Dion blew his chances

Flaherty today presented a ho-hum "thin gruel" budget, a clear sign that Harper is in no hurry to go to the polls, notwithstanding the fevered rhetoric of recent weeks. Harper's appetite for an election diminished when he realized that the parties were tied in terms of voter support and the best the Cons could hope for was another minority.

Harper gambled on Afhanistan by talking tough but then compromised on the Liberal amendment. When Dion allowed the Ignatieff and Rae forces to persuade him that he should not go to the electorate on the Afghanistan issue, he lost a major wedge issue on which public opinion favoured the previous Liberal position.

With respect to the budget it clearly was not designed to support a Conservative election campaign. There is no poison bill to force the Liberals to vote to bring down the government. And according to Dion's post-budget statement the Liberals have decided not to provoke an election at this time.

So Dion is left dangling in the wind. The public perception of him as weak and vacillating can only be enhanced by his recent decisions. He may well have blown his only chance to secure a minority government and helped ensure that Harper secures another minority when he finally goes to the polls. Should that occur, Dion will be swept aside and Ignatieff and Rae will tussle for the leadership.

I assume that the Ignatieff and Rae forces have been pivotal in these recent decisions. Certainly it's in Bob Rae's interest to get into the House via the impending by-election, where he can better position himself for a leadership campaign. And Ignatieff, given his stance on foreign policy issues, would not have wanted to campaign on a platform which involved pulling the troops out of Afghanistan in 2009, a platform which might well have led to a Liberal minority and strengthened Dion's position.

But, given the deteriorating state of the Ontario manufacturing industry and the lack of adequate provisions in the budget to address this, many Ontario Liberal MPs will have to hold their noses if the collective decision is to vote for the budget. If, on the other hand, the Liberals abstain (once again), how will they face Ontario voters come election time?


Dion should pull the plug on Harper

It's not going to get any better for Dion. Three out of four national polls this past week put the Liberals and the Conservatives in a virtual tie. Harper's gamble on a tightly managed government focused on the PM has failed. After two years in power Harper is no closer to a majority than on election night in 2006. Meanwhile Stephane Dion has to show some leadership by voting non-confidence in the budget if he is to ever have any hope of becoming PM.

If Dion listens to the Bob Rae faction who want Rae in the House to show his stuff before an election, he is only relinquishing his opportunity to secure a minority government.

The Nanos/SUN media poll released today is evidence enough for me. This shows the Liberals and Conservatives tied at 34%, as did another poll earlier in the week. The Strategic Counsel poll which showed the Conservatives with a 12-point lead and sent shivers through Liberal spines is the clear outlier in the four polls released over the past few days. The other three showed the two main parties in a dead heat. And Nanos called the last the last two federal elections to within a decimal point.

There's everything to lose and nothing to gain for Dion by dithering. The Liberals lost the last election because Martin dithered and dithered and....... The Liberals have a chance at a minority; the best the Conservatives can do is secure another minority. If Dion abstains on or supports the Conservative budget, this will confirm in the minds of most voters that he is afraid of an election.

So it's time to take the plunge. Vote NO, Stephane, and give us a chance to tell Harper what we think of his policies and style of governance. Bring on the election!


Minority government can be good government

Andrew Coyne at Macleans has an excellent column on how minority governments can exemplify parliamentary democracy at its best. He makes a compelling case.


General Hillier should be fired

General Rick Hillier has crossed the line. In the midst of a debate in the Canadian Parliament over Canada's continued role in Afghanistan, Hillier told an association of defence contractors today that prolonged debate is putting the lives of Canadian soldiers at risk. He implied that the suicide bombings in Kandahar this week occurred because the Taliban perceived a political vulnerability and chose to exploit it.

The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have been collaborating to forge a motion that would see Parliament vote to extend the mission with a clear deadline for exit and conditions for staying beyond the original exit date of February 2008.

Hillier's remarks go beyond the pale and represent a crass attempt by the leader of the Canadian military to terminate the Parliamentary debate. Has Hillier forgotten that we live in a democracy and that Parliament, not the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, determines the extent and nature of the commitment of Canadian forces to a foreign conflict.

It's time for the PM to fire Hillier and show the country who's in charge. If not, what's next? A coup d'etat in Ottawa?

