Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Quebec, harbinger of a future lost election?

The Liberals will have noticed the ubiquitous polls indicating a decline in their support in la Belle Province corresponding with an increase in Conservative support. This is worrying, as after Ignatieff's announcement of "your time is up", Quebec was the only region in which there were no signs of declining support. However, according to a CROP poll in Quebec, the Liberals stand at 26% down from scores around the 30s ever since Ignatieff's assumption of the leadership. Meanwhile, Conservative support has been narrowing the gap, accounting for 22% of respondents. The Bloc has also gone up, to 33%.

In other words, Michael Ignatieff is losing support to everyone. The necessary conclusion therefore is that the Liberal Party is now less enticed by the prospect of an election. They will want a certain amount of time to regroup, and reconsolidate their support.

In a rather paradoxical way, Ignatieff's challenge to Harper is the reason that this time will probably yield significant results. If it had not been for shifting the burden of supporting the government onto the NDP, Ignatieff would be in a worse position to recover his support. Conversely, if he had not declared a lack of confidence in the government, he may not have lost support to other parties.

It is important to be mindful that Ignatieff might have been enjoying more of a honeymoon hangover in Quebec than other provinces. His numbers certainly very quickly ascended to an elevated level. And have stayed there. It's not unreasonable to think that some of the decline since late August may be a trend that Quebec is experiencing later than the other provinces: the end of the honeymoon.

So at the end of the day, it is possible to read the current situation in Quebec in a better light than it would first appear to be. It may not be the harbinger of failure it may seem. In fact, Ignatieff may now be better off than he would have been otherwise.

What's more, depending on when the next election occurs, it may not matter.
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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Who Wants an Election, Really?

With the resignation of Denis Coderre as the Liberal party lieutenant for Quebec comes evidence of Liberal infighting, vulnerability and unpreparedness for an election campaign. Quebec was the battleground on which the Liberals thought they could make the most headway. An election campaign, when it comes, will have as one of its major goals to reach out to the Quebecker. Do the Liberals look ready to do this?

The answer is unclear, but it certainly leans more to the negative end of the spectrum than it did a month ago. Compounded with sagging Liberal support and a corresponding Conservative uptick, it looks unlikely that the Liberals are sanguine regarding an election in the near future. In a month or so, yes, but not now.

Instead, Conservatives may now find themselves looking to bring down their own government. The only problem they now have is how to alienate the NDP, which is holding on for dear life to their EI lifeline connecting them to the Conservative ship. The simplest solution? Say the NDP wants too much that would put too much of a strain on an economy that has recently shown signs of resuscitation.

Which leads us to the NDP. They still, even in light of Liberal infighting, cannot afford an election, at least based on their polling results. However, neither can they afford to prop up a Conservative government if it chooses to abandon its EI schemes, or at least significantly neutralize them. This would betray all they stand for.

Meaning that they are in the company of the highly unpredictable and volatile, along with the BQ. Though the BQ is not polling well and away ahead of the Liberals, Duceppe has expressed sentiments indicating that he would vote no confidence in the current government on a no confidence motion.

If we take the BQ at face value they will vote against the Conservatives. The problem now is, how to corner the NDP into forcing an election soon enough to profit from the disorganization caused by Coderre's resignation. There is a very slight window of opportunity here for Harper if he wants an election, but he'll have to push awfully hard to pry it open.
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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Liberal Website Needs to Mobilise Supporters More

Upon comparison of the Conservative party website, and the Liberal website, one feature stands out as a source of difference. Whereas the Conservative website has a feature in which they help you write to editors of newspapers, call in to radio shows, and sign letters supporting Conservative policy, such features are absent from the Liberal domain in cyberspace.

The usual participative activities are there, such as contributing, getting the word out to your family and friends, along with of course, joining the party. Which shows that the Liberal Party are being less creative with their website.

While it is true that they have a youtube channel, links to liblogs, and facebook groups, these are technologies that albeit new, are so commonplace that it would be absurd not to have them. They have become so integral in daily life that this is nothing new, really.

The Conservative measures are particularly helpful in affecting public opinion, as talk shows and newspapers are the sources for many people's opinions. Offering points to use in these letters and calls not only ensures that more are being made, but that they are coherent as a whole.

