Throne speech threatens more than words
I'd like to play poker with Stephane Dion and Gilles Duceppe. And I hate poker. That wouldn't stop me from taking money off two politicians who clearly can't stop themselves from bluffing when everyone knows they have no cards.
Recently, both Dion and Duceppe have come out strong in the press about how they simply cannot support Stephen Harper unless he accepts their various ultimatums. They can make these threats because Canada is currently being governed by a minority. That means the ruling Conservative party has less than half the 308 seats in parliament. To stay in power the Conservatives must pass certain “confidence” votes. This situation necessitates a working relationship between the Conservatives and their opponents on specific issues. Minority governments are most often defeated on money matters. Budgets, typically.
Example: Next spring the Conservative budget halves funding to health care and diverts the savings to commission a giant stature depicting the PM parting the waters of Lake Ontario. There aren't many opposition parties who would support such a budget. The presumption is that neither would Canadians. That's a no-brainer, right? Harper would get a modest statue in bronze, not ivory. A typical Canadian compromise.
Caught you napping. No statues for Harper. Not until he gets a majority.
The PM has to give a Throne Speech on October 16. For some arcane reason of political due process, the opposition parties can vote against this speech, and the official opposition usually does, by unwritten rule. In short, this means that there could be an election called in the days following Oct 16. Less than a week after Ontario chooses a new government. The rush is now on for political parties to flex their muscles in the media while simultaneously hedging their bets in case they change their minds.
What we're witnessing right now is pure political posturing, by everyone. The Cons are “Ready For Anything.” The Bloc's leader, Duceppe, is shaking his fists and making demands. The Liberals and Dion are ready, of course. Just ask them. The NDP is holding their cards close to their chest on the throne speech. And rightfully so, the demand-ultimatum game only works when the opposition parties have credibility, and the NDP doesn't appear willing to sacrifice any of their political capital in mindless gamesmanship.
Poor Dion. He has Iggy Flop's leadership lust to deal with, plus a cratered party, with reportedly no funds to finance an election campaign. His credibility is terrible. A former environment minister from the Chrétien years who is now calling for immediate action? The current leader of the party that put Canada into Afghanistan is now angrily demanding a 2009 end date for the “combat mission”? A leader who couldn't help his team win the Outremont riding in which he lives? Does this sound like a party and a leader ready for a national election?
Duceppe doesn't have as many problems as Dion. But he has less room to wiggle and squirm with a base comprised entirely in Quebec and support for his party slipping. The Bloc lost a seat to the Cons in the latest by-elections, and the provincial arm of the Quebec Independence brigade, the Parti Québécois, was thumped in the recent provincial election. Duceppe has also been slipping up in public. He had actually resigned from the leadership of the Bloc in the spring in order to run for the leadership of the Parti Québécois. When he realized he couldn't win, he went back to the federal stage, publicly more committed than ever.
I find it difficult to believe that Dion and Duceppe want to force a general election. Dion and the Liberals are in no position to campaign. And I suspect they'll find any number of reasons to avoid bringing down the house after October 16. Duceppe and the Bloc find themselves in a rough spot, as well, where the best they can hope for in an election would be to hold onto the seats they already have. The status quo for both parties is safer than risking an election right now.
So all this media bluffing and political posturing amounts to nothing. Except that Dion and Duceppe will have to back down from their hard line stances at some point and do damage control, explain why their demands were not met. They've bluffed themselves into a no-win situation while pushing their last chips of credibility on the table. And all Stephen Harper has had to do is keep his mouth shut and rake in the winnings.