP thinks they can win so they are doing things like running running Olivia Chow against Adam Vaughan, a popular Liberal, in Toronto.  I have never seen as much dislike of an NDP leader as I have seen from Liberals about NDP leader Tom Mulcair.  NDP supporters remain untrusting of Liberals as ever.  The Conservatives can win again by dividing the opposition and alternating attacks between whichever leader seems more popular at a given time.

Much can change in 11 weeks and we are likely to see polls and trends shift more than once.  Nobody knows who will be on top when the music stops on election day.  We the people will just have to suffer through it and in the end decide by voting.

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