Tuesday was budget day in Ottawa, but more importantly, it may have been the day that determines whether the Conservative government will survive a little longer, or whether an election will soon be held.
Prior to the official tabling of the budget on Tuesday afternoon, it appeared that the Conservatives were ready to include some items that the NDP had asked for. If this proves to be enough to secure NDP support for the budget, it will likely pass and prospects for an election will dim.
For most Canadians, that would be the preferred approach. They are not consumed with politics, and see little need for another election that is likely to confirm the present status of all four parties in Parliament.
That would be the Conservatives in power with a minority; the Liberals as official opposition; the NDP as a perennial third party with a fair bit of influence; and the Bloc Quebecois as separatists from Quebec, holding the majority of Quebec seats.
The current minority government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been in power for just over five years. It has kept the vast majority of its campaign promises and governed effectively, particularly when the world economy was melting down in 2008. Canada is now seen by many investors as among the safest countries in the world, with a strong financial system, a treasure trove of resources, a well-educated work force and a great deal of stability.
The fact that the Conservatives are forced to govern with a minority of seats has actually produced a remarkable period of stability. The government cannot bring in radical change, because Parliament won’t back it. Tinkering around the edges is allowed, but only so much.
Federal governments, because of the size and complexity of Canada, tend to do poorly at bringing in programs that succeed across the country. They work best when they stick to matters they have constitutional authority over, and do not bring in social programs that are more within provincial jurisdiction.
If there is another election, the best result would be a Parliament that remains balanced among the four parties (although ideally, the support for the separatists in Quebec would gradually start to disappear).
But seeing as that is what we have right now, and an election isn’t required until 2013, why bother? MPs should stay in Ottawa and away from the hustings.