The Canadian Parliament has kicked off its fall session with the highly anticipated Throne Speech laying out the minority Conservative government’s plans for the country. With a number of key opposition demands unmet, the NDP and Bloc Québecois will vote against it. If the Liberals were to do the same, they would trigger Canada’s third federal election since 2004.
Conventional wisdom suggests the timing is very bad for embattled Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion whose party has been self-destructing in his home province of Quebec ever since the recent by-election fiasco. Mere hours before the speech, two more senior figures joined the ranks of Quebec Liberals who have resigned in the last month.
Both Dion and his deputy and chief rival Michael Ignatieff are suggesting that Canadians want to avoid a return to the polls. But accepting a final rejection of the Kyoto Protocol and a possible extension of the Afghan mission until 2011 could make it difficult for the Liberals to remain a credible opposition. And given the Conservative plan to reintroduce a number of rejected crime-fighting measures as a single omnibus bill, the choice between toppling the government and appearing to cave to Tory demands is likely to be a recurring one.
A poll out this week puts Conservative support at 34 per cent, five points ahead of their traditional rivals. The Liberals would certainly enter an election campaign as the underdogs but Dion might be able to staunch his party’s bleeding by focusing attention on key issues rather than internal feuding. If he does not roll the dice soon, he may never get the chance.