Government ‘incompetence’ might force election: Ignatieff

Will Canadians be going to polls this summer?

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said Tuesday he will make “a serene and clear decision” on that question — likely by June 12.

He cited the health crisis sparked by the shutdown of the nuclear reactor at Chalk River, Ont., which produces medical isotopes used to treat and diagnose 5,000 Canadians a day, as the latest of several “flagrant examples of incompetence” by the federal government.

After question period Tuesday, Ignatieff reeled off a growing list of what, to him, are irritants that could lead the Liberals to try to force an election.

“I don’t want an election. Canadians don’t want an election,” Ignatieff told reporters outside the House of Commons.

“But here’s where I am . . . I’m trying to make Parliament work with a government that every day is displaying more flagrant examples of incompetence.

“We’ve got a major medical crisis with the isotopes. They’ve got no plan. Toronto Dominion Bank just announced that the deficit over five years will be $168 billion. That’s the biggest number anybody has ever heard of. The public finances of this country are not under control.

“Third, we’ve got an unemployment crisis with unemployment surging across the country. We’ve got (three premiers) saying let’s do something about a national standard for EI. We’ve got stimulus that needs to get out the door and only six per cent of the stimulus has actually reached the country in the middle of the construction season.”

A potential triggering event for an election could be a confidence vote set to occur when Finance Minister Jim Flaherty presents his second quarterly budget update — the opposition calls it a report card — to the House of Commons. That could happen as early as next week but the Conservatives may push it back to the week of June 15. The House is set to recess for the summer on June 23.

In that update, Flaherty is expected to explain in more detail how the budget deficit for this year, estimated four months ago to be $33.4 billion, will now come in at more than $50 billion. He is also expected to provide details on how the bailout of General Motors Corp. will affect the budgetary bottom line.

After Flaherty announced the budget deficit will be 50 per cent bigger than he had forecast four months ago, the Liberals called on him to resign.

“We have a problem, a serious problem about this government’s confidence. Next week they have their second report card, right? We’re holding these guys on probation,” said Ignatieff.

“We’ll look at the data when we get it and we will make a serene and clear decision, probably in the middle of next week.”

If the government were to fall next week, the earliest an election could be held would be July 13.

Generally, political parties try to avoid elections in July or August because they assume it can be a difficult time of the year to get voters excited about politics.

In any event, Ignatieff and the Liberals alone cannot bring down Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government. For the government to lose a vote of confidence, all MPs of all three opposition parties would have to vote the government out. If any one opposition party supports the government, or fails to vote against the government, the Conservatives have enough MPs to survive.

On more than 50 non-confidence votes while Stephane Dion was leader, Liberals either failed to vote in sufficient numbers, abstained or supported the government.

Many Liberals say that, as a result, the NDP and Bloc Quebecois benefitted politically by being seen to be strong and forceful opponents to the government’s agenda. Indeed, the NDP began referring to itself as “Canada’s effective opposition” in contrast to the Liberal “Official Opposition” and cited that status as one of the positions for their electoral success in areas like northern Ontario, where NDP candidates bumped off Liberal incumbents in the 2008 election.

Privately, MPs and political staffers from all parties believe that Ignatieff and the Liberals now want to be seen as aggressive opponents of the Conservatives and, to do so, they must force the NDP or the Bloc Quebecois to blink in an election showdown by either abstaining or missing a confidence vote or by voting with the government.

The Conservatives, in the meantime, continue to lay the groundwork for what will almost certainly be an election strategy of theirs: to remind Canadians that all three opposition parties were ready to seize power in a coalition that Ignatieff backed. The Conservatives want to convince voters that their choice in the next election will be between the Conservatives and a coalition.

In one of Harper’s responses Tuesday in the House of Commons to a question from NDP Leader Jack Layton, Harper accused the NDP of being “a branch plant of the Liberal party” and, in another response, referred to “the leader of the NDP and his friends in the Liberal party.”


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