Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Why Stephen Harper will call an early election in spring 2014

George S. Patton
I expect the Throne Speech in late January 2014 to be the timing for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to dissolve Parliament and call for an election in the spring of 2014, rather than wait for the legislated October 2015 date.

The Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau are targeting a spring election a year later:

“We’re building a (campaign) approach that’s very much flexible. I think one of the aims we’re working at is spring of 2015,” he said, noting that Harper has ignored his own law in the past.

Paul Wells in his Macleans article, does not expect a spring 2014 election:

Soudas will be busy: after years of effort and millions of dollars spent, the Conservatives don’t have the updated and functional database they wanted; they have 338 candidates to nominate; and they are not sure what their message for an election is supposed to be. There was speculation that Soudas’s arrival signals the possibility of a snap spring election (the Harper-departure narrative has already vanished down the memory hole), but the party has a stunning amount of heavy lifting to do before it will be able to snap much of anything. I have never been willing to bet that Harper would wait until October 2015 for an election, no matter what the never-obeyed “fixed election date law” might say; my belief that he could well jump the gun played a big role in deciding when to publish my book about him. But neither does he seem to be in any shape to call an election in the next few months.

Having said that, before the Conservatives’ opponents start to moonwalk and high-five in celebration of the party’s disarray, they should remind themselves that in the summer of 2005, the party HQ was in a similar mess. That’s when Ian Brodie and Doug Finley swapped places at the leader’s office and the party HQ, and six months later, Stephen Harper had defeated Paul Martin.

I have 5 reasons why I believe Harper will call such an early election.

He will channel General George S. Patton:

George S. Patton has a stark lesson for Stephen Harper with this belief:

Nobody ever defended anything successfully, there is only attack and attack and attack some more.

Patton knew a thing or two about fighting battles under severe conditions. And his DNA was very similar to that of Stephen Harper (attack ruthlessly), as this piece of wisdom by Patton illustrates:

"In landing operations, retreat is impossible, to surrender is as ignoble as it is foolish. Above all else remember that we as attackers have the initiative, we know exactly what we are going to do, while the enemy is ignorant of our intentions and can only parry our blows. We must retain this tremendous advantage by always attacking rapidly, ruthlessly, viciously, and without rest."
George S. Patton in a good mood

Stephen Harper brought the American style of continuous campaigning to Canada. And along with that, he brought a ferocity and ruthlessness that others had not displayed so consistently. Ask past Liberal leaders. They have the scars to prove it. Ask Mulcair – he has scars as well, shaped by the finely honed Conservative attack machine.

To suffer death by a thousand cuts just is not Harper’s style. Given the choice open to him, I believe Harper’s attack-genes will propel him into a gamble early next year.
He will do a pre-emptive strike before the Senate scandal hits the courts:

Right now Harper is wearing the Senate scandal around his neck like a millstone, and the Mounties are just preparing the ground for possible criminal charges. The Conservatives are being hammered by the daily drumbeat about the Senate and other scandals, as Norman Spector pointed out:

Also in June, Norman Spector, former Chief of Staff of Brian Mulroney, told CKNW radio that Harper may not have any choice but to resign.

"I think that he's so mishandled [the Senate expense scandal] that people are so suspicious now that I can't think of any other ways other than offering up his own head to put this scandal to bed," he said.

"My own view is the Conservatives will be much stronger going into the election with a fresh new leader. But more importantly, I don't see many ways for Harper to dispel the Senate, Duffy, Nigel Wright [affair] for many many more months."

Since the summer, things have gotten worse and people still don't believe Stephen Harper and his 'I knew nothing' Senate scandal defence.
Unfortunately for the Conservatives, the scandal isn't going away anytime soon.

The voter suppression trial and especially the possible coming Senate scandal criminal charges won’t go away. 

If the Mounties release further painstakingly detailed requests for further evidence compulsion, and then lay out a case to support criminal charges against some Senators and others in the PMO, things will get very tricky for the governing party. The longer they wait to call an election, the more time for these revelations to burst forth.

Imagine going into a 2015 election with several criminal trials starting up!

That’s why I believe Harper is considering a pre-emptive strike to avoid this coming storm. A spring 2014 election short-circuits the whole slew of scandals, and allows Harper to dramatically change the channel during the short campaign.

He will attack Justin Trudeau as not yet ready for prime time:

This is not a surprise – the Tories have been running ads about Trudeau being in over his head for some time now. But they believe their ads are gaining traction as Iveson points out:

They point out the campaign to present Justin Trudeau as a lightweight who can’t be trusted to run the economy is hardly out of the gate yet. They say the idea that the early Conservative attack ads have backfired is specious. Research from both parties suggest voters believe it is inevitable that Mr. Trudeau will be prime minister one day. But it also suggests they don’t think he is ready yet and the Tories will help reinforce that impression.

A spring campaign would mean millions spent on ad after ad hammering home this theme. It is a tough one for Trudeau to deflect, as the House will not be in session, and the country (and all parties) will be thrust into the turmoil of an early election.

The Liberals are still in a building phase:

All three parties will have to speed up their nomination processes, as there will be 338 seats to fill. 

However, the Tories are better prepared for this, as they have far more functioning riding associations than the Liberal Party or the NDP have.

Striking now will catch the Liberals in the rebuilding phase, before things are properly organized. The Conservatives are still winning the fund raising game, by a fairly large margin, and can expect their hardcore supporters to flood their coffers. The LPC and NDP will also gain more donations, but probably will go into a spring 2014 election with significantly smaller war chests.