Update: Three days, three polls

Today's Toronto Star reported the results of the latest Angus Reid poll, following on the heels of two other polls over the previous two days. According to Reid, voters are still not sold on Tories and appear unwilling to hand Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives a majority government. The poll showed the Conservatives with 34 per cent of the decided vote, the Liberals with 31 per cent, the New Democrats with 17, the Bloc Québécois with 9, and the Green party with 8. This is similar to the earlier poll which indicated the Liberals and Conservatives in a virtual tie. Both of these contrasted with the third which gave the Cons a 12-point lead and close to majority territory.

Reid said: "Two years later the report card is in – Stephen Harper you fail."



Reading the Political Entrails

Two recent polls of Canadians voting intentions, if an election were held today, offered widely conflicting views of the outcome. The headlines read:

Election would be Tory-Liberal dogfight, new poll suggests

Tories flirt with majority support, poll finds

The first showed the Liberals and the Conservatives in a virtual tie. The second showed the Conservatives with 39% support, 12 points ahead of the Liberals. The polls were done over the same days. Clearly both are not correct. The gamble for Stephane Dion is which is closest to the truth. If the Liberals are tied with the Conservatives, then Dion might well vote nonconfidence in the budget next week and take his chances on winning a minority. If the Conservatives have a 12-point lead, then it would be political suicide for Dion to go to the polls right now.

Presumably the parties are doing their own polling and have a clearer sense of voter intentions. Will the budget vote be showdown at the OK Corral or will Dion duck and run once again? Stay tuned!

If the Liberals abstain then Dion might as well resign and pass the reins to another leader.


Obama sweeps Clinton in Potomac primaries

Obama continues his roll to the White House. Today he beat Clinton easily in the Potomac primaries. The people have spoken again. Obama's the man they want in the White House.

Obama handily beat Clinton to win the Democratic primaries in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. He won almost 75 per cent of the vote in D.C. and almost two thirds in Virginia, a state with a large population of military personnel and government workers that was once considered fertile political ground for Clinton.

Hillary has been boxed into a corner. She must win three upcoming primaries in Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania in order to regain momentum and remain competitive. Given that Obama has won seven states in a row, I'm betting that she cannot derail his momentum.

Obama has now piled up victories in 21 states and DC, while Clinton has won in just 12 states.
He has also won more overall votes than Clinton and more "pledged delegates" awarded through the primary process. Hillary is fast on the path to becoming an "also-ran".


Obama on the path to victory

Obama continues to pile up impressive victories in the Democratic primaries and caucuses. Following his impressive showing on Super Tuesday, Obama swept past Clinton in Louisiana, Nebraska, Washington and Maine on the weekend. Hillary is scrambling to block the Obama momentum, having replaced her campaign manager today. It seems likely now that Obama will arrive at the Convention with the most pledged delegates and Hillary's only hope will rest with the so-called superdelegates. If Obama has the most pledged delegates and the superdelegates put Hillary over the top, look out for a grassroots revolt.

I'm betting that it going's to be a tough fight but Obama is going to win the Democratic nomination and after that the Presidency.

Harper on the brink

Election talk is rampant again in Ottawa this week. PM Harper is perceived to be setting traps for Liberal Leader Stephane Dion with the motion to extend the Afghan combat mission to 2011 and a motion calling on the Senate to pass crime legislation by a House of Commons-set deadline. In addition there will be a vote on the budget.

Is Harper really hoping that Dion will vote nonconfidence and precipitate an election or is he hoping that Dion will bob and weave and evade an election? Speculation on Harper's motivations ranges widely. Some perceive that Harper would rather go to a vote now rather than later because his fortunes are on the ebb with an impending economic decline plus a potential shift to the left in the US. Others perceive that Harper is hoping to call Dion's bluff and that Dion will fold again rather than face the electorate. In the background are polls which show that, far from gaining, Harper is having difficulty staying even with the Liberals in the polls despite the widespread perception that Dion is a weak leader.

Time will tell whether Mr. Harper has read the tea leaves correctly.

The other view, and the one I favour, is that Harper has decided he has nothing to gain by waiting and perhaps something to gain by forcing an election now. This assumes that Harper has calculated that he can out-campaign Dion and make up lost ground on the election trail particularly if Dion stumbles as many pundits assume. The pitfall in this gamble is that, if Dion can run a steady even if not a brilliant campaign, Harper may well find himself out of office and facing a Liberal minority in a few months.