Now that Harper has been unable to get the Liberals to force the election via the throne speech, he will make a second attempt through an upcoming crime bill. This new crime bill will include pieces of legislation that were previously amended or dropped through agreements made with the opposition. The Conservatives have also indicated that they will not accept any new amendments and the new bill will be a matter of confidence. Obviously Harper is looking for an election in hopes of getting a majority.
So why would Harper want an election when it is clearly not wanted by the public? Well there are all the obvious reasons such as his decent poll numbers, his supposed strength in Quebec, the lack of funds and organization of the Liberals and the declining numbers of the Bloc. Though don't believe for a second that it's only about taking advantage of the opposition.
Over the last few weeks there have been many reports forewarning about the slowing of the Canadian economy. Add this with the job losses that have already been occurring in the manufacturing sector – namely the auto sector – and any government in power will likely be facing a firing squad. Harper in particular wants to avoid this because his government has already had some of the auto sector job losses attributed to his government’s apparent inaction and therefore will likely take the brunt of the blame for a bigger downturn.
There is also the issue over the environment agenda. It is hardly a secret that Harper hasn’t won any hearts or minds over the environment. Right before he was to stand in front of an international consortium touting his environmental plan the results of the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy review were released. The news wasn’t good for the Conservatives and reinforced what most people were saying all along – Harper is failing on the environment. Don’t expect that to change either. Aggressively addressing this issue would be an affront to both his base-support (Alberta) because of their reliance on oil reserves and to his ideology on so-called government interference in certain matters.
However, it is possible that Harper could survive criticism over the economy and make amends with the opposition over the environment. So what else could there be? Well, there’s the growing storm over three separate investigations involving the Conservatives. I can’t say to any certainty how far these investigations will get but each has the potential to damage the credibility of the Conservatives to some degree. One in particular that involves the breaking of election financing laws and seems to have some clout, is likely to hurt them the most especially since Harper once made a big deal about accountability and trust with the parties and government. While none of these are at the scale of the sponsorship scandal each will still have a negative effect if brought to fruition.
It would seem that the plan at this point is to have an election in hopes of achieving a majority. With a majority Harper could spend an uncontested four years weathering the storm of a declining economy with the hopes of it righting itself before the next election. He could also force the adoption of an extremely poor and ineffective environment policy without question. And he could guarantee his hold on power even in the event any of three brewing controversies cost him support or confidence. At this point, Harper has probably had enough with making compromises with the opposition and having to really deal with policies that he could care less about. Since being in a minority government is forcing him to at least make an attempt at governing, Harper can’t do what he wants to do most; force a failed ideology on the masses and then quit governing out of principle. However, I'm pretty sure that the tactics to force an election will be attributed to Harper. This latest move reeks ala Joe Clark and Harper is likely to get called on it. Crime is not as much an issue of importance as health care, the environment or poverty are and therefore is likely not to produce the intended effect. And one only has to look at the Ontario election to see how much the 'law and order' banter has any pull in the face of declining crime rates. My call is that the worst-case scenario has Harper with another minority with the same number of seats of fewer.