July election on EI? Possible but quite improbable

Is there election fever in Ottawa? This seems to be the question on Parliament Hill whenever we move through the months of May and June in a minority parliament. Of course, the most fevered example was during the late months of spring in 2005 when Stephen Harper’s newly minted Conservative Party tried an assortment of creative parliamentary procedures to take down the Paul Martin government only to be upset by former Conservative leadership candidate Belinda Stronach when she crossed the floor to sit in cabinet.

But in June of 2009, months after an attempt by opposition parties to form a coalition government without vetting of the idea before the Canadian electorate and just months and a few weeks after that electorate returned Stephen Harper to power to deal with the global economic crisis, will we have yet another election?

From the MPs that I’ve spoken to, many believe that it is a real possibility with Michael Ignatieff tabling a confidence motion on Employment Insurance which will paint the NDP into a corner forcing them to support a vote of non-confidence in the government. For Jack Layton, leader of that fourth party in the House, his votes are critical to this government’s survival. Though Mr. Layton’s party is not poised to make any serious gains in an election held in the short-term any failure to deliver – in the context of an embarrassing collapse of the coalition game – will have the party grassroots looking to replace its leader. The next election will be Mr. Layton’s last if he does not perform. Mr. Layton needs more time to explain why he’s still fighting and build a real election plan. NDP executive director Brad Lavigne was in Washington last week meeting with senior Democrats to get a fix on both strategy and tactics. As for NDP confidence, they could easily save face if a number of their MPs had the flu on the day of Ignatieff’s confidence motion.

As for the leader of the Liberal Party, Mr. Ignatieff has an important objective; the man who ran second place to Stephane Dion in a leadership race doesn’t want to go into the summer looking like his leadership predecessor. You’ll recall that when Mr. Dion was leader of the party, his MPs were shamed and embarrassed as Stephen Harper rammed his legislation through while the Liberals feably sat on their hands. While Mr. Ignatieff doesn’t face a caucus revolt over inaction, he does want to appear as though he’s given the Conservatives a rough ride and his party will claim it as a victory as they go into the summer with their heads held relatively high. Strategically, going to an election in July wouldn’t be ideal for Mr. Ignatieff as a $5-6 million Conservative pre-writ ad buy defining the Liberal leader would be much more effective if the Conservative messaging is fresh in the minds of Canadians. On the other hand, despite a $50 Billion projected deficit posted by the Conservatives recently, the Canadian economy is starting to show signs of recovery. If Michael Ignatieff wants to defeat Stephen Harper in an election which which will certainly be defined upon the Conservatives’ traditionally perceived strength (taxes/economy), his advisers are likely telling him that this may be his best chance. Yet Michael Ignatieff’s only visible policy proposal on this has been EI reform.

As for the Prime Minister, he will only precipitate an election if he believes that he can orchestrate a majority win. Many observers now agree that the dissolution of parliament previous to the last election was a defensive measure by the Prime Minister as he read the global economic indicators and found himself staring into an abyss about to rattle Canadians. If we are to have an election, it will be because the Prime Minister would have allowed it; either allowed himself to fall on a Liberal confidence motion, confident on the framing on an election on EI, or because he will orchestrate a political crisis which will upend the polls. For example, polling is moot if the Prime Minister were to frame an election on cutting public subsidy for political parties with the $50 billion deficit to back him up as to why. “If an election were to be held today” is a pointless question when elections are framed, campaigns are waged and events occur to shape electoral intent during a 36 day writ campaign.

An election based upon EI is a ruse. It’s a ruse because it splits voters into two politically inequitable camps: the employed and the unemployed – the latter won’t deliver a win for Ignatieff. It’s a ruse because most Canadian voters have paid more into EI than Michael Ignatieff as the Liberal leader filed his tax returns to British exchequers and American secretaries of the treasury for thirty four years. It’s a ruse, because the man who came second to Stephane Dion is only trying to appear that he has already bested him now after just a couple months as Liberal leader. An Liberal triggered election on EI is a ruse because the Conservatives occupy an entire side of the debate, the other parties will be fighting each other to stake out their position on the issue. Finally, the Liberals need to rebuild their party. They are still only raising money at par with the NDP and of their nominations, I’ve heard that they still have about 200 spots to fill.

An election in July? A dreadful prospect for any opposition party and not ideal for the PM unless the man best positioned to set the stage can line up a major win.



  • Cat

    Well written Stephen. I agree with your perspective. Makes all kinds of sense to anyone but the Liberals it seems to reject throwing the country into an unecessary and unwanted election.

