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UPDATE: Federal election speculation continues

Sun Media quotes Prime Minister Stephen Harper saying, “I think the Canadian people don’t want an election. I think there is no reason for an election,” on Thursday during a press conference in Rabat, Morocco, where he announced the beginning of free-trade talks with the North African nation. And yet at about the same time, the Globe and Mail reported, “Finance Minister Jim Flaherty (at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland) is predicting a 50-50 chance of a federal election over his March budget, even though he says he’s willing to pepper it with opposition demands.”

So election speculation continues. Here are excerpts from a few news reports, columns and polls to inform this a bit more:

CAMPAIGN ISSUE (PARTY FINANCING): James Travers of the Toronto Star writes, “Stephen Harper is risking a great Canadian success by soothing one of the country’s rawest irritants. Ending public subsidies for political parties – Conservative code for, among other things, getting separatist Bloc Quebecois fingers out of the federal purse – is a feel-good exercise rippling with bad omens for national unity. …Opposing subsidies is also good politics for the Prime Minister. It appeals to his party’s libertarian, stand-on-your-own-feet ethos while positioning opponents as weak, needy and grasping. And, perhaps best of all, it holds out the promise of a future Commons majority if the Bloc looses the financial means to maintain its stranglehold on Quebec seats. Unfortunately, what’s good for the ruling party isn’t always what’s best for the country.”

CAMPAIGN ISSUE (CORPORATE TAX CUTS): Postmedia News reports, “As MPs return to Parliament Monday, corporate taxation is emerging as a central issue in the game of political chicken being played by federal political parties — one that could plunge the nation into another election this spring. Michael Ignatieff vows a Liberal government would roll back a corporate tax cut that came into effect this month, as well as another that kicks in next January. The Harper government has vigorously defended the cuts, saying they are key to creating jobs and keeping the recovery on track.” You can read some counter-analysis on this at

TIMING OF THE BUDGET AND ELECTION: Susan Delacourt at the Toronto Star has reported that, “The Conservatives are planning for a March 29 election—at least according to one fundraiser placing calls for the party on Friday. …(But) a March 29 election would have to be called sometime before Feb. 22 for a minimum, 36-day campaign. But since the Commons is not sitting that week in February, it’s assumed the election would be kicked off simply by Harper paying a call on the Governor-General and asking for Parliament to be dissolved. Or he could do that anytime in the coming days and weeks. Parliament is set to resume on Monday but a budget isn’t supposed to be unveiled until late March.” As we’ve previously noted, a spring election – or no election for another year – is informed by the five provincial elections – including one in Ontario which holds 106 seats in the House of Commons – that will take place this fall,

BLOC QUEBECOIS: Postmedia has also reported that, “(The Tories) will face a stiff opponent in the Bloc Quebecois, which remains strong in its home province and could again thwart Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s bid for a majority government should an election be called. The party, which has an eight-point lead over the Conservatives in Quebec… Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe said last week the BQ will vote against the next budget, expected in February or March, if Quebec does not get a sweeping $5-billion redress. The Harper government could fall over the federal financial plan if it doesn’t secure the support of at least one opposition party.”

SUPPORT: The most recent EKOS survey conducted for CBC News puts the political party popular vote at: Conservatives (35.4 percent), Liberals (27.9 percent), New Democrats (14.8 percent), Green Party (9.8 percent), and the Bloc Quebecois (9.7 percent).

KEY RIDINGS: Postmedia News has reported that, “Toronto is in for a lot of attention in the next federal election. Picking up one or more of the city’s 23 seats is a goal that has so far eluded Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in their quest for a majority. And Toronto won’t be the only urban battleground. Harper needs to expand his party’s base in Canada’s other largest cities — Vancouver and Montreal — and the Tories have been hard at work in all three urban cores trying to do just that as speculation builds about a possible election this spring. …An analysis of voting results over the last three elections in 2004, 2006 and 2008 shows that the percentage of the total vote in Toronto has consistently dropped for the Liberals, while it has risen steadily for the Conservatives in more than half of Toronto’s ridings.”

COALITION: Chantal Hebert writes in the Toronto Star that, “An election that reflected current poll standings would see the Conservatives beat the Liberals by 40 to 60 seats, leaving the combined sum of New Democrat and Liberal MPs well short of a parliamentary majority. As in December 2008, the two could not form a stable and viable government without arriving at some sort of understanding with the Bloc Québécois. But the 2008 plan triggered a backlash that swiftly propelled the Conservatives into majority territory in the polls. Based on the numbers, quite a few NDP and Liberal supporters were uneasy at the prospect of their parties relying on a sovereignist ally to operate a fragile federal government. If anything, the optics of entering into an arrangement with the Bloc have deteriorated since then.” That said, “EKOS also asked respondents ‘If you were forced to choose between a Conservative government led by Stephen Harper and a coalition government made up of Liberals and New Democrats and led by Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, which would you prefer?’ Forty-one per cent of respondents said a Conservative government, while 39 per cent said a coalition. The survey question did not mention any potential participation of the Bloc Québécois, which signed a pledge to support the failed 2008 Liberal-NDP coalition agreement between Stéphane Dion and Layton.”

The Council of Canadians will continue to track all of these developments and ensure that we have the most effective intervention in a federal election and that we are able to raise key issues of concern to Canadians. Our positioning in the last several elections has been to focus on issues, and to strongly call for a fairer voting system through proportional representation, but also to state that the best likely outcome is a minority government with the balance of power held by progressive parties.