That is the key. The Conservatives are providing their supporters with a well-thought out message that they can disperse in society. The Liberals are failing to do so.

This may seem like a small consideration. However, this is not so. It is about helping people in exercising the greatest influence they can on the public discourse. There are few greater ways that your supporters aid you.
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Monday, September 21, 2009

Ignatieff Points out Key Difference (s) Between him and Harper

In his address to the Toronto Board of Trade earlier today, among all his enlightened economic proposals, he mentioned the key difference between him and Stephen Harper. Ignatieff believes in the role of government, Harper does not.

As Ignatieff perceptively observed “Stephen Harper thinks no taxes are good taxes because he believes that the only good government is no government at all." He went on to say that "Liberals say no. We don't believe in big government, but we do believe in good government”

Wouldn't it seem logical to elect a party to government that believes in that office, rather than a party that consistently undermines the ability of the government to discharge its responsibilities. How is the government supposed to operate if it does not receive enough revenue? There is only one way and that is cutting programs.

Stephen Harper may be cutting taxes, but Ignatieff has ideas that help the average Canadian far more than a tax decrease. In his speech he envisioned investing in manufacturing research and development, in regional economic development, in protecting Canadian companies from foreign takeovers, and in building new bridges to China and India.

Such policy shows that Ignatieff believes government can be a source of good greater than simply making business friendly decisions. These policies and initiatives would benefit every Canadian.

The greatest difference between Harper and Ignatieff is thereby clear. One uses his office, in general, to lessen the bad for the few. The other would use his office for the good of Canada. The choice is clear.
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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Harper Intent on Government ads Promoting him, Rather than H1N1 Awareness

In figures recovered by the Canadian Press, Stephen Harper has spent $34 million on ads promoting his government's Action Plan, in comparison with a paltry $6.5 million. This means that the PM is spending more than 5 times the amount provided for H1N1 awareness for ads using government money to essentially promote the government, even falling in step with Conservative proclamations of "we can't stop now"

The ads promoting the Action Plan are clearly designed to convince the public that the Conservative government is doing a good job, claiming that 80% of the stimulus has already been implemented. Clearly these ads are not designed to inform the public of vital services provided the government, such as H1N1 vaccines, when they finally arrive, but rather to assure the public that the government is doing the right thing.

It would be different if the ads were informing the public about the home renovation policy, a specific program on which taxpayers need to act to benefit. In contrast, most of the spending referred to in the Action Plan ads benefits a passive public.

Wouldn't it be the right thing to do if the Conservatives were to run convincing ads adjuring the public to engage in preventative measures and obtain vaccinations? It would be.

But doing the right thing seldom seems to be a consideration Harper's Conservatives entertain much.
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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Mulroney Anniversary Reminds us of the Need for a National Party

It was 25 years ago that Brian Mulroney swept to victory with the greatest majority in Canadian history, winning over 50 seats in Quebec along the way. And while not being a Conservative and thus unable to feel some partisan pride, one can draw something from this event. Mulroney's sweep was truly national, representing constituencies from all over the country.

Joe Clark noted this at the anniversary, speaking with reporters. He said that it shows we need a government that unites Canadians instead of pitting them against each other.

It's certainly not going to come from the descendant of Clark's party, though. Stephen Harper has shown an innate ability to antagonize various regions of the country. It is no surprise as much of his politics is based on "the West getting in" This was a theme of his first election victory, when he toppled Paul Martin's government on the sponsorship scandal.

With a leader that plays this western card so well, who so clearly has a regional bias (who else sweeps a province) and is partisan in general, it's no wonder we have a more deeply divided country. And these characteristics are the reason we are in no sight of a majority government.

Neither does directing anger against Quebec for their coalition forming "separatists" provide any hope.

Although these events have effectively precluded a truly national government under Harper, Michael Ignatieff does not yet have this problem. In the next election campaign, Ignatieff needs to show that he cares about regions with traditionally lower Liberal support, such as BC. Or maybe Alberta.
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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

We've Avoided an Election, For the Next Week or So

With both the NDP and the Bloc voting with the government on Friday, implementing among other things the home renovation tax credit, the country has staved off an election for now. Nevertheless, this will not last long.

