I am starting to be dubious about the word "consensus" - I think I've heard it too often. One thing I am sure of is that it wasn't exactly easy this past week for the "Council of the Federation" to reach consensus on most anything.
The "Council of the Federation", brainchild of Quebec Premier Jean Charest, is the gathering of the thirteen Provincial Premiers and Territorial Leaders. Mr. Charest hosted the group just a few days ago in historic Quebec City. They managed to agree on the somewhat contentious issue of worker mobility from one jurisdiction to the other...but not much on anything else that matters. Such is the case frequently when the have-not provinces become the "haves"...Who of my generation and upbringing would have ever conceived that Saskatchewan and Newfoundland would become "have provinces", whilst Ontario slipped into the "not" category.
Hence our fearless National leader, the Prime Minister, doesn't really have to be too concerned that the provinces are about to lay down any negative groundswell that could damage the Conservative party's chances coming into the next Federal election, whenever it may happen.
Mr.Harper though does have but a couple of weeks left to deal with a number of Federal by-elections. By the end of July, early August at the latest, the Prime Minister must determine to call elections in close to half a dozen ridings before the House of Commons settles back into the fall session, currently scheduled for a September 15th start.
Their outcome may set the stage for the tenure of the fall session of Parliament, even perhaps, if all the astronomical signs align correctly, for a fall National election. Most watched will be the downtown Montreal riding of Westmount-Ville Marie which, just like the late lamented Outremont, has been a Liberal fortress for decades. The Liberals lost Outremont almost a year ago to the NDP's, Thomas Mulcair. In Westmount-Ville Marie, the Liberal flag bearer, former astronaut, Marc Garneau, faces the NDP candidate, Anne Lagace-Dowson, a popular former CBC Radio broadcaster. Clearly the NDP is hoping for a repeat of last year's Mulcair juggernaut.
Thus, although Montreal's Westmount-Ville Marie riding election will be one to watch when the Prime Minister calls it...It will be for Mr. Harper only one in a series of anticipated votes which could deliver pre-federal election soundings to the Conservatives and the other national parties. There are as many as three more ridings where Federal by-elections are expected to be at play before the House of Commons resumes in mid-September.
In the Greater Toronto Area (The GTA), Liberal John Godfrey's resignation as the Liberal Member for Don Valley West is effective on August 1st. There are also vacancies in the former separatist, ie: Bloc Quebecois, stronghold of Saint-Lambert on Montreal's south-shore, and in the Liberal riding of Guelph in southern Ontario.
The national parties will doubtless be looking for these four potential pre-fall bi-elections to set the stage for national election strategies heading into the last quarter of 2008...or the first half of 2009. In the case of the two Ontario ridings, significant inroads by the Conservatives could signal finally the party's breakthrough into the vast southern Ontario golden-horseshoe. As for the Liberal Leader, Mr. Dion and his party, another loss in downtown Montreal on the heals of the September 2007 NDP Outremont victory might very well signal a very difficult fall period for the Liberal Leader and his followers.
If none of the major parties has moved the momentum forward with any significant bi-election victories by the time the House of Commons resumes on September 15 as scheduled, or later if the Prime Minister prorogues the current session, the stage is likely to be set for another acrimonious session of the House of Commons. In that case, as many suspect, the Presidential election campaign down south of the border may be the most interesting political drama on the horizon. Certainly down there the odds at play, the future of the free world, are far more significant than anything Canada's politicians could hope to offer.