How to Spark an Election Without Really Trying

Note: current standings in the House of Commons:

Conservatives: 127
Liberals: 95
Bloc Quebecois: 48
New Democrats: 30
Independents: 4
Vacant: 4

In my previous post, complaining about the possibility of Stephen Harper going back on his word and violating the spirit of his fixed elections legislation, one thing I could not understand was the need for it. We’ve seen previous minority governments rise and fall. We know that there is an easy way for Harper to live up to his word and still go to the polls, and that is to engineer his own defeat in a confidence motion. Why not take that simple measure when Parliament resumes on September 15?

Theories abound, but one intriguing explanation came from the commentator Breath of Fresh Air from this post:

Well, he COULD if Dion and team would show up in the Commons to vote….

This presumes, of course, that Dion continues to bow to Harper’s confidence motion threats in order to avoid an election, which I doubt. I suspect he himself knows that this tactic is starting to wear a little thin. I also think that he senses that the electorate is more in the mood for an election, now, and with the numbers of all parties going nowhere, there may not be much to lose in going now compared to going later. But then, he might lose that backbone he’s been growing. I won’t know until he goes back to parliament.

You won’t find a fan of Dion’s chickenhearted tactics of ducking confidence measures, here. Centrists such as myself, and many on the progressive side of the blogosphere have been increasingly incensed at Dion allowing flawed legislation to pass rather than risk losing an election. His strategy can be easily labelled cowardly, spineless, leaderless, take your pick… That is, until the Conservative Party starts complaining that Dion won’t take the bait and force an election.

You are a Conservative, why should you be complaining here? Your agenda is being passed piece by piece. Dion is being made to look like a fool. The only place where the Conservatives have any argument that parliament is being obstructed is at the committee level, and most Canadians, I think, won’t see it that way. They’ll note that much of the committee obstruction has been at the Conservatives’ own hands, and repeated complaints about the actions of the committees will lead some Canadians to wonder, just what is it that the Conservatives have to hide? At the very least, it will be seen as the government calling the pot black, and if Harper takes it further and calls an election without losing a confidence vote, breaking his own hyped promise, then it has the appearance of Harper stomping his feet, gathering his marbles and going home.

But if Dion won’t play ball and bring this government down, there is a way to bring the government down yourself, without breaking your fixed election dates law. As an extra bonus, it turns the Liberals’ own tactics against them.

Say you have a bill which has been deemed as a vote of confidence. Better yet, wait for a motion of non-confidence that Layton and his NDP are more than likely to bring forward this fall session. Check your numbers. The NDP and the Bloc Quebecois are likely to stand up as one and vote against the government. If Dion blusters, continues to disparage the government, but says that now is not the time to call an election, get ready. This is where it gets fun.

Give the motion of non-confidence an afternoon, then call a vote. Watch as the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois stand up to vote against it. Now watch the Liberal side. Hopefully Stephane Dion has shown up as the lone Liberal MP to cast his symbolic but ultimately useless vote against the government. Let him justify showing no confidence in this government without accepting the responsibility of bringing it down. Let him vote, let him sit, and then look at his face as he sits across from the Prime Minister, alone in a void of 94 empty Conservative seats, including his entire front bench, about to cast one of only 33 votes in favour of his government.

And then we sit and wait for the Liberal reaction. Will there be a mad rush to their chairs as Liberal MPs stumble in to (giggle) express confidence in this government? Or will there be stoic acceptance that, despite Liberal cowardice, the election that more and more Canadians appear to want is finally happening. Will the motion of non-confidence bring down the government by a vote of 83 to 33?

And if the Liberals complain about the Conservative tactics, just shrug and say, “we were sorry to hear that X number of Liberal MPs were unable to show up to vote, so we thought we’d match their numbers, so that their voice in parliament would be fairly represented,” recalling the Parliament tradition of the government and opposition MPs pairing off on critical votes, so that the absense of an MP on one side due to illness is matched by the absense of an MP from the other side.

If you’re feeling particularly creative, start coming up with funny excuses for each Conservative MP’s absense. I had to walk the dog, and he chased Kyoto up a tree. I was caught in traffic behind a Liberal limo. Deborah Gray ate my portfolio and I had to get a new one. Each time a reporter asks, and gets a funny story to print, it’s yet another reminder that this is exactly what Liberal MPs have done several times this past year.

Yes, it’s a game, but unlike the other foolhardy moves, this is a game that Dion has started. Harper gets the boost from finishing it. He works within the procedures of parliament, and doesn’t violate his own fixed election dates law.

Just a little free advice. Take it for what it’s worth.

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