For the Bloc, it would have been stupidity itself to oppose one of the few popular measures taken by this government. And they have indicated that they would likely vote against the no-confidence motion the Liberals will inevitably table. Gilles Duceppe said "All in all, if we're asked if we have confidence in [this] government, the answer is no." Of course, that does not technically preclude abstention or any other number of tricks, but it would seem that the Bloc is still readying itself for an election.

More importantly though, although Jack Layton will be propping up the government in the near future, this situation cannot last forever for three reasons. First, the general reason of the acrimony of the conflict between the Conservatives and the NDP.

Specifically, despite Harper having found a carrot to dangle in front of Layton this time, he will have to keep doing so if Jack Layton is to support him. Layton cannot ever support classic Tory policy, lest his base abandon him for the Liberals or Greens. Seeing as this Prime Minister is highly partisan, I doubt he will be able to keep conceiving of flavours of the month for Layton's pleasure. After all, if we go to the polls, the NDP will suffer immeasurably more, as of now, than the Conservatives.

The second consideration is that Layton cannot afford to support the government for an extended period of time. If Stephane Dion taught us one thing, it's that abstention and/or supporting the government for too long will exact heavy tolls on your results at the polls. The poll numbers may be bad now, but what would they be if Layton were to support the Conservatives through this entire session, on confidence votes.

Not to say we won't have a short period of time in which the NDP will support the government. We will, if only to give the NDP time to fundraise in preparation for a campaign, and as well to receive some support for saving the nation from an election and making parliament work.

Then Layton will pull the plug, unless Duceppe somehow steps in.
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Monday, September 14, 2009

The Liberals are Giving Foreign Policy its Due

In his speech to the Canadian Club in Ottawa today, the Liberal Leader drew attention to the Tories' complete lack of regard for the Foreign Affairs portfolio, epitomized by the consistent change in ministers, from Peter Mackay, through Maxime Bernier and David Emerson, to Lawrence Cannon. Foreign Affairs is a portfolio in which stability would usually be cherished, as it is important to have stable international relations that are not jolted periodically by a ministerial change.

But that is only one example of the problem. An important question to ask is: what is our foreign policy? Apart from sporadically reaching an agreement with a Latin American country on an economic deal of sorts, there is nothing concrete anyone could point to. This in what many would consider to be the second most important and influential cabinet position, after the Finance Minister.

The vision Michael Ignatieff offered in his speech today was refreshingly inspirational on this matter. He spoke of ending poverty, giving aid to the African continent, concentrating on developing our ties with India and China. Unlike Harper, he actually has a foreign policy he can present to voters.

Making this difference all the more evident can only be beneficial to Ignatieff. What's more, making foreign policy an important plank of his platform plays to his strengths as a cosmopolitan politician.

And it will cast away the dark ages that have befallen Foreign Affairs in this country.
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Sunday, September 13, 2009

We Deserve Better (and We Can Do Better)

Last week I wrote that I thought the French language ads released by the Liberals were superior to the English ones and it is still true, in a very important way. The slogans of the ads are different in the two languages. In French the Canadian voter is told that they deserve better. In the English ones they are told that the Liberals can do better. The French slogans is superior for numerous reasons, hinging on the Liberals being the ones who will be seen as having pushed the next election.

Due to the epic crudeness of Stephen Harper's government and its ubiquitous partisanship, it is highly tempting to run on this as your slogan. However, the majority of Canadians seem to believe that anyone could do better than Harper. In other words, this slogan that should become your rallying cry is not hugely revelatory.

What's more, the slogan "We can do Better" is less potent for reaching to supporters of other federal parties. The English ads clearly focus on the Liberals being able to do better. And while that is true, it would be more desirable to adopt a slogan that is less partisan, and thus more motivating. The slogan "We Deserve Better" appeals to the citizen in supporters of all the political parties, save the Conservatives. Everyone apart from a Tory can agree with those words, and have their emotions aroused by this injustice. Not everyone thinks that the Liberals are those who can do the job best.

