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Early Federal Election? A Risky Proposition

The political pundits and the media are all but unanimous that there will be a fall federal election. They are probably right, but they may be underestimating the risk to the governing Liberals.

While there is a fixed election date two years hence, constitutional experts agree that the Governor General should, indeed must, accede to a request from the Prime Minister to dissolve Parliament at this point in the mandate and to hold an election.

There is no serious dispute about why the Liberals want an early election. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau senses an opportunity to win a majority government, mainly because the Conservative Official Opposition are highly unpopular.

An interesting question does, however, arise. How will the Prime Minister justify an early election to the public and to the Governor General while making it look like he is not just seeking crass partisan advantage when the pandemic public health and economic crisis is still with us?

A seemingly plausible answer is that a minority government gets in the way of dealing with the pandemic and planning for a post pandemic recovery.

The problem with this argument is that the government has had no major problems maintaining the confidence of the House of Commons, mainly because the NDP and the Liberals have, to this point, been willing and able to negotiate modifications to the government's policy and legislative agenda. 

Over the past year and more, the NDP successfully pushed for more generous income supports for the unemployed and under-employed, paid medical leave from work, and new public investments in areas like child care.

The Liberal desire to call an election strongly suggests that they want to do less rather than more when it comes to fairly dealing with the pandemic and orchestrating a recovery.

One senses that the Department of Finance and business-oriented Liberals want to get rid of costly special income supports, now due to expire in October, just after the anticipated election. Recent promises to consult on major reforms to increase access to Employment Insurance for precarious workers ring hollow.

They and corporate Canada also oppose a permanent expansion of public services and social programs such as the expansion of public health care to cover pharmaceutical drugs and care for the elderly, since this would require higher taxes and limit opportunities for profit.

One also senses that the Liberal government want to celebrate and claim credit for the end of the COVID public health crisis before a feared fourth wave begins to emerge in the fall.

That may turn out to be a bad bet if  new cases among the unvaccinated start to surge as or even before schools and colleges re-open during the election period.

The Liberals also have to deal with a visibly tarnished record on key issues. 

Despite a lot of empty rhetoric, they have fought first nations in the courts and largely failed to promote true reconciliation at a time when public awareness of injustices has never been higher. They have even failed to implement their promise in past elections to provide clean drinking water to all reserve communities.

And the Liberals have still not accepted the immediate urgency of tackling the climate crisis by transforming our economy and phasing out fossil fuels even as forests burn out of control and we experience record-setting heat waves, floods and droughts. 

An early election call could well backfire for the Liberals given the potential of the resurgent NDP ( now polling at about 20%) to articulate and promote a progressive alternative focused on fair taxes to finance long-term investment in social programs, reconciliation, and securing a rapid transition to a sustainable and inclusive green economy.

For precisely that reason, an early election may prove to be much riskier than the pundits think.

Andrew Jackson's new book, The Fire and the Ashes: Rekindling Democratic Socialism, is available from BTL books. The Fire and the Ashes – Between the Lines (