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Senate seats, cabinet shuffles and election dates, oh my!

Editorial cartoon by Anthony Jenkins

With Parliament not sitting for another two months thanks to a prorogation that was the subject of much speculation in the days before it was confirmed, we have now entered a prolonged season of such prognostication.

So let's start with the easy one: Senate appointments.

They are coming, probably soon and possibly this week. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made it clear that he intends to fill the five vacancies. That will leave the Red Chamber with 51 Conservatives, 49 Liberals, two Progressive Conservatives, and three independents.

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That's not exactly a majority for Mr. Harper because the PC senators vote with the Liberals whenever they feel like it - which is quite a lot, as it turns out. But it's still enough to give the Prime Minister more control over pesky senators who want to take liberties with his legislation.

But here's the speculation proffered by the Parliamentarily geeky and infinitely wise Kady O'Malley of the CBC who points out that the appointment of 13 Conservative senators is not beyond the realm of possibility. That, of course, would put the PM in the driver's seat in the Senate for a long time to come.

So what will Mr. Harper do? And who will be the lucky Canadians who get Senate seats? Those answers will come in short order.

In the mean time, on to the more speculative reasoning: a cabinet shuffle. Rumours emanating from Quebec suggest that a mixing of the chairs around the cabinet table is in the works. The aim, so the tale goes, is to remove Peter MacKay from the troubled Defence portfolio, dump some problem performers, and to bring back Maxime Bernier who has paid the price for his sloppy handling of confidential documents.

If those whispers prove true, there will likely be some breathing space between the shuffle and the Senate appointments. But, careful analysis of the political landscape says wise Parliament watchers should hold their bets.

Because of the way the current incarnation of the Conservative party was formed - with Mr. MacKay integral to the alliance between the Progressive Conservatives and the Reform Party - he would have to be given another portfolio of significant stature. It's difficult to figure out what that might be.

And removing Mr. MacKay from Defence even as the controversy over the handling of Afghan detainees continues to swirl (with or without an acting Parliament) would be tantamount to an admission by the government that there was something amiss.

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Also, would Mr. Harper really want to change his cabinet now if he is looking forward to a spring election?

Which brings us to speculation number three: a spring election.

Some smart pundits including Globe columnist Norman Spector, who predicts an April 13 election day, say Mr. Harper will take the country to the polls after a post-Olympic budget.

I would never discount such a thing, my own predictions being notoriously unreliable.

And it may make sense from a money point of view. The Liberals had some fund-raising success immediately after Michael Ignatieff took over as leader but they blew about $2-million on summer ads (do you recall Mr. Ignatieff standing in the forest?) that went virtually unnoticed.

So a spring campaign will be difficult for them. Remember that the Liberals were not able to spend the maximum allowed during the 2008 election. Presumably they do not want a repeat of that catastrophe.

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On the other hand, neither does Mr. Harper have numbers to guarantee himself a majority. The prorogation is unlikely to help him. And he definitely does not want a vote that gives him a third minority government. So it is difficult to see why he would be itching for an election.

Especially if he has firm control of the Senate.

(Editorial cartoon by Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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