    Good point about MI not having paid into the very EI he now wants changed.

  • Michael

    “…when Stephen Harper’s newly minted Conservative Party tried an assortment of creative parliamentary procedures to take down the Paul Martin government.”

    Like “financial considerations” for Chuck Cadman! That was a VERY creative parliamentary procedure.

  • beaker

    Keep thinking the NDP and Libs are raising funds at the same pace. 1st quarter was $1.8 m for LPC to under $600k for the NDP.

    NDP is on life support financially.

    As far as an election on EI with those employed against those unemployed – you should look at numbers of those employed who fear for their jobs in this climate.

  • Cat

    Yep Ted, we waited for the “shrill partisan spin” to arrive when you did….and today again we haven't been disappointed, but by all means don't let us stop you now that you've puffin pooped your way from Sandy's blog, to Joanne's, to Paul's, and how here.

    Geez…..a sure turn off to a great blogspot because serious Ted, you bring no knew material. Same old, same old.

  • Ted

    And the easy response, surely, is “why is all that stimulus money still sitting on the table? The budget was in January and now it's June. We even waived all these accountability measures to fast track the stimulus money. Just how incompetent is this government?”

  • Ted

    … or in response to the claim “this guy wants an election eight months after the last one”, the easy response would be “The election will be in July. This government has shown us they can't count as we saw with the budget. They can't even count the correct number of months since the last election. How can we continue to trust them with our hard earned tax dollars!!!”


  • Michael

    I think we were writing the same thing at the same time Ted, re: financial considerations! HA!

  • Michael


    That's your side's loss, Steve.

  • Michael

    Sounds like you're having a tough day Cat.

    Of course, if we were awash with scandals, and dropping like a stone in the polls, I'd be upset too.

    Luckily, GST is down to 5%, so you can save a few cents on a coffee and donut to perk you up.

  • terry1


    The throw 'em under the bus party.

  • Ted

    Not bad, Stephen. A thoughtful and thorough analysis devoid of the shrill partisan spin that has sometimes invaded your commentary of late or during an election build up.

    You are utterly wrong, of course, but it doesn’t come off as much like a Conservative talking point memo.

    You are wrong because, even if the starting issue is EI, Canadians won’t split based on employed and unemployed. More importantly, EI would just be the starting gun. It would very quickly get taken over by far broader issues like lack of government competence and accountability, the government’s fiscal craziness, their lack of any plan to deal with the Harper deficit, and other issues of that sort.

    The last two elections the media has assisted the Conservatives in making the Liberal leader the issue and ignoring the Conservative leader. You generally get to do that for one maybe two elections. This time, I’m pretty sure the media won’t give Harper the same free pass and all focus will be where it should be: the Prime Minister.

    (You did make me laugh out loud though when you wrote “an assortment of creative parliamentary procedures” to try to bring the Liberals down. Is that how you refer to Cadman’s “financial considerations” these days? That is creative.)

  • michael st paul’s

    It’s time for the MSM to take the summer off. All must be mentally and creatively exhaused from endless whipping the Canadian public since last December. The MSM needs to chill out by the lake. Take in a few sunrises and sunsets. Read some good fiction. Contemplate their good fortune in living in the greatest, richest country on earth. In the MSM’s absense, Parliament can wind up the current session and Canadians can focus on their personal needs and interests instead of manufactured agendas.

    Let’s have a straw poll, Stephen. Those in favor of the MSM taking the summer off say “aye”.

    Michael St. Paul’s

  • Michael Read

    An election campaign on EI? There's a good way to stifle real reforms into shrill, ideological. partisan talking points. I spent five years as a self-employed contractor. Since the law says I can't lay off or fire myself, do I get a break on EI to stash into a rainy day fund? No, I get to pay both the employer and employee contributions, four times as much as the typical worker pays into the system. In five years, I've probably paid around $30,000.00 into the system. Since I decided to go back to school and get my doctorate, can I use some of the EI I've paid into the system to finance my education? No, as the employer, I'm not eligible for any of these programs. They're for laid off employees and the employer can't lay himself off. Does Michael Ignatieff want to help me? No, he wants to make it easier for Ontario auto workers and seasonal workers to collect. The ugly truth is for the system needs the self-employed to pay in and be unable to collect to have enough liquidity to be sustainable during high payout years (like now).
    “Employment insurance” is total misnomer. It's really an unemployment subsidy, with the employed subsidizing the unemployed. I don't have a problem with this, but call it what it is.

  • Michael

    Really, because I thought the election was Dion's poor English and weak leadership.

