Ottawa abuzz

Ottawa is trying to figure out what to make of Prime Minister Stephen Harper holding his first-ever press conference with the media located in the National Press Theatre… the domain of the Parliamentary Press Gallery.

Speculation is that it must be a significant announcement since it comes at the beginning of a new session of Parliament. The Prime Minister must want to underline something important for him to make such a move.

This press conference comes at the heels of serious hemorrhaging in the Liberal Party with candidates abandoning Mr. Dion and the forced firing of the Liberal leader’s close adviser and national party director.

Harper, of course, will not be calling an election because of legislation passed by the Conservative government on fixed election dates.

I cannot imagine that the announcement with describe any serious policy concession to the Opposition because it seems that not one of the parties on those benches wants to go into an election.

The press conference is to take place at 3:45pm.

Throne Speech and Fall Election

The Parliamentary break is effectively over as Ottawa Hillites are speculating about the future of the government, of Stephane Dion’s career and, of course, about a future election which would significantly affect both.

The traffic levels at Blogging Tories shook off the relatively low summer numbers on the night of the Quebec by-elections and traffic patterns are back up to normal as they were prior to the break. While Parliament has not yet resumed, everyone is hungry for politics.

Everyone, that is, except for the Canadian electorate. Just as I laughed when the Liberals said it back when they had a minority government, the other day I had to chuckle when a heard a Conservative tell a reporter on TV that “Canadians don’t want an election right now”. For people that watch politics, an election is like the Olympics; an election only happens every two years and it’s what the political junkie lives for, and what their “heroes” train for. Politicians and reporters can easily find themselves out of touch with the Canadian reality as they try and match Wellington st. with Main st. Do Canadians want an election right now? It’s pure speculation.

However, we can be sure about a few things concerning this fall in politics. First, the Liberal leader Stephane Dion and the Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe came from quite a beating in those Quebec by-elections a couple of weeks ago. Despite this, Duceppe has released his demands for the throne speech including some particularly difficult requests for the government to meet including the withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan and the cessation of federal spending powers in Quebec. Some say that Duceppe is staking his priorities against Harper to show that the Bloc is the real champion of Quebec’s interests when the Prime Minister inevitably turns him down.

As for Stephane Dion, it is pretty much assured that the professor doesn’t want to fight the Prime Minister at the moment. The Liberal party lacks momentum, especially in Quebec, a traditional stronghold. Dion has also made some lofty demands of the Prime Minister including a similar demand for withdrawal from Afghanistan after February 2009, and a promise to keep the Liberals’ controversial private members bill on Kyoto alive. If the Prime Minister balks at a clear position on both, the Liberals for their sake will at least have two wedge issues to run a campaign on.

Despite this, Dion must not be particularly excited about his prospects. If anyone around him is telling him privately that they are excited about an imminent election, he should fire them now. Dion still has a lot of building (and recovering) to do if he is to even crack Harper’s incumbent seat total, not to mention score a weak minority. As opposition leader, Dion will not vote for the throne speech, but it will be difficult to abstain from it as well as such a move plays towards the “not a leader” narrative and the Conservatives will capitalize on this. Likely, the plan for Dion is to show up, make a symbolic vote against the government but ensure enough of his MPs “have the flu” as would be needed to allow the renewed mandate of the government to pass, but allow him to save face with Canadians. However, if we see too many Liberals show up to defeat the government’s throne speech, it may be a sign of Ignatieff and Rae supporters showing up to eject Dion via election. Pundits will say that Dion couldn’t count that day, however, it may be indicative of some Liberals ready to push Dion on their own sword.

We haven’t been hearing too much from the NDP regarding their demands for the throne speech and I think that this is indicative of their intent to support the government. Layton may have realized that with newly acquired momentum from Outremont, there’s more wedging to be done with the Conservatives to gut the ambiguous Liberal middle both left and right.

No spring election

What follows is a personal theory that I’ve been assembling from observation over the past month. There are only three people, I believe, in the Conservative Party who actually know about an election, and I’m certain that even they squabble over timing.

Here’s my take.

There won’t be an election this spring or summer.

First, the Conservatives have been doing everything in their power to convince us of the opposite. Consider the training conference that the party just held in Toronto. This affair was no small feat and if I were a Liberal watching from the outside, I’d be anxious. Further, the Conservatives just showed off their 17,000 sq. ft. war room to the media. Can you remember a party in recent history that has done something like this? Why show the media one of the cards in your election hand? Again, I believe that this had the effect of sending shock into the spines of Liberal Party officials.

Stephane Dion, and his communications and strategy teams have been reacting to Conservative actions rather than taking the time to forge out their own long-term plan. Instead, the best Dion has been able to muster so far has been to complain that Harper is being “unfair” and that the Conservatives are bullies. The Liberals have not even begun to effectively present and communicate a long term policy plan for Canadians to consider.

Stephen Harper is also enjoying some of the highest polling numbers that he’s ever experienced. He’s got the opportunity to plateau these numbers rather than pick the spike and hope he’s got enough of a gentle slope to ride down on the way to E-day. Back in 2004, when the news came out that Harper was in “majority territory”, this was the kiss of death. Soon after, Ontario voters reacted to the news in order to put Harper back into a comfortable place in their minds.

With respect to comfort, this has been a key aspect of the Conservative plan, in my opinion. Stephen Harper’s strategy has been in part to be the status quo Prime Minister. Harper and his planners have done everything in their power to prevent Canadians from thinking that they’re rocking the boat. Take the latest budget, for example. Conservatives looking for a conservative budget were largely disappointed. “This is a Liberal budget” they exclaimed. The budget was heavy on spending and par for the course for most Canadians. Harper is hardly causing earthquakes in Ottawa. In fact, the more that Stephen Harper can do to be the Prime Minister in the back of the minds of Canadians instead of in the front of their minds, the better.

Harper has indeed been enjoying polling numbers that would give him a majority government. Some analysts have remarked that the best ally that Stephen Harper has is time. The longer that he is Prime Minister, the more that the concept becomes comfortably entrenched in the minds of Canadians. Pair this with Harper’s status quo Prime Ministership and he can ride out high numbers without those numbers themselves becoming an offensive concept in the minds of Canadians. The summer is coming up and most will, as usual, disconnect from politics. The Prime Minister is hoping to be riding high going into the summer so that he can park his numbers there as Canadians get used to the concept of Harper in majority territory.

I’m also getting the feeling that Harper may ride out his numbers far enough so that media observers will go from blaming him from being opportunistic if he were to call an election, to questioning his political acumen for not calling an election with such a good position in the polls.

So, for those of you who think that Harper’s on the verge of calling (or orchestrating) an election, I think that it’s time to reassess. Perhaps that’s only what the Conservatives want you to think.

Then again, maybe they want you to think like me.