No need for Canadian election this year

  • September 25, 2009
{mosimage}There are times when it is proper for a minority government to fall and for the country to go to the polls to settle a matter of public urgency.

Absent some pressing issue, however, the electorate has a right to expect politicians in a minority Parliament to set aside partisan differences and work collaboratively to provide good and productive government. A willingness to co-operate should be even more profound during tough times.

So it’s distressing to witness the current state of affairs in Ottawa, where the Liberals, under rookie leader Michael Ignatieff, have threatened to shut down Parliament and send Canada to its fourth election in five years. Thankfully, it appears to have been put off for the time being.

There is no good reason for a fall election. The dark clouds of financial crisis are starting to lift and the Bank of Canada says recovery is coming. If there is another crisis on the horizon that would justify going to the polls, the Liberals haven’t revealed it.

Instead, with opinion polls showing overwhelming opposition to a fall election, this Parliament still has work to do, beginning with the economy but possibly also to include managing a response to a potential H1NI flu pandemic.

The Liberals showed earlier this year an ability to co-operate with the Conservatives when they supported a budget and an unprecedented, multi-billion-dollar economic stimulus package. If anything, the recent signs of recovery are proof the two parties can collaborate successfully, albeit not easily. It’s difficult to see what has changed since then and why MPs can’t commit to making this Parliament work.

Ignatieff’s Liberals have yet to identify a critical public issue or articulate a policy direction that would warrant an election. The only thing on offer is the folly of shutting down Parliament for the fourth time since 2004 — making this the shortest-lived Parliament since Joe Clark’s Tories of 1979.

Elections are expensive. The last one cost taxpayers about $280 million and this one is expected to be the same, bringing the total expense for the four elections since 2004 to more than $1 billion. That’s a billion dollars that can never go into health care or job creation or debt reduction or any number of important projects.

But in addition to the cost in both dollars and voter fatigue (the turnout for the 2008 election was a record low 59 per cent), the frequency of these campaigns is causing an already bitter political climate to become even more caustic. There is much to be said for a four-year cooling off period between election battles. All elections, of course, are as much (or more) about personality as policy, but as Canadian campaigns become more frequent they become more nasty.

So if the government falls we’ll be thrust into an unwanted election that will likely offend our sensibilities. We’d be better served if everyone just got to work.

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