Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Plan B

So, it looks like Cadman bought into this "wait for Gomery" idea enough for him to vote with the government. Where does the Opposition go from here? I posted on this before the last two weeks of shenanigans but here it is again with significant clarification.

There are four options for when an election could be held:

1. Keep trying for early summer or very early September.
This seems the least attractive of all options. If the Tories somehow manage a non-confidence vote at the end of the June session they may be able to force Martin into calling a summer election campaign that would, like 1984, have an election date in the first week of September. People, so we're told, don't like summer elections but how do they feel about summer campaigns? Judging by the intensity of the last month probably not very positively.

2. Fall, before the first Gomery report.
The problem is that the closer we get to the Gomery reports the more justification the "wait for Gomery" argument holds. If we were able to wait this long what difference is another two months going to make? Doors should not be closed on this option because unexpected circumstances may make it more attractive but this should not be what Harper is aiming for.

3. When Martin wants it, in January or February.
The only example of a federal election in January or February that I could find after 1965 was when Joe Clark went down in flames during the 1980 election. This election date has to be avoided at all costs. There is little doubt in my mind that now that the Gomery reports may be delayed by the re-scheduling of the fraud trials waiting this long for an election will give the Liberals time to release another budget that is fiscally conservative and introduces what little tax cuts are still possible after all the recent spending. The only way an election, under these conditions, is winnable for the Tories is if some white knight arrives in the interim to replace Harper. Unlikely at best.

4. Plan B: After the first Gomery report.
I have blogged before that I think Canadians will be quite disappointed if they expect some bombshell--or even decisiveness--from the Gomery report. There is some group of Canadians convinced that the Liberals are corrupt. Another group convinced that Martin is innocent and the corruption was very isolated. Neither of these care what the report says, their opinion will not be changed by it. That leaves those calling for us to "wait for Gomery". I suppose the question is how many of these are voters who will vote Liberal no matter what but need to hear a judge say that there is no evidence specifically implicating the Martin government and how many feel the opposite but want to be seen supporting due process?

The Liberals seem to have made the mistake of putting all of their eggs in the Gomery basket. In my opinion there are only three possible outcomes of Justice Gomery's report: A clear and decisive exoneration of Martin and all his allies; A clear and decisive indicment of Martin or at least a significant portion of the LPC-Q; or a conclusion that rests uncomfortably between the two. Obviously, if the second option occurs and Gomery implicates the Martin team, Martin is screwed and the NDP will be unable to continue their support. This is not entirely impossible considering Justice Gomery's unpredictable, independent streak. And the first option is not entirely impossible, in which case Harper would have to run on only policy. The problem, for the Liberals, I think is that the third option--inconclusiveness on the extent of the corruption and Martin's proximity to it--is the most likely option. I don't for a moment believe in the "Paragraph K" conspiracy theories but I think that a lot of the voters who would consider voting CPC but want to hear the report will be disappointed with the result of the report. Gomery cannot wave a magic wand that will separate fact from allegation and divine what actually happened any better than someone paying relatively close attention to the trial.

The problem for the CPC is that this dissatisfaction with the first, fact-finding report will be short-lived. Forty-five days are scheduled between its release and the publication of the final report that will only deal with recommendations for improvement. Martin has scheduled another thirty days for him to call an election that will have a campaign of thirty-six days or more. There is no way that this amount of time can pass and Canadians will still remember how disappointed they felt at having to wait for the inconclusive Gomery report.

The CPC can benefit most by planning to force an election as soon after the first report as possible. I believe Canadians can easily be convinced that it is that report that matters and that it should be another party in office to implement Gomery's changes. After the first report the due process, innocent until proven guilty, wait for Gomery argument will have evaporated. Objectively an election campaign held between the two reports will also force both parties to top each other by promising reforms even more stringent than what they expect from the second report. IMHO, the best part of this plan is that Liberals who truly believe they are innocent, and think that Gomery will say just that, have little reason to oppose this idea.

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