330 Days to an Election


T-minus 330 days.

That’s the countdown to the next election.

Give or take.  But, in my best estimate, election day 2015 will be on May 30.

May 30 will give the Conservative Government time to introduce and pass a nice ol’ balanced budget in the fall, then unleash the goodies in a budget implementation act in the winter.  They get that passed into law by late April, et voila, drop the writ.

I mean, it could be early June if they don’t get the implementation act passed in time, but summer elections tend to support the incumbent.  It could also be a bit earlier, if they leverage the parliamentary process.  It could also be the third Monday in October — when the election is supposed to be, according to the Prime Minister’s own fixed date election law — but then the summer diffuses the excitement over the goodie bag that promises to be the next Economic ACTION! Plan.  According to the Constitution, Parliament could sit until March 2016.  But, at that point, this government might be a little bit long in the tooth.

No, May 30 seems like as good a time as any.  Harper, if nothing else, likes routine.  Having an election more-or-less four years after the previous one seems like a nice idea.

It also means that the next election will be fought, not on these past 3084 days of combative governance, but instead on the next 330 days of serene funding announcements, campaign themes and trifling Canadiana.

“One hundred and fifty years ago in Charlottetown and Québec City, our Fathers of Confederation first dreamed of a united Canada, prosperous, strong and free,” Harper flatly told a crowd of mildly-enthused Canada Day-goers in Ottawa.  (“Bring out Serena Ryder!” thought everyone.)

Prosperous, strong, and free.

Sounds like a good campaign slogan.

Since the last budget came down to limited fanfare, amid accusations that it would deprive municipalities of stable infratruct-ZzZzZzZ.

Wa.  Huh?  What.  Oh.  Right.

While the last budget may be been a muted affair, the next pot de vin will be a more tantalizing campaign prop.  By then, the hazy fog of our collective political naptime will be but a distant memory.

The next budget will suck the air out of the opposition war rooms, forcing them to pivot onto philosophical tropes — this government hates freedom, this government hates penguins, this government hates women — while Harper skates around them with deliverables.

Income splitting.  Bridges.  Fighter jets.  Maybe that airline passengers bill of rights he kept talking about.  Puppies.  Canadian flags.  Puppies with Canadian flags.

Like Wynne, with her look-how-much-I-can-spend budget that kneecapped the NDP, Stephen Harper will cram his 2015 budget with so many prizes that it will make a Golden Globes goodie bag look like a burlap sack full of tuna.

And it will be balanced.  Everyone loves balance.

Currently, Harper is coasting.  The past year has been a rough affair, because it has lacked the veneer of vote-buying.  Harper has had very few gifts for the Canadian public.  There has been no new national project — just domestic surveillance powers.  There have been no new tax breaks — just laws cracking down on sex workers.  There has been no new fight with big corporations — just immigration reforms that nobody was asking for.

There has been no ying to the yang, as it were.

But by back-loading spending promises into next year’s budget, Harper has ensured that all those doggone problems will be forgotten in a blur of cigar smoke and Cristal.  Put another way, as explained by Dennis Duffy from 30 Rock:

“It’s like my cousin Teddy’s dog.  Sometimes he just doesn’t want to lick my feet.  So what I do is, I hide my feet from him for a couple of days.  And then when he sees them, he goes bananas.”

And in this example, the voters are the dog.  And the feet is money.

Those of us in the bubble sometimes forget — politics is the art of the local.

Local means three things: your street, your hospital, and your pocketbook.

And, as I’ve already pointed out, the opposition parties are having a hell of a time trying to convince voters their pocketbooks are empty.  Forcefully mourning the death of the middle class has proved tin-eared and ineffective.  So they’ve picked pet projects — infrastructure funding, for Trudeau, and…uh…Kijiji(?), for Mulcair — and tried to hobble the government in Question Period.

But the opposition parties have still failed to rectify their credibility gap on economic issues (its like they dont even read this blog) and have openly flaunted their Achilles Heel in doing so.  They risk wandering straight into the biggest ambush of their lives.

Because if the opposition thinks they’ve walked out of this past parliamentary session with the upper hand, they are woefully wrong.

The Conservatives retire to a summer of barbecues and glad-handing a mere two points behind the Liberal boy wonder.  That deficit could be made up in a heartbeat.  One well-placed attack ad — a real one, not like those Trudeau-smokes-pot softballs lobbed during the by-election — could turn that two-point lead into a five-point deficit.

Despite his laudable rise and impressive by-election feats, Trudeau has utterly failed to convince voters of his chops.

27% of Canadians see Stephen Harper as the best choice for Prime Minister.

23% opt for Justin Trudeau.

17% say Thomas Mulcair.

Harper bests Trudeau in every province, except Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

Even Forum Research — which has Trudeau up eight points over Harper — still has Canadians saying that our current Prime Minister is the best choice for leader.

And with fiscal and economic matters ranking as the top issues for more than half of the Canadian electorate, it is frankly dismaying that the opposition parties are continuing their farcical tap-dance around any other issue.

What they don’t seem to understand is that there are issues — beating back a surveillance state, protecting our right to vote, sticking up for the rights of Canadians — and there are political issues — money.

The twain rarely meet.

When Michael Ignatieff tried to convince voters that they care about fighter jets and megaprisons, he received stifled yawns over the sound of his canned applause.  When Stephane Dion tried to convince voters that they care about moving to a low-carbon economy, he was dogged with selfish questions of yes-but-what-about-my-bottom-line.

Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau have proved themselves smarter than their predecessors, at least enough to do the old soft-shoe on some folksy rhetoric.  But when you’re going up against a water cannon of cash, you can’t lament the decline of our standard of living.

What they need to do is prove their economic bona fides.

And, on exactly one issue, Trudeau and Mulcair hit Harper where it hurts — on temporary foreign workers.  Even though, as I’ve written, the they-took-our-jobs reactionism is moronic, it has proved effective.

Evidence: the government has scrambled, pivoted, backtracked, and sprung into action to address criticism.

If the opposition parties were ever able to construct an efficient and consistent narrative that the Harper Government is importing cheap labour to replace hardworking Johnny Canuck, the Conservatives’ credibility would take a beating.

Unfortunately for them, the Conservatives appear to be one step ahead of them.  Harper is lucky to have Jason Kenney on the file.

While Trudeau is still trying to make a good of it — he’s gone from advocating that Ottawa should significantly reduce the program, to saying that the government’s plan to reduce the program will hurt Alberta — it appears as though he’s been outmaneuvered.

The opposition leaders need to spend the summer getting ready.  Because underestimating Harper — or overstating dissatisfaction with his party — is going to be a deadly mistake.

330 days, and counting.



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What the hell is the Harper government thinking?
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Follow Justin Ling on twitter: @Justin_Ling

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