Gordon Gibson is the author of A New Look at Canadian Indian Policy. email@example.com
The Prime Ministerial nose must be twitching, the spine tingling, dampened finger held in the air the better to test the winds. Is this the time? Arguably, we are at a textbook moment for the calling of a snap election.
This is one of the highest risk/reward chances a First Minister can take. Pauline Marois did it and lost, big time. Kathleen Wynne did it and won, though her hand was forced. My old boss, Pierre Trudeau, did it in 1968 and overwhelmingly swept the country.
Ironically in this moment the stage has been set by Justin Trudeau. His remarks over the deployment of jet fighters to Iraq have revealed again a streak of youthful foolishness and adventurism that we saw in the severing of wise old Senators from his caucus (who would surely advised against this latest folly had they still been in the room) and the wholly unnecessary rousing and partisan cloaking of the abortion issue. The public and even the editorial page of this newspaper are openly wondering about his judgment.
This could hardly be better for Mr. Harper, who is facing a tough electoral quandry. People are rather tired of him, and looking for somebody new and younger. (The Prime Minister is only 55 but has been around for a long time. He has whatever is the ageist component of gravitats.)
The voting intention numbers in the polls have been stubbornly stuck for months at about 40 for the Libs, 30 for the Conservatives, 20 for the NDs and 10 for the odds and ends. Those figures spell the end of a Conservative government if crystallized in an election. And it will obviously take something big to move the numbers. The moment may have arrived.
The issue of Canada joining the likes of the United States, Britain, France, Australia, the Netherlands and some Arab countries in an aerial assault on the forces of the barbarous Islamic State is a big one. Mr. Harper properly called a Parliamentary vote on it, though by convention he didn't have to. Perhaps he was setting a trap? After all he didn't brief the opposition privately on his reasons, which is the right thing to do in such cases. He just put it to them, which caused Mr. Trudeau to take much offence. But sometimes better to sit there and take it.
Instead he walked into a trap. He caused his party to vote against joining the coalition, even for a very limited time with minimalist exposure of soldiers and military assets. This at a time when, according to one public poll, a full 64 per cent of Canadians want this done. This was a foolish number to ignore, but he did it. Liberal grandees such as former foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy and former leader Bob Rae are appalled. Senior MP Irwin Cotler very pointedly abstained on the vote. The Liberals are currently on the wrong side of history, as most see it.
It takes 36 days to hold a national election. Yes, according to the law it is scheduled to happen only a year from now, but that law has a loophole big enough to flip a CF-18 through. Now, think about how that election might unfold if called now.
The election themes to be set by Mr. Harper, if he could make it stick, is "Our troops must know the people back them no matter what the Liberals and New Democrats say! Fight the most deadly and disgusting and dangerous force in the world which has suddenly appeared in Syria and Iraq and must be stopped!" and, "Canada does not leave it for others to do the heavy lifting. That is not the Canadian way."
The days and weeks pass by. The jet fighters are slowly deployed to the Middle East, no casualties yet, a few sorties flown. IS atrocities grow more horrific by the day and their ground troops are not rolled back. The resolve of the allies strengthens. All of this dominates the media. (Oh,...all except for new and plausible budget and tax-cut promises in the Fall Economic Statement.)
Poor Mr. Muclcair, who surely must be one of the most frustrated politicians ever in the country given his high hopes and hard work, would run about the country promising a better left wing world and secretly hoping to hold on to a more pacifist Quebec.
Mr. Trudeau would be left with flashing his sunny smile and explaining how a non-kinetic (as the soldiers say) activity like humanitarian aid is really the best way to fight this menace, and besides, have I told you the rest of my program?
This particular Canada-in-the-world concern has the legs to dominate a campaign of just a few weeks. This looks like Mr. Harper's best shot unless he has some very secret platform plans that might compare. Will he roll the dice?