Possibly more important is that a theme of deserving better is more appealing and effective with the non-partisan, politically disinterested Canadian. To reach this voter, one must ensure that they feel they need to vote, and that they have been wronged by their government. Therefore they are far more likely to respond positively to a less partisan slogan.

Finally and most importantly, the Liberals have positioned themselves so that they will have triggered the next election, if it comes. For this reason, the Liberal party needs to provide a compelling case for an election, sooner or later. Saying that the country deserves better fits this criteria better than declaring that we can do better, therefore we need an election.

Ignatieff needs to demonstrably prove that the Canadian citizen has been slighted, has received less from their government than they deserve and that their government has endorsed policies that are not in the national interest, or sound in principle. If he does so, voters will not only forgive him for causing an election, they will recognize the need for an election.

For if Ignatieff uses "We Can do Better", it begs the question so what? No such questions will be asked if the slogan is "We Deserve Better"
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Friday, September 11, 2009

Ignatieff Rules out Coalition in Smart Move

Today Ignatieff unequivocally ruled out the substance of the ubiquitous Conservative attack that if they do not obtain a majority, the Liberals will form a coalition government. This was the right move. It has negated as much as possible the Conservatives' most potent fear-mongering strategy for this election.

We saw in the surreptitiously recorded video of the Prime Minister practicing his stump speech that this would be the greatest Conservative attack. We saw to what extent Harper is willing to believe in a coalition. He says that the opposition parties will deny this until they are blue in the face, and subsequently form one anyway. We have seen instead that Stephen Harper will yell himself blue in the face about a coalition until he is blue in the face.

If the polls last December are any good indication, this was promising line of attack. Significant sections of the country were outraged at the possibility of a coalition, deeming it an unseemly power grab. However, now that Ignatieff has strongly denied it, this attack is much less potent.

Especially as Ignatieff can point, and did point, to his refusal of the coalition deal when he assumed the leadership of the LPC. No matter what the Conservatives throw at him, it is a strong piece of evidence.

So far what the Conservatives have mustered against this refusal is a quote from Ignatieff last December: "prepared to form a coalition government and to lead that government." At the time, Ignatieff could not have said anything different, lest he be seen, as deputy leader no less, as opposing his leader.

His actions after he became leader surely speak volumes more, as he at that point had actual control over the party's policy on this issue. What's more, as he reminded Canadians, successful minority governments have operated at the federal level without a coalition. In fact, a less successful government led by Stephen Harper has survived almost four years without entering into a coalition.

Ignatieff's stark denunciation of a coalition was necessary, albeit damaging to the public's perception of a perfectly valid notion. However, what Ignatieff did was necessary. Without it, he would have been highly vulnerable to Harper's baseless attacks. And we all know what happens when you are vulnerable to Harper's baseless attacks. You lose the election.
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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Think of It as an Electoral Stimulus Package

The $300 million tab on an election puts off many people, and is a concern oft mentioned by those opposed to an election in the recent future. They cite times of economic stability that prerequisite political stability. What if we thought of all this spending as a stimulus package instead? After all, elections are good for the economy. Candidates spend around $120 billion in their local constituencies. What's more, elections are also good for the job market, temporarily taking thousands of workers off the unemployment rolls, being hired by Elections Canada instead.

The Toronto Star had a good article on this yesterday:

A look through individual candidates' 2008 receipts – available by appointment at Elections Canada – reveals the flurry of local largesse: pizza shops, printing houses, bus companies, computer stores, community newspapers, flower shops and a host of other suppliers all cashed in.

Elections Canada also hires thousands of temporary workers, Dungan notes, which could prove timely in this autumn of rising unemployment.

"You might say there are more creative ways of doing that, but it does stimulate the economy," said the professor.

"The idea that it's a complete waste is not true."

Elections Canada says it spent $280 million on the October 2008 vote, a cost that comes directly out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund.

The figure is in line with two previous elections. The June 2004 vote cost $274 million, while January 2006 cost $272 million.

Elections Canada covers the cost of hiring workers, leasing office space for returning officers, renting polling stations, training field staff, printing ballots and voters lists, advertising, and information technology – plus reimbursing candidates and parties to the tune of about $60 million.

