Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Election 2015: Is the Liberal Party ready for October 20th?

Who will be our next PM? Probably Harper
We vote on October 19. It will be a cliffhanger, with final results only out early the next day. A minority government is possible, as the Poll Tracker shows with today’s results:

The Poll Tracker's polling average currently awards the Tories 29.3 per cent of the vote and between 99 and 139 seats nationally, compared to 32.3 per cent and 110 to 139 seats for the first-place NDP. The Liberals, with 27.3 per cent support and a projected range of 77 to 110 seats, have a better chance of finishing second in the seat count than at any time since April.

But what happens on October 20?

Is Justin Trudeau ready for the fast and furious actions that will be required of his party that very day?

Stephen Harper will have first dibs on trying to form a government even if he only wins the second or third highest number of seats (my underlining):

In Westminster systems, in minority situations, the incumbent government usually has the first opportunity to attempt to win the confidence of the House. This is so even if the incumbents have fewer seats – the incumbent prime minister still holds his or her commission for the duration of the writ period and immediately following an election.

If (s)he cannot form a government that commands the confidence of the House then it is expected that (s)he will resign that commission voluntarily – it is not considered acceptable for the Sovereign (or her representative) to revoke said commission unless the prime minister was acting in serious breach of constitutional protocol.

Nevertheless, usually an incumbent government that loses its plurality in the House simply resigns, especially if the main opposition party is only a few seats short of having a majority or if it feels it has no chance of winning the support of enough members of smaller parties to win an initial confidence vote.



Nevertheless, the now-common practice of the party with the most seats forming the government has led to a widespread misconception among voters that a convention exists whereby the party with the most seats always gets to form the government. In fact, the most compelling reason for this practice is that the party with the most seats can survive confidence votes so long as the smaller party (or parties) simply abstain from confidence votes, whereas a governing party without a plurality in the House needs at least one other party to vote with it at all times (assuming the largest party will always vote no confidence, but that is almost certain to occur when they are denied the opportunity to govern). This means that in most situations, the party with the most seats has the best chance and the least complicated route to winning a confidence vote, regardless of its place on the political spectrum. At the Canadian federal level, in the four most recent of the five occasions a governing party lost the plurality without another winning a majority (1957, 1963, 1979, and 2006) the incumbent governments resigned rather than attempt to stay in power.

Whatever party forms the government must either form a coalition with one or more other parties, or they must win some form of support from the other parties or independents so as to avoid no-confidence motions. Because of no-confidence motions, minority governments are frequently short-lived or fall before their term is expired. The leader of a minority government will also often call an election in hopes of winning a stronger mandate from the electorate. In Canada, for instance, federal minority governments last an average of 18 months.

So, in the early hours of October 20 Stephen Harper, still Prime Minister, will reflect on the election results and consider these important facts.

Did he win a majority of seats in the House? If so, game over; he simply forms the majority government and rules for the next four plus years.

Did he win the most seats in the House, but not the majority, or did Mulcair’s NDP win the most seats, but not a majority? THIS DOES NOT MATTER. Even if Harper wins fewer seats than Mulcair does, Harper gets first dibs on forming a government, not Mulcair.

So Harper then sets about calling the House into session, and trying to win the confidence of the House in the Throne Speech.
Come Kitty: Time to go for it!

He can cheerfully set about doing this, even if Mulcair’s NDP has more MPs than the Conservatives have, because our convention allows him to do this.

Before he does this, Harper will ask himself: Can I gain the confidence of the House? The convention, as spelled out in the third paragraph in the quote above, is for him to resign “if it feels it has no chance of winning the support of enough members of smaller parties to win an initial confidence vote.”

What will Harper be feeling on the morning  of October 20?

