Tuesday, June 15, 2004

"King or Byng?" Part 2...Harper or Clarkson?

Paul Wells suspects that if the parties are roughly balanced after the next election that Harper will be better placed to form a government by wooing away loose fish Liberal MPs.

I don't think so. I think that an alliance of the left will be set up, with the Liberals relying on NDP support as they did after the 1972 election.

This could be an interesting situation. I would even go so far as to speculate that if the Liberals have up to a dozen seats less that the Tories, they could still be asked to stay in government if the NDP can put them over the top. Adrienne Clarkson, not the most conservative person in the world, could be easily persuaded. As Wells notes in his column, Mr. Martin does not have to resign as Prime Minister until he loses a vote of confidence in the House of Commons.

That kind of situation would be eerly reminscent of the run up to the 1926 election and a godsend to Stephen Harper. In the 1925 election, the Liberals lost dozens of seats after a scandal--this time a controversy over Canada Customs. What happened then was that the Liberals lost a vote of confidence. Then Viscount Byng, the Governor-General, gave the Opposition Tories a chance to govern with the support of the Progressive Party instead of immediately dissolving the House as King had asked Byng to do.

When that government fell, Canadians went to the polls in 1926. Mackenzie King, the Liberal leader, was able to clobber the Tories on a "King or Byng?" platform, making Canadian voters indignant that an appointed head of state had not overstepped his bounds by giving the Tories an opportunity to form a government, even though they and their allies had finished second in the 1925 election.

Imagine the Liberals finishing second in the seat totals behind the Tories in the current election but being allowed to stay in power. The de facto convention in the mind of the Canadian public is that the party that finishes first in the seat count gets the first chance to form a government. Canadians would be incensed and today's Tories could only benefit.

Adrienne Clarkson as the new Lord Byng. She wouldn't dare. Or would she?