September 1, 2009 / 9:01 PM / 8 years ago

SNAP ANALYSIS: Backing or defeating government has risks

SUDBURY, Ontario (Reuters) - The decision by Canada's main opposition Liberal Party to try to topple the minority Conservative government is one fraught with risks but one the Liberals felt was an opportunity they should seize.

The Conservatives currently have 143 of 308 seats in the House of Commons, a dozen shy of a majority, while the Liberals have 77. Two small parties, the left-wing New Democratic Party and the separatist Bloc Quebecois, hold the remaining seats.

POSSIBLE REASONS TO FORCE AN ELECTION

* The Liberals have been in the awkward position of both criticizing the Conservatives and keeping them in power by voting for crucial legislation, and that has made them unpopular with many voters and some of their own legislators. They now promise to stop doing that, and hope that strong stance will boost their appeal with voters.

* There may be economic reasons to force an election sooner rather than later. The economy appears to be recovering from recession, but further job losses are expected in the coming months. By next year, the economy could look healthier, possibly boosting the appeal of the government.

* Some Liberals argue that they can hardly do worse than they did last October, when they faced a historic defeat over plans to introduce a carbon tax.

* Liberal leader Michel Ignatieff, a former academic who is fluent in both English and French, is a more popular leader than his predecessor Stephane Dion. But he has little political experience, and only returned to Canada recently after many years living abroad.

* The strongest argument perhaps is to never miss an opportunity to try to topple your opponents.

RISKS IN PROVOKING EARLY ELECTION

* The Liberals are only neck and neck with the Conservatives in the polls and support is slipping in the vote-rich province of Quebec, where they need major gains in order to win power. They have no clear platform, and some of the issues that they have focused on recently have yet to grab voters' attention in a meaningful way.

* The scope for offering new spending or tax cuts is almost nil because of a widening budget deficit. The Liberals may find it a challenge to come up with a compelling campaign narrative.

* A 2009 vote would be the fourth federal election in just over five years, and that could annoy voters. The government insists Canadians do not want an election now.

* There could be a backlash against the Liberals for forcing an election during an economic crisis. And if the economy recovers more rapidly than expected, the Conservatives could claim credit for that.

* The Conservatives have far more money and are better organized than the Liberals, although the Liberals are in better financial shape than they were several months ago.

* If the Liberals do not do substantially better than a year ago, Ignatieff could find his leadership under attack. His predecessor Dion was ousted after his defeat in October.

* There is a slim chance that the Conservatives could win the first majority government since 2004, cutting off any chance for the opposition to topple them for up to five years.

Editing by Janet Guttsman

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