Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Tories Score a Touch

In fencing (the sword type), a point gained by striking the target is known as a "touch." This afternoon, the Liberals got touched.

Yes, it's a technicality and not an actual vote of confidence. Yes, the Liberals could still carry on as the government and the courts and the Governor General would, in all likelihood, rule in their favor.

But this is a wound, and it's one that will make this government limp, for several reasons:

1. Both the Tories and the Bloc showed superior discipline in getting the vote out. Some of the Tory members are ill -- one is suffering from cancer -- but the fact that they're willing to sacrifice their health to bring this government down shows just how seriously Stephen Harper and Gilles Duceppe are taking this.

2. The Liberals just received notice they've been out-generalled on this one. It's only now sunk into their minds that by delaying opposition days (and therefore delaying confidence votes) they've only made the Opposition parties mad at them. Which is not a wise thing to do in a minority situation. There is now sufficient pressure upon the Liberals to have a confidence vote sooner instead of later -- and they know that there's a good possibility that they'll lose it. And they've just about run out of procedural options.

3. The alliance with the NDP isn't a stable one. Don Laytone will support the Liberals to get the budget through; he seems to view that as the responsible thing for the New Democrats to do. But once the budget vote is held, all bets are off. If Ed Broadbent's sentiments are widespread enough among the NDP caucus, the Don will withdraw his party's support from any confidence motion. Which means it's now extremely doubtful that this government will last beyond June.

4. We now have a pretty good preview of how a budget vote will go. The Liberals lost this procedural vote by a 3 vote margin because Justice Minister Irwin Cotler is away attending a funeral (which is understandable--he'd be in big trouble at home if he didn't go) and Natural Resources Minister John Efford is undergoing medical treatment in his home riding. One independent MP, Chuck Cadman, didn't vote because he's recovering from chemotherapy. Assuming our two sick Tory MPs don't get worse, the odds of getting a tie vote on the budget (which would equal a win, because because the Speaker would normally rule in favor) aren't good because they hinge on Cadman recovering from chemo enough to get to Parliament and vote in favour.

Yes, the Liberals are still able to walk. But they're walking wounded now--and the final blow is looming closer ...