Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper may be hoping for a case of “third time’s a charm.” He’s weathered some rocky political waters, from a 2008 election set during the global financial crisis to a budget dispute narrowly resolved in January 2009. Throughout his five years in office, his Conservative Party has held a minority in Parliament. Will that change come May 2, when Harper endures his third election? A short, five-week campaign cycle will deliver the answer.
To back up, the decision to hold a snap election came last week after opposition lawmakers found Harper in contempt of Parliament for failing to divulge the full costs of a crime bill. All three major opposition parties also rejected the budget submitted by Harper’s government. The decision marked the first instance of a prime minister being held in contempt in Canada’s history and the country’s sixth “no confidence” vote. On Saturday, at Harper’s request, Governor General David Johnston dissolved Parliament and announced the country’s fourth general vote in seven years.
What ensued was the launch of a five-week campaign cycle. Despite The Colbert Report’s characterizing the dissolution of Parliament as “Chaos in Chaonada,” the prime minister will likely keep his post come May. Harper has governed Canada’s longest uninterrupted minority government and appears to be fairly secure in continuing to hold onto his post; in the House of Commons, Conservatives hold 143 seats, compared to 77 held by the Liberal Party, 47 by the Bloc Quebecois, and 36 by the New Democratic Party (NDP). However, the picture could be different in the case that the opposition forms a coalition. The prime minister has sought to worry voters over the coalition idea, saying in his March 26 speech, “The only thing they’ll be able to agree on is to spend more money and to raise taxes to pay for it.” He added: “Now is not the time for political instability.”
However, opposition leaders charge Harper with flip-flopping. NDP’s Jack Layton and Bloc Quebecois’ Gilles Duceppe say the prime minister tried to form a coalition with their parties when he was a member of Parliament in 2004. Michael Ignatieff of the Liberal Party ruled out the idea of a coalition when he launched his campaign over the weekend (although some observers say he was referring to the campaign period rather than the question of forming a coalition after the election). Moreover, Harper backed out of his challenge for a one-on-one debate with Ignatieff when the Liberal Party leader said he’d do it if another general debate with all candidates gets slated.
Harper appears to be banking on his country’s economic recovery to help claw the Conservatives’ way to winning 40 percent of the vote and a majority of the 308 seats in the House of Commons. A new Nanos poll shows the Liberals making ground but with the Conservatives retaining power; Harper’s party polls at 39.1 percent, Liberals at 32.7 percent, NDP at 15.9 percent, and the Bloc Quebecois at 8.7 percent. But the election is far from decided. “Voters went into the previous two campaigns, in 2006 and 2008, with relatively clear preferences, analysts said,” reports The Wall Street Journal. “This time around, a larger-than-usual bloc of undecided voters could swing the polls either way.”
That is if they decide to vote. “The thought that this poor old nation must endure its fourth election in seven years is almost too much to endure,” writes Gerald Caplan in The Globe and Mail. “At the rate we’ve been going, most Canadians may not even bother voting—unless they finally get a reason to do so.”
- Website of Canada’s electoral agency.
- The Toronto Star offered “a tale of two Harpers” on the fifth anniversary since he took office.
- The New Yorker ran a profile of Ignatieff in 2009.
- The Toronto Star’s politics page.
- The Globe and Mail’s politics page.
- Maclean’s Election 2011 page.