Ottawa in frenzy over wide reports of early election

Prime Minister Harper likely to use budget as launching pad for snap federal election

Published on April 21, 2014

So, when is a fixed election law passed by Parliament actually worth the paper it's written on? Apparently, never. Just when we thought a federal election was set for Oct. 19, 2015, there is now widespread speculation that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is spoiling for an earlier vote. Press reports swirling around Ottawa last week suggest a federal election will likely take place next spring, immediately after a surplus budget full of election-like goodies.

A fixed election bill was introduced in 2006, shortly after the Tories won their first minority government. Under the bill, which passed in 2007, Canadians are supposed to go to the polls on the third Monday in October, in the fourth calendar year after a general election. In 2008, Mr. Harper convinced Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean that Parliament had become dysfunctional and should be dissolved, sending Canadians to the polls in an election which gave the government an enhanced minority. That decision later stood up to a court challenge because nothing in the law affected the powers of the governor general to dissolve Parliament.

A non-confidence motion precipitated the May 2011 federal election giving the Conservatives a comfortable majority. But, essentially, unless the PM decides to observe the law, he can very easily get around it.

The Ottawa Hill Times quotes various Tory insiders and opposition parties saying Mr. Harper will trigger an early election to take advantage of next year's expected federal budget with billions of surplus dollars. There is little doubt that if Mr. Harper asks Gov. Gen. David Johnston to dissolve Parliament, it's going to happen, law or no law.

Keith Beardsley, former deputy chief of staff to Mr. Harper, supports the idea for an election immediately after a balanced budget, rather than lose momentum. If the next budget is tabled in February or March, Canadians could go to the polls as early as April or May 2015. The bigger the surplus, the more pressure on the PM to call an early election. All party officials are apparently getting ready for the early vote.

Deputy Liberal leader Ralph Goodale says his party doesn't expect the PM to wait past the spring, and neither does the NDP's new national director Anne McGrath. Green Party leader Elizabeth May also agrees with the spring election scenario.

Governing parties will call an election when it best suits them best politically and the longer Mr. Harper waits, the better the odds that longevity and baggage become liabilities. The longer you're in government, the more likelihood something bad going to happen.

The signs are everywhere. The Conservatives are continuing attack advertising against Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau; the government is increasing ads promoting its Economic Action Plan; and it's taking a hardline position against Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand over his criticism of the Fair Elections Act. Media newsrooms across the nation are also feeling the impact of the Tories full mobilization to a war footing. In recent weeks, hardly a news story is broadcast or published critical of the government, that is not immediately challenged with emails or letters clarifying positions or attacking the critic. The story clipping service in Ottawa is running overtime.

Political parties are already busy nominating candidates in the 338 ridings across the country. Nomination battles among sitting MPs are being caused because of redistribution of ridings. It's best to get those in-party floor fights out of the way now.

P.E.I. is also trying to finalize a date for its next provincial election. Ottawa had intruded into the Island's planned 2015 fall vote but now the prime minister may remove that problem for Premier Robert Ghiz, who is also searching for the most opportune time for an election.