Members of the Federal Caucus of the Conservative Party of Canada are in Levis, Quebec for the next two days for their annual summer meeting. The sessions come amidst growing speculation that the Liberal Opposition in the House of Commons may be prepared to force a national vote shortly after the parliamentary session kicks-off.
The House is scheduled to resume on September 15, one week after three by-elections are held. Two in crucial urban ridings of Montreal and Guelph, Ontario, both currently held by the Liberals, and in the Quebec south-shore riding of St. Lambert which is a separatist Bloc holding. Election speculation is hardly a new element of the frequent controversial and bitter encounters between the opposition and the Conservative minority government of Prime-Minister Stephen Harper, elected in January of 2006.
In fact, Mr. Harper and his government have been rather tenacious and successful in staving-off Parliamentary defeat since the winter of 2006. Indeed and to his credit, in just a few short weeks the Prime Minister will surpass Lester Pearson's record as the longest standing Minority Government Prime Minister in Canadian history.
There are a number of new elements feeding the growing election speculation as the fall of 2008 approaches. On the Government side, The Conservatives are anxious to exploit the perception of the weak Liberal leadership of Stephane Dion. The Conservatives have spent months criticizing the Dion leadership in a series of nasty attack ads. The arrival of new management at the Prime Minister's Office, primarily in the person of Guy Giorno, the new Chief Of Staff, and the changes he brings, are likely to mean Mr. Harper's image will be softened to that of a more Prime Ministerial role. Watch for the Prime Minister to abandon to others the nasty tactics learned whilst in opposition, and for which he's been frequently criticized in the media.
Meantime, emboldened by his cross-Canada tour to promote the "Green Shift" over the past several weeks, the Liberal Leader Mr. Dion seems to be more confident about his leadership abilities and in particular his acquired ability to speak clearly and forcefully in English. The party is further buoyed by an improved cash flow situation largely resulting from changes brought about in the party offices after the sudden departure last spring due to ill health, of Senator Marie Poulin as National President. And, with Canada's national finances now edging towards a deficit following the amazing recovery and astonishing surpluses of the last two Liberal Administrations; the Liberal forces are much more likely willing to submit to the Tory plan to highlight leadership capabilities in a national ballot question. In the shorter term Thus, Mr. Dion's credentials and reputation, and maybe an election decision will hang on the results of the aforementioned September 8 by-elections.
Lest I digress: In my home riding of Ottawa West-Nepean, all the elements appear falling into place for a bloody struggle to the bitter end no matter when the election is finally called. The riding held from 1988 to 2006 by Liberal Marlene Catterall went to Tory, John Baird, in the January 2006 vote after Ms. Catterall retired. The high profile John Baird has been Chair of Treasury Board and now Minister of the Environment in the Harper Cabinet. Mr. Baird likely made more enemies than friends in an apparent cozy relationship with the then candidate for Ottawa Mayor, Larry O'Brien, in the city's October 2006 municipal election.
When candidate O'Brien made the city's recently approved Light-Rail-Transit system a key issue of the election campaign, the then Treasury Board Chair, Mr. Baird, willingly held-up the Federal Government's share of the project's financing until a newly elected City Council reviewed the contracts. As it was Mr. O'Brien was elected Mayor and the LRT contract was cancelled. City taxpayers now face hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties and lawsuits for the cancelled deal....and any hopes of a revised rail based transit system are years, if not decades away.
Well now comes news that the defeated mayor from the 2006 election, Bob Charelli, may be getting set to face Mr. Baird in the west Ottawa riding come a Federal Election. Indeed, Liberal insiders are abuzz over Mr. Charelli's apparent willingness to lock horns with his old nemesis. In its own good time the Federal election race in Ottawa West-Nepean may surely be one to watch, not only for its assessment of the mood of the country's politics; but interestingly perhaps as much for how it settles old political scores.