a weekly blog for all interested in professional communications issues

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Election if necessary, but not necessarily an election

Here we go again. We’re in the midst of more excitement about a pending election nobody claims to want.

All party leaders have been fanning out in what they insist is not campaigning. The two major parties are busy blasting each other with attack ads. And the media are playing their part by acting like fight promoters.

Yup. It sure looks like an election is imminent. Or maybe not.

We are witnessing what is fast becoming a standard part of minority government – the pre-campaign. Pre-campaigns are good for market-testing potential ballot questions. Or, in the event of near-deadlock in the polls, a pre-campaign is good for testing for cracks in the other guy’s support.

Both of these reasons are factors in this current pre-campaign.

The polls haven’t changed much since the 2008 election. As they stand now, an election would produce a Parliament not terribly different from the current standings.

Should there be a shift in the Conservatives’ favour during the pre-campaign, we can be sure the governing party will find a way to engineer an election, regardless of what the Prime Minister is saying.

It will not be so easy for the Liberals to cash in on a shift in their favour, or signs of one pending. Historically, any surge in Liberal support has been at the expense of the NDP.

There is a very real possibility the New Democrats could wind up propping up the government in the budget vote this spring.

Still it might be useful for the Liberals to force a confidence vote in which the NDP has to bail out the Tories. The Liberals may also need the NDP to back up the government if their strategy backfires. Michael Ignatieff’s ultimatum that the March budget contain a rollback of phased-in cuts to business taxes or the Liberals will vote against it doesn’t have much wiggle room.

As for possible ballot questions, the pre-campaign will be risky for Liberals and Conservatives. The two majors seem to have both decided to lock horns over tax cuts for business – at least for now.

After two years in the current mandate, the Tories really don’t have much to put in the store window.

The stimulus plan will be past tense by the time voters do head to the polls. The Tories at first thought they would be able to count on bragging rights for replacing the number of jobs lost during the recession.

However, Statistics Canada has played spoiler by restating post-recession employment creation numbers. As a result, the government is 30,000 jobs short of making that claim.

Canadians are less than enthralled over the F-35 purchase. The Tories’ fear mongering over an evil coalition of Opposition parties hasn’t produced the results they had been seeking. The law and order initiatives are at saturation point. The character assassination ads may be wearing thin. And there has been nothing but damage control in foreign affairs.

So the rebranding of continued tax cuts for business as a job creation initiative might turn out to be a good move for the Tories as long as they are able to define the debate. After all, the Liberals did support the phased-in tax cuts for business in 2007. Business taxes now stand at 16 per cent. The Tories want to move them down one more percentage point in 2012 to give Canada the lowest business taxes in the G7.

As for the Liberals, the science of economics is on their side. Cutting taxes in a deficit situation is really spending money you don’t have. If the Liberals are able to frame business tax cuts as a deficit enlarger, the Tories have a problem.

They can also argue low business taxes alone don’t automatically create jobs. Otherwise Ireland, with business taxes of 12.5 per cent, would have an abundance of new jobs.

The Liberals can truthfully say they supported tax cuts when there was a budget surplus. But that detail could easily be lost in all the noise made by the Tory spin machine.

Still, the Tories don’t feel comfortable enough to spell out exactly how they will slay the deficit by the promised 2015. So they are vulnerable on the deficit.

About the last thing the Conservatives can be accused of is being fiscal conservatives. The Tory cheque writers have been busier than the spin machine.

We are about to witness a spectacular issue framing war between the major parties.

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