In late May, a parliamentary motion put forward by the Bloc Québécois passed by an overwhelming majority of 327 to one. The question? “In the opinion of the House, holding an election during a pandemic would be irresponsible.”
Among the chorus of yeas was every member of the Liberal caucus who voted, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
And yet, two months later, the PM and his advisers are gaming out when in the next few weeks he should call on the Governor-General to ask her to send the country into an election.
Is the pandemic over? No – and the government knows that better than anyone. Do the other parties in this minority Parliament want an election? No – which is why the government hasn’t been defeated in a confidence vote. Are Canadians demanding an election? No, no, no.
But the Liberals are preparing to trigger one nonetheless. There is no pressing reason of national interest or public policy that demands an election, less than two years into the Liberal government’s mandate. The only real reason is the fact that they are ahead in the polls. Now looks like a good time to bid for turning a minority into a majority. That’s it.
It’s worth reminding Canadians that this seemingly inevitable election is anything but. It’s the government’s choice – albeit one it has given every indication of having already made.
As a result, all parties are already on the hustings – especially the governing party. Mr. Trudeau gallops the country, making campaign stops and big-ticket announcements in this not-yet-official campaign. Wednesday’s news? Congratulations, Canadian taxpayers: You’re handing over $5.2-billion to save the hydroelectric dam at Muskrat Falls from bankrupting Newfoundland and Labrador. Newfoundland’s bills are now on your tab.
It’s worth noting that there are seven House seats in the province, six distinctly Liberal red.
An election, were one to be truly necessary, could be held, and held safely, even at the height of a pandemic. That’s been shown over the past year and a half in several provinces, and across the United States. The pandemic isn’t a barrier to an election, but the absence of any real reason for this election is a problem.
And given that Canada is still in what are (if we make the right choices) the final innings of the worst economic and public-health crises in generations, why take our eyes off the pandemic ball? It’s still very much in play.
Yet choosing to call an election means the country is about to spend the better part of two months in a state of distraction. A government that should be concentrating on difficult reminders of what still needs to be done to put the pandemic behind us will instead have every electoral reason to talk up anything and everything else. Elections are when politicians make easy promises to voters, not hard demands of them.
It is within the PM’s constitutional right, two years into his mandate, to knock on his neighbour’s door and advise Mary Simon, the newly minted Governor-General, to send the country to the polls. She could refuse if, for example, he were to demand a new election on the heels of having lost one. Otherwise, she is tradition-bound to do as he asks.
The PM is within his rights to call an election. But that’s a very different thing from saying an election is the right thing to do.
And this Parliament, for all its problems, never mind a litany of scandals (WE have a list, somewhere), has managed to function surprisingly well. The Liberals may suggest that an election was inevitable due to a showdown over, say, the 2021-22 budget. But it passed, by a vote of 211-121. The government still governs.
All of which means the election that Mr. Trudeau is on the verge of triggering is at best unnecessary, and at worst a dangerous distraction. An election call serves the interests of the (very) few.
Such machinations, however, have in the recent past produced the desired result. Mr. Trudeau need only peer westward at British Columbia Premier John Horgan.
That’s why a federal election is coming. To voice opposition – to suggest it is badly timed, with a pandemic not yet ended – is to shout into a gale-force political wind. The writ, you can plainly see, is about to drop.
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