Harper has until next fall to drop the writ
By Patrick Vaillancourt, Senior Columnist
The next national general election is scheduled for October 2015, thanks to the fixed-elections provisions Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government passed in 2007; that said, the leader of our national government has the power to request the dissolution of Parliament at any time. Harper himself broke the very law he passed in calling the 2008 federal election, which would return him to power with a second consecutive minority government mandate.
In short, Harper could call an election any time before next October, and constitutional term limits would allow him to stay in power until well-into 2016.
It seems pundits are suggesting that an early election could work in Harper’s favour given the bump in the polls he received in the aftermath of the attack on Parliament Hill, which coincides with Canada’s newfound military involvement in Iraq. These issues, considered alone, make for terrible points of interest in the guessing game surrounding the next federal election, particularly because those most concerned with issues of national defence are already solidly in Harper’s vote column—that’s the Conservative Party’s base.
Also, it would be illogical for the prime minister to call an early election, when the fixed-elections provisions in the Canada Elections Act came precisely to prevent incumbent prime ministers from calling snap elections. In calling the election in 2008, Harper rationalized it by saying that “Parliament had become too dysfunctional.” He would not be able to get away with that now, as the leader of a majority government.
Some suggest that the timing of an early election may have to do with external legal matters. Suspended Senator Patrick Brazeau will be particularly busy next year in court, defending himself against sexual assault charges as well as breach of trust allegations in two separate trials. Senator Mike Duffy is also expected to have his day in court on bribery and breach of trust charges next spring. It’s been suggested that Harper will call an election in advance of these cases coming before a judge. The problem is that much of the damage on that front has already been done—having these cases heard will not make anyone less inclined to vote for the Conservatives. It’s clear that the Conservative base can be revved up to unseat a corrupt government of another political stripe (see: the Liberal Party and the sponsorship scandal), but will likely turn out to vote Conservative in the face of their own party’s misgivings. Given the Conservatives’ rather healthy war chest, I’m certain they can afford a well-coordinated campaign in October, without worrying about the Brazeau/Duffy legal drama.
The wild card is polls, and for the last 20 months, Harper has trailed the Liberals. The attack ads so effective in destroying previous Liberal leaders have failed. Harper’s best bet is to wait and let Justin Trudeau trip up, which will be easy as soon as Trudeau’s autobiography comes out. Harper will have some fodder to play with in creating new attack ads, and place the young Liberal leader on the defensive. This strategy requires time, which brings us back to the October election date.
Finally, a February budget forecast projects a return to surplus for the first time in a number of years. Harper will want the opportunity to pass the budget and give Canadians the goodies: adult fitness tax credits, doubling of the tax-free savings account maximum, income splitting measures, and expanding his child care tax credit. All bundled together, it makes Harper look like he’s doing a good job, and Canadians will remember this over the scandals that took place on his watch.
Harper may not stick to the October 19, 2015 fixed-election date, but I’m putting my money on a “back to school” fall 2015 election.