Trudeau will be caught with a party that has a lot of rebuilding to do, and has no declared and settled party policy for the early 2014 election. 

Policies will be adopted at the February 20-23 2014 Montreal convention, which might be in the middle of a six-week election campaign. Until that convention, the Liberal Party has no agreed policies for fighting the next election.

Where would that leave Justin Trudeau? 

Right where the Harper Tories want him: thrust into the public limelight on a daily basis during the campaign, rushing around trying to organize fund raising, candidate nominations and platform planks.

Just the kind of chaotic situation which might trip up a relatively green party leader, and help Harper to further cement his Not Ready for Prime Time attack theme.

Harper will run as the Parliamentary reform party:

Harper came to power promising reforms in Ottawa. He claimed to be Mr. Clean, running against a morally bankrupt Liberal Party. 

Now, that claim is tarnished, and the longer he waits and the more revelations that see the light of day, the more tarnished Mr. Clean will be.

How to overcome this?

By dramatically setting the ballot question as one of substantial political reform, as I have written about in earlier posts.

He can run on abolishing (or substantially reforming) the Senate, and on other items of House reform. There are dozens of working ideas that other governments are using successfully – such as the Conservatives in the UK under David Cameron. It won’t take a lot for Harper to cobble together a platform that his party can spend millions on presenting as real reform, from the stable Conservative government.

Remember the short period of our elections – a few weeks and they are over.

Both the Liberal Party and the NDP are not well positioned to counter this reform thrust by Harper. Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau have avoided discussing the realities of our split progressives. They have decided not to openly address the issue of a possible coalition (based on an agreed platform) designed to replace the Harper government. And Trudeau has turned his back on dramatic steps to drag our country into the political space occupied by most modern democracies (which use some form of proportional representation to make each vote count).

Harper has a 50-50 chance at worst of making this ballot question work in the early months of 2014, rising to a better than 70% chance – in my view – if he gets his act together and offers Canadians meaningful reform.

What the Liberal Party has to do to prepare for a spring 2014 election:

Even if the best of the Liberal Party’s brains trust vehemently disagree with my analysis, they have to consider one simple question: What if I am right?

And then the Liberals have to set up a quick response team, with a mandate to prepare a plan to meet an early 2014 election, rather than a 2015 election.

That plan has to cover methods to accelerate the nomination of candidates (can the party afford to lose half the time of the election campaign holding nomination contests for MP candidates in each riding, or should it revert to an emergency exception and revert to past methods?).

That plan has to cover massive fund raising drives, to cover the costs of the formidable attacks by Harper’s Conservatives.

That plan has to provide Justin Trudeau with a set of clearly defined, focused, winnable policies to fight the early election on (without waiting for the February convention to debate policies).

And that plan has to provide Trudeau with a set of hard hitting political and electoral reforms to counter my expected Harper reform-ballot question.

These steps are the very minimum that the party has to take to prepare in December 2013 and January 2014 the possibilitie of a snap spring 2014 election.


  1. A great article indeed and a very detailed, realistic and superb analysis, of this issue, very nice write up, Thanks.DurastallTM Australia is the leading
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  2. They have decided not to openly address the issue of
    a possible coalition (based on an agreed platform) designed to replace the
    Harper government.

    And that is why King Stephen will reign again

  3. Though there may be merit to your theory of an early election call by the Harper government, yet another deceitful position will be displayed for the citizens and electorate to consider which may further negatively impact on the governing parties credibility. This will only cement the loss of the blue libs and substantiate the far lefts reasoning to, even temporarily, abandon the NDP in favour of the LPofC. I think you discount the actual growth and positioning of the federal Liberals renewal, especially in central Ontario and La Belle Province. From an insiders perspective in Ontario at least, the LPofC is broaching the subject of riding re-distribution closely and attentively.

  4. Both Nathan Cullen (NDP) and Joyce Murray (LPofC) share continuing support in their vision of ensuring the defeat of the Harper government through some form of a coalition that could lead to a joint progressive effort to revise our democratic institutions and regulations at the federal level - don't discount the discussions that will inevitably be taken in this regard - bottom line, we must rid ourselves of this regressive regime and thoughtful reasoning on this objective will be pursued.

  5. Rural Roots, what do you mean by "riding re-distribution"? The new 338 ridings for the next election? Or some pre-election cooperation between parties?

  6. The new 338 ridings for the next election would be the correct interpretation here Glenn - any pre election cooperation between the parties, though an enviable goal, seems out of the leaders focus at the moment. There have been discussions in our central Ontario riding between the NDP, Greens and the Liberal party members - such communications are currently peripheral but are likely to regenerate prior to the regulated federal election, or if the writ is dropped prior to the anticipated 2015 date, once the call is made.

  7. Sure it is possible that we shall be treated to an early election. As far as a Tory democratic reform platform, it would be pretty easy to stifle it. Justin Trudeau has been talking reforms since day 1, open nominations, supporter category of open membership, more open votes. If the CPC were to place all their eggs in that basket, then the Liberal democratic reform policy just needs to be as believable as the Harpers, and it's game over for the Conservatives. Look at the numbers on credibility of the leaders, and Harper is increasingly distrusted, and Trudeau is seen as perhaps a little naive, but truthful and trustworthy.The Conservatives hope to leverage the naivity, but it will not help them if few people believe what they have to say.

    Nominations could be tense though, and you are probably right that an election in 3-4 months would leave the EDA's in disarray. But it would only take a few weeks advance warning to get nominations well under way, and since the Conservatives could not just spring it on their Party by surprise... Time will tell what happens


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