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Jeffrey Simpson

Why we're headed for an election we don't need Add to ...

Is Parliament more dysfunctional than usual? Is there an economic, political or social crisis? Is there a major scandal? Is there a big defining issue in front of the country? In short, are there objective reasons why it could be argued that Canada needs an election 2½ years after the last one?

The answer to all of these questions is obviously no. Perhaps at the 11th hour and 59th minute, cooler heads will prevail. Short of that, we're headed for an election that Canadians don't need but political parties want. Why?

In part, because politicians live for partisan advantage, and each party now sniffs, for different reasons, that an election will deliver such an advantage. In part, because they've turned on their election machines and can't find the off switch, as witnessed by their spending millions on party ads, finding candidates and using every waking hour to attack each other.

Somebody's been smoking something because each party has convinced itself that gains beckon in the election, which, of course, is mathematically impossible for all.

The Conservatives insist they don't want an election but act as if they do by papering the country with announcements and attack ads. They think they'll win with a majority that would leave them in office for four years, or with a minority that would leave them there quite likely for another three.

So it's a win-win for the Conservatives, who have many more safe seats than their adversaries, the impression of a strong economy in their favour, an immovable core of 35 per cent of the voters, and a targeted strategy for suburban ridings built around dumb policies but powerful slogans such as "tough on crime." The Conservatives would have to run a horrible campaign to lose.

For the Bloc Québécois, it's always election time. The Bloc, too, is in a win-win position, the only question being by how much. The Bloc dominates francophone Quebec, since it's seen to defend Quebec's "interests." It is, after all, a province that has never voted for any federal leader other than a native son when given a chance, and where a widespread lack of interest in things Canadian prevails. The more often the Bloc wins, the narrower becomes Quebeckers' interest in Canada - which, of course, serves the Bloc's long-term objective of hiving off Quebec from Canada.

Just why the Liberals and NDP apparently want an election is less explicable.

The Liberals seem to have convinced themselves that an election will cause people to focus on politics and, therefore, on them. This spotlight, they believe, will make them and their leader shine. But, of course, it could do the reverse.

Maybe the Liberals feel the economy will get better in the next year, and an improved economy will help the Conservatives. But the economy could just as easily go south, what with higher oil prices, the high Canadian dollar, massive international currency imbalances, European sovereign debt woes and the Japanese catastrophe clouding all bright forecasts.

The longer a government stays in office, the greater the likelihood it will begin to wear the inevitable nicks and scars it suffers with the passage of time. An opposition party's best enduring help is the old line, "Time for a change." If that time hasn't yet arrived - and it's likely not - then waiting is better than acting.

As for the New Democrats, they always oppose the Conservatives, so what makes today different from yesterday or tomorrow? They'll dislike Conservative policies just as much in a year as this week. So what's the rush, especially when the NDP is unlikely to make gains?

The NDP better hope, in a perverse way, that Canadians don't dislike the Conservatives so much that they really want to turf them from office. Logically, if swing voters were that mad, they'd vote for the only party capable of replacing the Conservatives - namely, the Liberals. It's happened before, and the NDP paid the price.

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