    “Dion. Not a leader”

    Remember that? Which is why the Green Shift was analyzed solely on the basis of its worth as a strategy, rather than as a policy.

  • Michael

    You must be getting dizzy with that kind of spin!

    David Emerson would be a better comparison there, dude. Cadman; now that's a special scandal, that!

  • Michael

    I sense your anti-intellectualism, and it's rather disturbing.

    Go back to high school.

  • Michael

    Hahahaha. The numbers don't lie. You've lost Quebec, lost some of Ontario, and gained nowt elsewhere. Iggy's been in charge, effectively, for more than 1/2 a year now. There's no bump; just a slow and steady climb to the top; a spot we'll be maintaining, what with all the scandals and balls dropping on your side of the House.

  • Michael

    Why don't you head on down to Harvard. You might learn something.

  • Just Commenting

    Do you watch the news? Or just Conservative attack ads?

    Dion's inability to speak the english language wasn't an issue until his Ted Kennedy impersonation at the end.

    Go back to Harvard.

  • Just Commenting

    Remember brown envelopes of cash being distributed at italian restaurants in Montreal?

    Go back to Harvard.

  • Just Commenting

    I sense your inability to deal with the facts of a situation.

    Go back to Harvard.

  • Just Commenting

    Because I'm not running for election.

    “If I am not elected, I imagine I will ask Harvard to let me back.” – Michael Ignatieff.

    Go back to Harvard.

  • Truth

    Do Canadians want an election? The polls say no.
    Do the majority of MP's want an election? Clearly the answer is no.

    Does M. Ingatieff want an election? Yes.

    Michael Ignatieff is only in it for himself, once again.

  • A reader

    A fairly good overview, but perhaps a few details need a bit of work. For example, any Liberal confidence motion on EI would likely only take place after either a thumbs-down by the government on the NDP EI bill that all 3 parties are supporting, or a thumbs-up on an amended version of it supported by the government. The NDP wouldn't be very embarrassed in the first case, and would have a pretty good reason for not voting down the government in the second (i.e., not wanting Parliament dissolved while the bill went on to the Senate).

    Your commenter Calgary Junkie is not quite right either on the NDP pooling resources in a big pot with its provincial sections, since that would be illegal. They did vacate fundraising room during the Ontario and Saskatchewan leadership races and the BC and Nova Scotia provincial elections, which did affect their first quarter and will likely affect the second quarter as well. But their balance sheet was always better than the Liberals' and they don't have to pay for the much-more-expensive two-level federal structure that the Liberals maintain, or pay any office rent either … as they own their own building. Not exactly on “life support”, whatever your commenter beaker says, but they haven't nominated any candidates yet either.

    I don't have any take on what the Bloc might do, however, so I'd like to read more about that from people. They are actively renominating their incumbents, though, and had a very good first quarter of fundraising, so they're in decent shape.

  • Calgary Junkie

    Further to what beaker is saying, I read somewhere that the NDP pools all their donations to the federal and provincial parties. It’s all one big pot of money, they all draw from. So they’ve just spent on B.C. and Nova Scotia elections. Plus they spent around $18 million in the October federal election. They must surely be tapped out, and in no shape to fight a summer election.

    Knowing all this, Iggy’s main motivation with his saber rattling is to embarass the NDP into propping up Harper. It doesn’t seem like much to me, gaining some talking points over Layton, and “heads held high” for his MPs.

    One downside for Iggy is that we can spin a non-confidence motion as: “In the middle of a recession, with all this stimulus money sitting on the table, this guy wants an election eight months after the last one ?! See, we told you, he’s not in it for Canada, he’s only in it for himself”.

  • Beer and Popcorn

    This is why in my view Ignatieff is so desperate for an election. He and the Rosedale elite know that the stimulus package is kicking in and (gasp) – working. This would be a DISASTER for the Liberal$, who have continued to hammer the governement that they don't know what they are doing when it comes to the economy,

    Here's some highlights:

    - Overall, the Canadian economy is expected to contract 2.2 per cent this year, and grow 2.5 per cent next year.

    - “Canada, and many other countries around the world, are expected to piggyback on the renewed momentum being generated by the globe's primary economic engines, the United States and China.”

    My view is that our export-based economy (particularily oil and gas, gold and paper and forest products) should fare extremely well if the consumer in the US and China start to feel better about economic prospects and start to spend. I think we will actually fare BETTER than the manufacturing-based economies of China and the US.

    This my friends, is the road to a majority.


