While Canadians are, for the most part, going about their lives pretty much as you'd expect at this time of the year, in Ottawa tongues are already wagging about the prospect of an election in the spring. And, as pundits line up with their predictions, particular attention is being paid to whether it will be the Liberals or the New Democrats - or neither - who back down on Jim Flaherty's fiscal plan.
Notably, in English, the Liberals are seen as the more hawkish of the two. And almost no attention is paid to the political situation in Quebec - or to the Bloc Québécois.
On Monday, for example, La Presse reported the results of a new online SOM poll of 3482 Quebeckers, which went largely unnoticed outside the province:
"Half of the respondents think Stephen Harper should stay on as Conservative leader. … NDP leader Jack Layton gets the best marks, with 90 per cent saying he should stay on. … Gilles Duceppe is in second place with 79 per cent of respondents wanting him to continue as Bloc leader … and Green leader Elizabeth May follows very closely at 74 per cent. For his part, the leader of the Liberal Party, Michael Ignatieff, gets the worst mark of the federal leaders - 46 per cent."
Today, La Presse reports the results of a poll by CROP - the gold standard among Quebec pollsters:
"The Bloc has gained ground in voting intentions, and is at 40 per cent ... two points over its score in the 2008 election. … At the other end, the Liberal Party of Canada has not come off unscathed, falling from 24 per cent to 18 per cent today. You'd have to conclude that the summer tour of Michael Ignatieff did not seduce the Quebec electorate.
"The Conservatives are in second place with 20 per cent, the NDP in third with 19 per cent and the Greens in fifth place with 2 per cent.
Fifty-eight per cent of Quebeckers are strongly or moderately in favour of an election in 2011 - climbing to 72 per cent among Liberal supporters, 67 per cent among Bloc supporters and 62 per cent among New Democrat supporters."
Which brings us to the question of the Bloc - the other party besides the NDP that has the potential to say oui or non to an election that the Liberals appear to want on the spring budget.
Interestingly, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is not without cards to play, whichever way the Bloc is heading. In the interests of Quebec, to be sure. And in the interests of Gilles Duceppe, who may want to get a last election out of the way before heading to Quebec City in a bid to take over from PQ Leader Pauline Marois.
If Mr. Harper has things other than an election at this time on his mind, the price will be $2.2-billion - which is what Quebec has been seeking as compensation for the decision by the Bourassa government to sort of harmonize its sales tax with the GST two decades ago. With that sum on the table for his indebted province, it's inconceivable that Mr. Duceppe would have his troops vote against the budget.
True, that's a large sum of money. But it could be less than it would cost to obtain NDP support for the budget, given what Paul Martin had to fork over in 2004. And, while it could provoke some criticism outside the province, Ontario is also on the receiving end of this kind of manna. And British Columbians could be mollified by federal flexibility on what it will have to repay if it ditches the HST.
If, on the other hand, Mr. Harper is itching to go the polls - particularly at the initiative of the opposition - watch for him to play the Quebec-arena card as part of a pan-Canadian initiative involving other cities across the land.
For the sake of completeness, here's more of the La Presse report of the SOM poll (my translation):
"Right now, the prospect of a federal election in 2011 is supported by a minority of Quebeckers - 47 per cent (as against the 58 per cent who want a provincial vote - Quebeckers apparently are as ambivalent on the question as Prime Minister Stephen Harper. … Fewer Quebeckers also say they have no or little confidence in the Harper government (71 per cent) than in the Charest government (81 per cent).
According to the poll, a large majority of young people under 25 want a federal election (68 per cent) as well as a provincial election (69 per cent). On the other hand, for those over 65, it's precisely the opposite, with only a minority wanting a federal election (44 per cent), or a provincial vote (42 per cent)."