Right now, Stpehen Harper has good reason for feeling that he HAS a chance of winning support of enough members of smaller parties (the Greens, the Bloc, the Liberal Party, the NDP), for two reasons:

1.      He can table a Throne Speech that speaks to the needs and wants of those smaller parties and might persuade them to vote confidence in  his government (the focus will be on the Liberal Party, because he will most likely need more votes than the Greens and the Bloc and any independents can cobble together to stay in power and survive an NDP vote of no confidence in him; therefore, his Throne Speech will be crafted to appeal to Liberal MPs);
2.     Justin Trudeau has publicly ruled out any cooperation between the Liberal Party under his leadership and Mulcair’s NDP, through a coalition, and so Harper has every reason to expect that he still has a chance to gain support from the Liberal MPs of his Throne Speech.

Where does that leave Mulcair and his NDP MPs?

The answer is simple: twisting in the wind. They can do nothing until Harper is defeated in a Throne Speech, or, if he survives the first one, on a money bill (probably a budget) some time later.

Mulcair has publicly announced a willingness to enter into a “coalition” government with the Liberals to prevent Harper gaining power again after the election.

If the NDP and LPC leaders had huddled down over the past year and hammered out the terms of a formal coalition government, and announced this publicly, then Harper would have no reason to feel that he has a chance to win enough support from other parties in order to gain the confidence of the House. He would have to win a majority of seats, OR, in such a case, simply resign and step down as prime minister on October 20, allowing the Governor General to ask Mulcair, as the leader of the party with the next highest number of MPs, to try to form a government that has the confidence of the House.

So, where does that leave the voters?

We can either vote in sufficient numbers to ensure that one party gains enough seats to have a majority of seats in the House (either Harper or Mulcair or Trudeau’s party). This means that party’s leader will become PM.

Or we can start preparing for the intense negotiations that will start in early October 20, as Harper tries to get either Mulcair or Trudeau onside with a legislative program that will persuade them to prop up his government. Thomas, buddy: you want a national day care system? You got it! Justin, buddy: you want equal funding for First Nations education? You got it!

My expecations? Harper will go for broke:

Given Harper’s total conviction that he is the best man to be prime minister, and his visceral dislike of both the socialist NDP and Trudeau and his Liberals, I expect Harper to drive ahead, trying to gain support through feelers sent out to both Mulcair and Trudeau, and to table a Throne Speech as long after the election as he can possibly arrange, hoping for a miracle. Remember, his target is to run out the clock and then have another election, as my earlier post explains.

Only if his Throne Speech is voted down will he resign. My guess is that he will ask the Governor General to prorogue Parliament and call a new election, despite our parliamentary conventions. The past actions of Harper and the shenanigans of his senior advisors as revealed in the Duffy trial show us a band of men and women with scant respect for our parliamentary traditions.

The role of the Governor General as representative of our Queen:

That request will then put the Governor General in the hot seat. Will he agree and dissolve parliament, despite our conventions, or will be ask Mulcair to try to put together a government that can win the confidence of the House?

If the Governor General agreed to dissolve the House and call an election, in the circumstances set out above, we will be plunged into the worst constitutional crisis that this country has faced since the Quebec referendum on independence. 

We can expect deputations of concerned Canadians flocking to Buckingham Palace to plead with the Queen of Canada to overrule her representative here. We can expect massive street demonstrations, in every major city in the country. We can expect work stoppages in major cities. We can expect pickets six deep in front of Parliament and the prime minister’s residence.

And if the Governor General persisted with his dissolution of parliament, we can expect the most vicious of election campaigns we have ever experienced, with deep disgust at the power of our Queen and her representative, and a take no prisoners type of electioneering. Oh, and perhaps revolts against Mulcair and Trudeau continuing to lead their parties, given the sorry mess that has resulted in the circumstances I set out above.

Whatever happens, interesting times await us!

Constitutional lawyers, time to sharpen your pencils, hone your sound bites, and contact the media to offer your assistance in the hourly analysis of the problems that await.

Media, time to put together your contingency speedy response squads, setting up your legal and political experts, having dry runs before election day, and then running program after program about the tense political situation we will face on the morning of October 20.


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