That reimbursement is based on a 50 per cent rebate of campaign expenses of candidates and parties. So it is safe to assume at least another $60 million – most of it taxpayer-subsidized in one way or another – is also pumped into the economy during the six-week election period.
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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Harper Utters "M" Word

At a meeting for party faithful in Sault Ste Marie, Stephen Harper dared utter the "M" word in connection with his party. Yes, Stephen Harper is talking about the country giving him a majority. And not just for any reason, no it's because there's a coalition out there just waiting to usurp all our democratic rights and turn us into a banana republic. Apart from the rhetoric addressed to those who still believe and trust the PM, what does this mean?

Obviously, Harper is drawing confidence from his recent uptick in support in recent polls, and the concurrent decline in Ignatieff's numbers.

However, this indicates more than a simple buoying of confidence. Talking of a majority was taboo during the last two election campaigns, after such musings in 2004 might have cost the CPC their government benches. Therefore, it would seem that Harper is highly confident. It is also possible, but less likely, that the PM has chosen a change in tactic just because he thinks it may work better this time.

Let's go with the assumption that Stephen Harper is highly confident. Should he be this confident? I would say no. The two most recent polls I know of are a Strategic Counsel poll and a Harris Decima poll. Both show him ahead of the Liberals, but the Harris Decima poll significantly less so. And the SC have previously ranked the Greens highest in Quebec, and are giving the BQ their highest polling since 2004. Sound reliable?

Calling for a majority could have momentous influence on the election campaign, as such utterances by Harper have only been behind closed doors. With this leak, harper shows he's being overconfident in his strategy of attacking an imaginary coalition and thereby claiming government. I guess he hasn't seen another poll saying 55% of Canadians now support a coalition in a future minority Parliament.
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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Bloc Advertising Makes Election Inevitable

With the release of BQ ads accusing the Conservatives and Liberals of having the same vision for Quebec, and party insiders opining that we will soon be off to the hustings, an election seems to be a sure thing. The only way out of an election would be for Layton to support the government on confidence votes, something he will not do because of Harper's rejection of such a scheme.

Technically, of course, Layton does not need Harper's approval to vote with him. However, due to the PM's rejection of a deal between the two parties, one gets the impression that the PM will not be very pliable at this stage. And it would only be with a pliable PM that Layton would benefit from supporting the government.

Layton cannot be seen to support Conservative policy that he has not amended in some form. But, in all likelihood, the Conservatives will not let him get close to amending confidence legislation.

So, the only two scenarios left to Layton are supporting the government without providing amendments to policy, or face the polls and hope for the best. Although NDP standing in the polls is not good, worse than their share of the vote last election, Layton cannot afford to be seen as selling out to the Conservatives. Major chunks of his support would switch their vote to the Liberals in protest, maybe for years to come.

Jack Layton has the choice that will determine whether an election occurs this fall, but in essence it has already been made for him.
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Monday, September 7, 2009

The Coalition Bogeyman

One of the obstacles that Ignatieff will face in the next election, whenever it is, is Stephen Harper's commitment to a coalition that everyone else has abandoned. This strategy is obviously aimed at producing a fear of this bogeyman in the electorate, as Harper knows that in December last year the greatest proportion of the country was resolutely against any coalition.

Here are some better known pundits talking about this issue:

If such a coalition bogeyman is brought to life, one hopes that Ignatieff has decided whether or not he does support a coalition. It could make all the difference.
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Sunday, September 6, 2009

Transcript of French Language Liberal ads Released Sep 6 2009

Translation: Four years and three environment ministers were enough for Canada to become the worst country in the G8 in regards to fighting climate change and still today, the Harper government still lacks a plan to turn around this situation. Like you, I think it is high time for Canada to lead again on the international scene. Because we deserve better.

Translation: When the Harper government tells you in the same year that there will be no recession, and then that there will be no deficit, to finally tell you that there is a recession, and that we will have a record deficit of $50 billion, it shows that this government is completely disconnected from reality and irresponsible. It is high time to put Canada back onto the path of prosperity. Because we deserve better.
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French Ads Should be Model for Future English Ads

With the release of 3 Liberal ads today, some criticism of the English language ad "Worldview" has been made surrounding what some see as a hokey and bland ad. However, the French-language ads are anything but. They are damning criticisms of Harper's management of the economy and the environment, two issues that are at the forefront of the national consciousness.

