Stephen Harper’s minority Conservative cabinet has tabled its 2007 budget. In a parliamentary system, the budget is by definition a matter of confidence and thus a precarious time for any minority government that lacks confidence and supply agreements with parties that could guarantee it a majority–or join in an opposition-sponsored vote to oust the cabinet.
With budget season upon us, and Harper’s government having the smallest share of Commons seats of any minority cabinet in Canadian federal history and approaching the average length of all past minority federal governments in Canada, is an election coming soon? Maybe not.
The Bloc Quebecois will support the budget, because it addresses one of Quebec’s most important issues, the federation’s “fiscal imbalance.” With the Conservatives having 125 seats and the BQ 50 in the 308-seat parliament (in which two seats are currently vacant), the BQ’s support virtually assures the budget will pass.
The cooperation of the BQ with a Conservative government is interesting due to the competitive dynamic between the two parties. That the BQ is playing along suggests that they fear an election. And in that case, while it is good for Harper in the short run to stave off an election, he nonetheless faces a bit of a trap: Whenever he does anything subsequently to upset the BQ constituency, the BQ will be able to bail at a time when they’d have an issue that might help them prevent the Conservatives from getting their majority. (In the 2006 elections, the Conservatives made big gains in Quebec at the BQ’s expense.) But if they remain on board with Harper’s budget, then the latter can’t get the election at a time when he might want it.
And then there is also the provincial election next Monday in Quebec. The BQ’s provincial counterpart, the Parti Quebecois is in a tight race in its bid to unseat the ruling provincial Liberal party–actually, a three-way race that may result in a hung parliament, given the ADQ’s strength. With the Quebec Liberals perhaps buoyed a bit by the budget announcement, this may not be a time when the BQ would want a federal election. On the other hand, they retain the ability to precipitate one in the future more or less whenever that want, as I mentioned above.
Meanwhile, one Liberal member has said he will support the budget. Well, make that ex-Liberal member Joe Canuzzi of Thunder Bay, Ontario. (Canuzzi has not exactly had warm relations with the Liberals, having resigned as a cabinet member in the previous government over its same-sex marriage bill.) Cannuzi gave as his reason the government’s inclusion in the budget of funds for a “for a molecular cancer research centre that employs 300 people in his riding”–perhaps a worthy project, but definitely pork. Canuzzi will sit as an independent, and has already said this is his last term.
Multiparty, federal, and FPTP politics certainly can be interesting!
Also recommended analysis: Declan at Crawl Across the Ocean