  • Steve

    CatTed’s a ***** Liberal that’s all, nothing more ,nothing lessSteve

  • rabbit

    Your last point is the most pertinent. Ignatieff will attempt to force an election when the Liberal party is organized and flush with cash. Before then, they're all bark.

  • Just Commenting

    Hey Ted,

    Were you even here for the last two elections?

    I seem to remember the last campaign being predominantly about Harper making cuts to culture and not having a plan for the economy until the very end when Dion pulled a Ted Kennedy. And in 2006, Harper was putting out an announcement every day and dominating the news cycle.

    Go back to Harvard.

  • http://www.thepolitic.com/ Sean Calder

    Stephen, let’s not forget the BLOC portion of this equation. Recent polls have indicated that the current overall growth of the LPC numbers is a direct result of LPC gains against the BLOC in Quebec. Outside of Quebec, the Conservatives have lost little support, even if the LPC and the NDP would have us believe otherwise.

    As such, I doubt that Gilles Duceppe would be overly anxious to go up against Michael Ignatieff’s apparent charisma in Quebec just now. As such, I think we can rely on the BLOC to handle Quebec for the time being. Another blog in the BT group mentioned that there are several MPs in Quebec who would stand to lose their pension guarantees should they not get re-elected in a summer election, many (ironically) are BLOC members. Go figure.

    Still, I think it would change the overall dynamic of Conservative fortunes in the country if just once we could establish a Majority without having to rely on Quebec. That also may send a clear and important message both to Canadians and the Quebecois.

  • Just Commenting

    What financial considerations did Belinda get out of an increased salary as a cabinet minister, use of government jets and a tax-payer pro-bono limousine?

    Go back to Harvard.

  • Just Commenting

    Liberals have money? Where was the response to the Conservative Ads? Oh, that’s right. A YouTube video. Nice pea-shooter you got there guys. Even Stephane Dion was able to actually make ads in response, even if he didn’t have the money to run them.

    Sounds like both opposition parties are in dire financial straights.

    Go back to Harvard.

  • Just Commenting

    Dropping like a stone? Last time I checked the Conservative were doing no worse in the polls than they were under the entire Dion tenure. In fact, Dion actually had the Liberals into majority territory at one point early after becoming leader.

    Michael Ignatieff couldn’t beat Stephane Dion in an election. Now he can’t beat Dion’s polling numbers.

    Go back to Harvard.

  • Just Commenting

    Hey Terry,

    Where have you been? Remember when Paul Martin threw all those bureaucrats and Quebec Liberal organizers under the bus for AdScam?

    Go back to Harvard.

  • MaryT

    M. Read, did you pay into EI on behalf of other employees or just yourself. In 1996 the maximum EI earnings was 39,000. and the maximum payment for an employee was 729.00. The employer would pay 729.x 1.4% or 739.21.
    In 2008 the maximum payment was 711.00, a decrease for employees of 18.00. This would also reduce the amount the employer had to pay.
    In over 40 years of doing payroll, accounting etc for self-employed people, they have never paid into EI.
    Even corporations where the major employees were shareholders, they also never paid EI.
    I question your figure of paying around 30,000 into EI over 5-6 years, on your own behalf.
    There is a box to check to be exempt from paying into EI or CPP. (collecting cpp and still working)

  • jm

    And the easy response to your easy response Ted,surely, is “does this guy really understand how things work. Or does he just spin and put out liberal talking points”.

  • Liz J

    Ignatieff has already said he would go back to Harvard. Does that not sound like if Canadians don't choose him for PM, he has no interest in remaining here?

  • Jenny

    Stephen your missing the point…..The most pressing issue facing Canadians today is that the Liberals aren't in power. No matter what the cost, no matter what the citizens of this country want, we will do whatever it takes to get the only party in Canada that has a right to govern this country back in power.

    I find it amazing that people will choose to support Iggy even though they know none of his policies, and the policies we have heard…… they seem to disregard. For example, his backing of torture, his plan to raise the G.S.T, his backing of the invasion of Iraq, his general support of George W. Bush.

    I am a liberal supporter…I care not what happens to my country and I stand for nothing. I don't care what policies are placed upon my country as long as they are made by a guy pretending to be a liberal.

  • Jenny

    I am surprised that the Liberals wouldn't have bailed out the Ontario Auto industry. Becaseu by whineing about the deficit that is essentialy what they are saying.

  • Observant

    The question that must be answered is: How secure is Ignatieff's leadership of the Liberal party? Surely the BobRae left wing of the Liberal party must be suffering under Iggy's sordid past political record while a “we Americans” Harvard history professor!

