For those of you who are not Canadian political junkies, this may still be of interest. The outcome may not affect you, but this is still a fun mental exercise!
This is the situation: there are currently 4 major political parties in the Canadian Parliament: Consevatives, Liberals, Bloc Qebecois (Bloc) and New Democrats NDP).
The Consrevatives have a minority government. This means that they may be in power, but do not have enough votes in the House of Commons to pass legislation unless one of the three opposition parties supports them (votes ‘with’ them). Until now, they were kept in power by the Liberals (not a coalition, just vote-by-vote thing) and opposed by the Bloc and Jack Layton’s NDP.
Unsurprisingly, none of opposition parties are not too keen to support the government they need to oppose to self-define… but, at times, they have to.
If they do not, and the government is defeated in a ‘confidence vote’, the most likely outcome will be an election. So, unless they are ready (financially and poliltically) to fight an election, or if they actually support the government’s specific piece of legislation which is being voted on, at least one of the opposition parties must vote ‘with’ the government.
Aside: here, in Canada, it is unusual for Members of Parliament (MPs) to vote their conscience. The party leaders have great control over their members, so voting against one’s party position is extremely rare. That is why the parties each holds a block of votes.
If an election were held today, the most likely outcome would be that Conservatives would win, and perhaps they would even win a majority government.
The recently annointed Liberal leader’s popularity is vaning: the more people learn about him, the less they like or trust him… and that also holds true within his own party. As a matter of fact, Mr. Ignatieff’s ineptness has just started a major power-struggle within the influential Quebec wing of the party!
Now, with his party in serious internal turmoil, Mr. Ignatieff has introduced a ‘confidence vote’: if the Conservative government gets nobody to ‘vote with them’, we will likely go to an election.
The NDP leader, Jack Layton, has announced he is likely to support the government because it would be irresponsible to cause an election now, since it would kill a lot of legislation he helped shape and which would help to those most hurt by the economic downturn would be much delayed. In my opinion, that is the responsible thing to do.
But – is it the best thing ‘politically’? For Mr. Layton, that is…
After all, Mr. Ignatieff has just blown up the Quebec wing of his party: anything could happen there – and that ‘anything’ could even result in Ignatieff’s fall from the Liberal throne. The Liberals are certainly not ‘election ready’ any more.
When the Liberals loose votes, the ‘beneficiaries’ are usually the New Democrats (and Bloc Quebecois, in Quebec). So, if there is an election now, with the Liberals having a minor ‘civil war’ within their party, Jack Layton’s party would stand to win more seats! His power would increase!
And, the Conservatives could win a majority government, too – and thus removing from him the influence he now enjoys…
So, what should Jack Layton do?
Vote ‘with’ the government, and get the help out to the people who need it? But by supporting the government, he’ll anger some of his supporters who’d rather chew their own leg off than vote ‘with’ the Conservatives on anything!
Vote ‘against’ the government, trigger an election? He would likely win many seats away from the Liberals, giving the NDP a stronger voice – but perhaps also handing the Conservatives a majority victory? But opposing them now, after all the statements he made about needing to get help out to all the people quickly, that would make him look opportunistic and loose him popular support!
What should he do?
I don’t know. But, I know what I would do if I were in Jack Layton’s shoes: I would instruct all my NDP MPs to ‘vote their conscience’!
It is unheard of for a party leader to permit his MPs to vote however they choose themselves on a ‘confidence motion’. It would be a very, very bold move on Jack Layton’s part. And, it would make it completely impossible to predict how the outcome of the ‘confidence motion’ would come out…
It seems to me to be such an obvious answer!
Jack Layton would then be able to vote for the legislation he helped shape – but he would not be using his influence to ‘prop up’ the government…. He would not be alienating the more radical elements within his party, all the while building loyalty in his MPs by showing he respects his MPs and their judgment, whichever way they choose to vote!
At the same time, permitting his MPs to ‘vote their conscience’ would be an incredibly democratic thing to do – something the Conservatives, in theory, all support! And, of course, it would force the Conservatives to seek support from individual NDP MPs – and this would necessarily increase the NDP’s overall impact!
In addition, permitting everyone to exercise their free will would show him to be a secure in his leadership and not threatened by MPs who think for themselves…
I do not see the down side for Jack Layton in this!