With the results of the latest Strategic Counsel poll showing that the Conservatives have opened a huge lead, Prime Minister Stephen Harper should not delay enacting legislation to allow British Columbia and Ontario to harmonize their sales taxes with the GST - a measure that would strengthen the Canadian economy.
The reason he should move expeditiously is not to engineer an election, to be sure, but to avoid one. As pollster Peter Donolo makes clear in his accompanying analysis, Canadians would not be amused by any party that brings one on at this time. The reason he should move on the legislation is that the Conservatives are in a strong position to enact it now, and they may not be in a strong position in a few months. And the opposition parties are in a weak position to oppose it now, and that too may change in a few months.
For the past week, the NDP has been positioning itself to thwart implementation of a harmonized sales tax in B.C. and Ontario. While the Conservatives have met their opposition with derision, they should not underestimate the anger in British Columbia in particular. Nor should they underestimate the potential spill-over of this anger into federal politics, which could easily tempt the NDP to withdraw confidence in the Conservatives and bring on an election when they are in a stronger position.
On Saturday, La Presse reported that Liberal MPs disagreed over whether they would systematically be voting against the Conservatives, or whether they would approach the question on a case-by-case basis. Yesterday, according to a report in this morning's Le Devoir, Michael Ignatieff settled the dispute by indicating that the Liberals would vote case-by-case, except for confidence matters, on which they would systematically vote to defeat the government.
Legislation to implement the HST would be a confidence matter. However, Michael Ignatieff has promised Premier Dalton McGuinty that federal Liberals will respect Ontario's agreement with Ottawa, so he will have a difficult decision to make if the matter comes to an early vote in the Commons. The prospect of a majority Conservative government if he brings down Mr. Harper should concentrate his mind wonderfully.
Update From a report in Tuesday's Prince George Citizen:
"Could the harmonized sales tax be the issue that forces a federal election?
Skeena-Bulkley Valley NDP MP Nathan Cullen says it's possible.
At some point the House of Commons will have to pass legislation authorizing Ottawa to pay B.C. $1.6 billion and Ontario $4.3 billion in compensation to ease the transition, and Cullen said Monday the NDP will vote against the measure.
Although Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff recently clarified that his party would not reverse the tax if elected, Cullen said the Liberals have declared they will vote against the Conservatives on every motion of confidence.
'The Liberals are conflicted,' Cullen said.
That leaves the Bloc holding the hammer and Cullen said the Conservatives will have to fork over money to Quebec if they want to get the legislation through.
'The Bloc wants money because Quebec signed a version of HST but didn't get compensated, and now Quebec is feeling a little slighted, well more than a little, they want billions,' Cullen said.
Prince George-Peace River MP Jay Hill, who is also the Conservative house leader, said it will likely be some time yet before the issue is even brought to a vote, noting HST is not due to begin in B.C. until July 1, 2010.
'I'm not aware of any deadline that's going to force us to bring forward that legislation anytime soon,' Hill said adding it could be included in next year's federal budget as opposed to being stand-alone legislation.
'That would seem kind of logical to me,' said Hill, whose duties as house leader include guiding the government's agenda through the House, determining which bills will be called forward for debate and negotiating with the opposition leaders on matters for the day'."