In "Bilan Deficit" (translated "Deficit Assessment"), Ignatieff points out how Harper's continually changing stance on a deficit, from total denial to having to admit it is over $50 million, shows a real disconnect with reality. Hardly bland and hokey words:

In "Bilan Deficit"/ "Assessing the Environment", Ignatieff exposes the failure of Harper's government on the environment by highlighting the fact that 3 environment ministers have been responsible for Canada being in the worst shape among all the G8 on the issue of climate change. In contrast, Ignatieff promises to restore our environmental leadership.

Of course, none of these ads as of yet have revealed any policy. But the French language ads give confidence, indicating that the Liberal Party is indeed able to go blow for blow with the PM.

With much deeper pockets than under Dion, and an ability to produce hard-hitting ads, Harper's time really is up.

I don't wonder about the quality of the ads or the ability to produce them, my question is why the difference between the French and English ads.
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Friday, September 4, 2009

What Ignatieff's Campaign Narrative Should Be

Since it would seem that an election is forthcoming, Ignatieff is probably developing a narrative for the upcoming campaign. Since Ignatieff will be seen as triggering the election, it is imperative it be convincing, compelling, and inspiring. In other words, the opposite of Tory small ideas, a narrative that will draw out the forlorn Canadian voter, especially those that did not vote in the last election, as well as the youth.

With the economy seeming to recover, with a job gain of 27000 in August, some may think that Ignatieff's best opportunity at such a narrative has disappeared, that Ignatieff capitalized too late on this window of opportunity.

This is not the case. If the economy is recovering, Ignatieff can stress all the more the need to supervise this recovery, to ensure that we emerge from this recession with a stronger economy, a fairer economy and a greener economy.

Ignatieff can also point out that the Tories will be perfectly willing to let the economy follow the same path it did prior to this downturn, once the economy has fully recovered. Furthermore, he can attack the Conservatives with the OECD's recent conclusion that Canada will be the Western industrialized country that will have the slowest and longest recovery.:

Perfect material for an attack ad.

If Ignatieff took on Dion's motto in the last election of a "Richer, Fairer and Greener Canada" and changed it to be "A Stronger, Fairer, and Greener Economy", I believe it would inspire people. People really do care about an issue this time around, and it's the economy. If the campaign is based around this portfolio and the Conservatives failure at managing it, people will listen. All sorts of people that didn't vote last time. The young for example, who care about a green economy quite a lot.

Essentially, this strategy entails going where the Conservatives cannot go, and attacking them for they have gone, on the issue that people care most about. If you make them feel you will improve the economy, improve their lives and the environment, they'll vote you in. What's more, this time around you have the money to tell them about it.
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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Jack, is that a coalition you've formed with Stephen?

When Ignatieff announced that Harper's time was up and that the Liberals would oppose the government on confidence votes, the NDP, sensing an opportunity of sorts, revealed that they would be willing to operate with the Conservatives on a case by case basis. However, in an NDP understanding of things, they have entered into a coalition.

I do not believe this, but the NDP, if it is to be consistent and coherent, should. Back when the budget was passed, the NDP, hurt that their plans for a coalition with the Liberals fell through, claimed that a most unholy alliance, a coalition, had been established between the Liberals and the Conservatives. That there was no signed agreement between the two leaders was inconsequential and thus not addressed.

Fast forward again and the circumstances are similar for the NDP. There is no formal agreement, no negotiations have been carried out to guarantee the government support over a certain period of time. Instead, the NDP finds itself doing exactly what the Liberals were doing months ago.

Why would the NDP change its mind on what qualifies on a coalition? Simple really, last time it was the Liberals trying to avoid an election. Now it's us. Moreover, crucially, the NDP would probably lose seats and experience its first decline in this category for a long time. It is the Liberals whose fortunes have looked up in the opinion polls, it is the Liberals who are resurgent in Quebec.

Hopefully Layton will not manipulate the electorate again, using Tory-worthy tactics of deception, since he is finally engaging in what he so criticized. Let's hope so for the sake of the quality of political debate in Canada.
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