Prime Minister Layton?

An unstated, and almost certainly correct, assumption underlying the speculation about a spring campaign is that the Harper government’s defeat on a confidence vote would result in an election. However, as Andrew Coyne correctly points out, the Governor General could instead call upon someone other than Harper to form a government able to command the House’s confidence.

Harper would want Her Excellency to initiate an election and recent practice has been to proceed in this manner. However, in losing the House’s confidence, Harper would lose his Prime Ministerial authority to advise the Governor General. Also, Coyne identifies several specific circumstances that might justify exercising the Governor General’s prerogative to call on someone else to form a government.

This scenario is quite interesting, if unlikely. Although I see little reason for optimism about a potential Dion government, one completely beholden to the NDP and Bloc might be a vehicle for progressive policy.

My quibble with Coyne’s analysis is that, while the Bloc and the Liberals clearly have reason to fear an election, the NDP is in decent shape by historical standards. He suggests that the NDP “is leaking support left and right, squeezed between the fast-rising Greens and the leftward-lurching Liberals.” However, the notion that the Greens are left-wing is starting to crumble and the Liberals are imploding rather than expanding at anyone’s expense. The NDP need not be afraid of a federal election.

Therefore, the configuration most likely to command the House’s confidence might be a government with Layton at the helm. The Bloc and the Liberals would have to prop up the NDP to avoid an election. On issues other than Quebec secession, the Bloc often agrees with the NDP anyway. Layton could take the initiative as Prime Minister to shame the Liberals, who are struggling to appear progressive, into accepting much of his social-democratic agenda.

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