Election 2015: An Escape Hatch for the NDP?
In an earlier post, I sought to explain (not necessarily defend) the Mulcair teamâ€™s decision to run balanced budgets as an election campaign tactic to counter being branded by the Conservatives (and potentially the Liberals)as a profligate manager of the public purse. Â Whether or not this tactic is successful will ultimately reflect in the October 19th electoral results.
Since this announcement in late August, polls have suggested the tactic may not have worked, with the NDP having being overtaken by the Conservatives and Liberals in terms of share of the popular vote.Â It does not strictly follow that these polling trends will translate into the seats necessary to form a majority for any party, especially for the Liberals, who will have to gain an additional 134 sears to form the government, from the 36Â seats they held at dissolution.Â Another consideration is the extent we can have confidence in any Â polling results given the deterioration of a reliable sampling frame with the rise of cell phone use over land lines.
However, letâ€™s consider three possible electoral outcomes for the NDP: an NDP minority government supported by the Liberals, a Liberal minority government supported by the NDP Â (minority governments beingÂ not uncommon in Canadian politics) and a coalition government between the NDP and Liberals (rare in Canadian history but canâ€™t be ruled out).Â In all three scenarios, it is plausible to imagine the NDP relinquishing their campaign promise of balanced budgets in order toÂ cooperate withÂ the Trudeau team.Â This would provide an escape hatch from the corner the Mulcair team has seemed to paint itself into with this campaign commitment of not one, but four consecutive balanced budgets.Â While a shrewd campaign tactic, the commitment makes the NDP vulnerable to three political risks: 1) the risk of alienating part of its support base, and having this contribute to its defeat on Oct 19; 2) assuming the NDP forms the government, the risk of making an economic policy error by sticking to balanced budgets, when in fact the government should have run deficits to achieve its policy goals; Â 3) the risk being punished in 2019 for breaking an election promise when an NDP government changes its position and runs deficits (recall George H.W. Bushâ€™s â€œread my lips, no new taxesâ€ in 1992).Â Â The possibility of a minority or a coalition between the NDP and the Liberals Â (and this is a real possibility, according to Nanos Research)Â would help the NDP avoid these three risks.
Beyond this issue, a larger question that has emerged (for me at least) is: what is this election about for Canadian voters? Â Unlike the 1988 election campaign, where free trade became the defining issue, this election is a rapidly Â moving discussion in the 24/7 news cycle, with few apparent anchors.Â What about the economic policy debate beyond the â€œ balanced budgets vs budget deficitâ€ issue? Â Wasnâ€™t it about how we treat refugees in this country?Â What about corruption and Senate? Â Climate change, anyone? Â Does Canada’s reputation abroad matter? Â How has citizenship and values moved up the middle? Â Is the niqab the defining issue of this moment for Canadians?