Prime Minister Harper has penned the mandate he seeks from Parliament for its next session and Governor General Michaelle Jean will deliver the Speech from the Throne tonight in the Red Chamber in about 2.5 hours time.
Most observers expect that the Prime Minister will be asking a lot of Parliament as Stephane Dion, the Liberal and Opposition leader is weakened by fratricide within his own party. The recent recruitment of former Liberal leadership hopeful John Manley will also allow the Prime Minister to pen a few more ideological lines into the speech and dare Dion to vote against.
There are a few factors which will determine the outcome of any brinkmanship that’s anticipated by some, however. For example, does the Prime Minister want to seek a defensible mandate and extend his term without triggering an election. In some cases, this is an advantageous move for Harper; the more time that he governs, the more of a record he has to run when he finally faces the electorate.
However, Dion is in a wounded state and could eventually recover through his own strategy (more unlikely) or via unforeseen “events” (less unlikely). Depending on the crises and issues faced by the Prime Minister over the next year, public opinion may turn. For example, the economy is healthy right now. What will we see in one year’s time? Should Harper go for an election now?
We can be certain that the NDP and the Bloc will be sure to come out immediately and oppose the Throne Speech claiming that they are they only principled opposition in Parliament to Stephen Harper and that Dion and the Liberals are weak. This will allow Jack Layton to represent the Canadian left and Gilles Duceppe to claim to represent both that constituency and Quebec’s interests. This has the benefit for both leaders of being the anti-Harper choice and of taking away Liberal votes as the Grits try and sort out what they stand for. Almost immediately after the Throne Speech, I can picture Layton claiming that the throne speech favours the rich (if personal tax cuts are a theme), the boardrooms (if corporate tax cuts are mentioned) and that this comes at the expense of “working families”. Duceppe will state that Harper cannot appeal to Quebec’s interests. Layton and Duceppe would also be wise to point out that Dion will not stand up to Harper and that the Liberal leader is ineffective and inconsequential.
Dion is of course between a rock and a hard place. He has few options and none seem to portray him in a good light. Dion does not want to trigger an election for a few reasons. In the best of interpretations it’ll be seen as suicidal and in the worst interpretation it’ll seem absolutely foolish. Further, for this weakened leader, what he doesn’t need is to draw the scorn of a Canadian electorate for precipitating an election that his own deputy declared somewhat prophetically that Canadians “don’t want”.
If Dion votes for the Throne Speech (after demands that Harper won’t meet fully, if at all), he will be seen to be an ineffective opposition leader. In fact, this voting outcome is a very possible scenario; we haven’t heard much pushback from Dion on Harper’s stated goals.
In one scenario we could see Dion voting against the speech with the strategy of showing up with a only a handful of Liberal MPs in order to prevent the fall of government. The Conservatives have 126 MPs, and the Opposition (minus Liberals) has 79 (let’s leave out the 3 independents for the sake of an easier model). This leaves a 47 vote difference that Dion has to make up in order to tie the Conservatives (with the Speaker breaking the tie). Therefore, Dion must have at most 47 MPs show up to vote against the speech, unless he wants to trigger an election (which he most certainly does not want to do). Here’s where Harper could have some fun. The Prime Minister could order 46 of his MPs to be absent from the vote leaving 80 to vote “yay”. With the 79 non-Liberals opposition members with 79 voting “nay”, this leaves Dion to show up and vote alone. Those close to Harper say the man likes to play strategy with the issues rather than with the musical chairs in Parliament. Therefore this final scenario, while amusing, is unlikely.
I do, however, think of it more likely that Dion will eventually vote against the speech. The embattled Liberal leader has to save face and any further wishy-washy behaviour by him will only encourage his enemies within his party.
It is pretty much assured that the NDP and Bloc will seat every member for the Throne Speech vote.
However, if we see Dion vote against, I wonder if we will see if his “honourable friends” in caucus line up behind him, triggering the election that he doesn’t want.
UPDATE AFTER THE SPEECH: Jack Layton won’t support the speech.
Gilles Duceppe won’t support the speech.
Elizabeth May would support the speech, but she hasn’t any members.
Stephane Dion says… ‘uh… we’ll sleep on it’. However, it’s likely that he will support the throne speech after overtures such as “well we knew it wasn’t going to be a Liberal throne speech” and “we’ll let you know tomorrow at 3:15pm” and “no government’s ever been defeated on the Throne Speech”. Although there’s news that members of his caucus are encouraging him to go (election-wise and therefore also into retirement).
If Dion supports the throne speech, the NDP will jump all over them and emphasize that the Liberals are an ineffective opposition. The Conservatives will also continue along the “Stephane Dion is not a leader” line and this is evident in the titling and branding of the Throne Speech, “Strong Leadership. A Better Canada.”