    Notwithstanding the unpreparedness of the Liberal party organization, this June and July may be the most opportune window of opportunity for the Liberals to even win a minority government. If Iggy passes on a snap election, or is unable to precipitate a snap election, he will be facing an even more virulent batch of CPC attack ads when Parliament reconvenes after the summer recess. Is that what the Liberals want to look forward to ? … after all Ignatieff will be the face that sells the Liberal party to the Canadian electorate, and if he has subliminally lost his credibility, the Liberal message will be for naught.

    It could be now or never for Iggy, because if he fizzles he might not even get his kick at the election can with lefty Liberal knives unsheathed … and then just return to Harvard for the September fall semester …!!!

  • Michael

    Clear something up for me: elected as what?

  • Omanator

    Sean you are absolutely correct. The Block is not going for it. In fact the Block is now posting negative adds about Ignatieff. They are afraid they might loose. They have some work to do and are not going to support a defeat in the house.

  • Omanator

    Beer and Popcorn. It appears the Banks are also foreseeing a faster recovery. Long term Mortgage rates over 5 and 6 years have already been raised. The problem is the strong dollar and the raise of oil prices could lead to an inflationary spiral which would then have to be offset by higher interest rates. The way I see it we may have a window of two to three month before this is going to happen. In any event our economy is in better shape than the screeming opposition parties want us to believe.

  • Omanator

    Observant. Iggy alone can't do it. I don't think the Block will support him.

  • Ted

    It's a fine coalition you have there, desperately clinging to power with the support of the socialists and separatists.

  • gimbol

    “For example, polling is moot if the Prime Minister were to frame an election on cutting public subsidy for political parties with the $50 billion deficit to back him up as to why”

    Mr. Taylor, I believe you are hinting at something. May I be so bold that if someone in CPC HQ and also in the PMO are to get wind of this that an election where day one the PM promises to do away with this subsidy will frame the election.
    The premise is that when a question is put to voters where there is no middle ground you end up with the conservative choice on one side and the rest of the parties splitting the vote on the other side.
    This is particularly true when the liberal leader is trying to move his party to the right. Ignatieff would understand the appeal such a platform plank would have under the current economic climate, but his party organizers, the bulk of the party, and the chretienites would be repelled by such a thing and it would be ever so hard for Iggy to oppose such a promise when his heart just isn’t in it…and it would show if he got questioned about it.

    But lets not stop there.

    Lets suppose Harper decides to put Iggy in the fish or cut bait position and tables a bill that does away with that particular subsidy. The NDP and the Bloc would immediately make their intentions known that they would be voting against, that would leave Iggy last out of the starting gate and staring the “coalition” moniker square in the face. He was for it when Dion was leader, then after he had Dion thrown under the bus he said it was a bad idea. What would happen if yet again the opposition tried the coalition trick again?
    I remember the outrage at the thought of the Bloc being part of the government and I can say with a great deal of confidence that an election that was started because all the opposition parties didn’t want to give up their subsidy, which forced the liberals to run on a platform of forming a government with the Bloc would see no seats going to the liberals, or the NDP.
    My confidence is also sure that the liberal brain trust knows this too.

  • Cynical observer

    Speaking of Randy H bear videos…….I find it hilarious that there was a 3 minute news item, on a bear sighting in Aurora – like it was a big deal. Since some geniuses in office towers in Toronto decided a few years ago to appease a handful of animal activists and cancel the spring bear hunt, here in Northern Ontario, right in the middle of cities, we have bear sightings almost every day. Glad to see they are now showing up near the office tower geniuses who make these ridiculous decisions. Just need a couple more to show up, and then it'll be “an important issue”, and the dingbats that make these decisions can correct their mistakes.

  • gimbol

    Oh and there is one more reason the liberals won’t force an election for the summer.


  • Gabby in QC

    Since I am very poor at making any kind of predictions, I will abstain …
    Oh, what the heck, I'll go out on a limb and say yes, get ready for an election soon.

    What is my prognosticator?
    The fact that my MP (yep, a Liberal, I'm sorry to say) sent a tabloid-sized 8 page advert about his activities, his accomplishments, how much he cares, blah blah blah.
    The only time this guy sends out such propaganda is when an election is near.
    I'd much rather be wrong, though.

  • David

    There will not be an election. The Bloc win seats by splitting the federalist vote.That isn't happening now. If it comes to a strong possibility then there are a few tricks the gov't can do if it really wants to avoid an election. Paul Martin found a way to do just that. Ignatieff has already proven to be full of shit on these matters.He is bluffing, just as he was on 2 or 3 other occasions.