Monday, September 14, 2009

Parliament Opens (Updated)

It has been an eventful day so far, and we haven't even gotten to Question Period yet.

From the Conservatives, we had Diane Finley and Jean-Pierre Blackburn presenting their proposed changes to EI. I'm sure I have the details wrong, but it expands accessibility to EI benefits if you haven't used it a lot and have worked steadily for seven of the last ten years. Better than nothing, certainly, but a labour spokesperson on Radio-Canada lampooned the proposals, saying it leaves seasonal and contract workers in the lurch. He said that there are thousands of people in Blackburn's own riding who still wouldn't benefit from this EI change. To sum up his view, it smacks of the idea of a "deserving poor" versus the "undeserving poor", a view of poverty that was last en vogue in the 19th century.

For the Liberals, Michael Ignatieff spoke at the Canadian Club about his vision of Canada on the world stage. This is an indication that rather than shy away from his own history abroad, the Liberals are going to focus on Canadian foreign policy as one of their electoral planks. Ignatieff was basically saying Canada needs to return to a position of influence in world affairs, and he severely criticised Stephen Harper's performance in that theatre. He even praised Brian Mulroney and John Diefenbaker for their international accomplishments, contrasting that to Canada's current record. His speech was pretty forceful and specific (such as a G20 secretariat hosted in Canada), showing that we may start seeing more of these policy proposals rolled out as we run up to the campaign and when we enter it.

Jack Layton's much-hyped speech this morning was a mere run-of-the-mill opening-of-session motivational piece. He did emphasise his willingness to 'make Parliament work', and certainly had some conciliatory tones towards supporting Conservative policies if they are worth supporting, but he didn't make any specific requirements for his support. I don't think what the Conservatives have proposed will be enough for the NDP, even though Paul Dewar quickly followed Finley and Blackburn to say they would take into consideration what has been proposed and act accordingly.

I missed Gilles Duceppe on Radio-Canada this morning, but from what I can glean from media reports there isn't anything new in what he said, just simply that they'll see what the Tories propose and decide based on that. This position is the default position of the Bloc, so it doesn't change the generally accepted view that the Bloc is perfectly willing to topple the government.

Question Period is about to start. I'm looking forward to gauging the tone.

15:32 UPDATE - In all likelihood, the government will not fall on Friday. From what I've heard today, the NDP is likely to vote for the ways and means motion at the end of the week, and the Bloc could even vote for it too. But don't fret. Although the media has run the headline that the government could fall on Friday, that was never the most likely scenario. In a few weeks, the Liberals are expected to put forward a non-confidence motion, which the Bloc is almost certain to support. Duceppe himself said today that he has no confidence in this government. What will remain to be seen is what the NDP will do in such a situation. If they decide to support the government or abstain, no matter what reason they can come up with, they will have to eat their hats.

17:39 UPDATE - Listening to the coverage this afternoon, the election balloon is almost entirely deflated. An open question to you readers, how has this changed the original timeline, that the Liberals would introduce a non-confidence motion at the end of the month which the Bloc and NDP would support? The Liberals are committed to it, the Bloc is all but committed to it, and the NDP will have to do some real gymnastics to vote in favour of the government. I have great difficulty with the idea that over the next two-to-three weeks the Tories will not do something to turn the NDP away, or that the NDP will be able to maintain friendship with the Tories.

The Liberals and Bloc will gleefully put the NDP in the Dion position. If the NDP has to support the Tories until next spring, that means the Liberals will have an easy time pulling progressive voters away from the NDP. The Bloc and NDP same some of the same voters in Quebec, so that would completely destroy the NDP's chances of winning a seat in the province.

The Liberals will vote non-confidence. We're 99% sure the Bloc will vote non-confidence. Can anyone really see Jack Layton supporting Stephen Harper for more than a month?

As far as I'm concerned, we're as likely to have an election in 2009 as were a few days ago.