The first week of October is going to be busy, busy, busy. And when it’s over, Stephen Harper’s political hand could be even stronger than it is today.
The real resistance to a majority federal government comes not from the opposition parties – both of which are currently struggling with leadership issues – but from the provincial capitals, as premiers coalesce to beat back any Ottawa initiatives that crowd their turf or hurt their fiscal bottom lines.
But thanks to the new phenomenon of fixed election dates, we know that this autumn will bring at least five provincial elections. And a virtual tour of the battlegrounds reveals that, just as voters in Ontario and the western provinces coalesced to deliver Mr. Harper’s federal majority, so, too, conservatives of one stripe or another could dominate provincial capitals west of the Ottawa River.
If so, Mr. Harper could be spared the confrontations with premiers that defined so much of Jean Chrétien’s, Brian Mulroney’s and Pierre Trudeau’s majority governments, giving him truly unprecedented freedom to implement his agenda of trade deals, military procurement and cuts to government spending.
So let’s look at that epic first week of October. It kicks off Monday, Oct. 3 in Prince Edward Island, where Liberal Premier Robert Ghiz is expected to return with a majority. This is the last bit of good news that Liberals anywhere may see for a while.
The next day, Oct. 4, Manitoba goes to the polls. Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen’s lead over NDP Premier Greg Selinger has evaporated, but the Tories are taking in far more in campaign donations, and from a broader base. At ThreeHundredEight.com, Eric Grenier’s seat projections favour the NDP, who could benefit from splits even if the Conservatives win the popular vote. But this writer clings to the old-fashioned notion that the party that wins the most votes usually wins the most seats. So watch for the Conservatives to prevail.
The odds also favour Conservative Leader Tim Hudak when Ontario votes on Oct. 6. Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals look tired, the deficit remains stubbornly high and the party’s signature green-energy policy appears to have cost much and achieved little. A simplistic analysis, no doubt, but election campaigns are all about sound bites.
Conservative Premier Kathy Dunderdale is expected to cruise to victory when Newfoundland and Labrador votes on Oct. 11, while Premier Brad Wall of the conservative Saskatchewan Party should easily win re-election on Nov. 7.
And while Alberta doesn’t vote this year, the Conservatives are electing a new leader and premier this fall. That Danielle Smith’s new Wildrose Alliance is now flagging in the polls suggests that true-blue conservatives are counting on the new Tory leader to tack the party to the right.
Bottom line: From the Ottawa River to the Rockies, every provincial government could be led by a premier who promises to lower taxes, fight deficits and get tough on crime. In which case, what will the provinces and Ottawa find to fight about?
There’ll still be fights, of course, over everything from the feds’ attempt to create a national securities regulator to health-care funding to equalization payments. Quebec could become a thorn. Jean Charest may look to pick a fight with Ottawa as his Liberals try to fight off Pauline Marois’s Parti Québécois and a possible new centre-right party. An election there must be called by the end of 2013.
And a new challenge could come from British Columbia. Liberal Premier Christy Clark may or may not go to the polls this fall. The results of the mail-in referendum on whether to scrap the unpopular HST won’t be known for weeks. But Ms. Clark’s biggest problem is that the increasing popularity of the Conservatives under their new leader, John Cummins, threatens to split the Liberals’ centre/centre-right coalition.
If that happens, NDP Leader Adrian Dix could become premier, offering a powerful new voice of opposition to the Conservative tide. By the way, he’s fluently bilingual.
Nonetheless, for the foreseeable future, the federal Conservatives have no reason to fear a united front of premiers opposing their agenda. For Mr. Harper, sweet.