With the release of Finance Minister Jim Flahertys budget, and its subsequent denunciation by the three opposition parties, Alberni Valley residents now face the prospect of a federal election.
We can perhaps forgive local MP James Lunneys optimism when he predicted, at 1:50 Pacific Daylight Time, that the budget would receive grudging approval from NDP leader Jack Layton, who delivered his pre-emptive rejection to the national press about 10 minutes later.
Its not a given that the opposition will field sufficient members to outnumber the Conservatives when the matter comes to a vote. Reading between the lines, one could surmise that the Harper forces are counting on a combination of 11 NDP, Liberal or Bloc Quebecois members to suffer a case of the sniffles, twisted ankle or other condition sufficient to keep them from attending the vote. That way, they would maintain the fiction of opposing the budget while allowing it to slide past.
For Nanaimo-Alberni voters who have been served by a Conservative backbencher through the life of the Harper government, the question is going to be, Where do I park my vote this time?
While B.C. voters dont vote as strategically as Quebecers, one must consider whether theyd rather vote for the best candidate or the candidate who is best prepared to fulfill the needs of the community. Having a cabinet minister for your MP is optimum; a journeyman government member with good connections is a reasonably good second choice.
The question is going to be whether the political landscape has shifted sufficiently to break the recent cycle of minority governments. With a number of ethical questions currently surrounding the government, the opposition parties may feel they have the chance to form that uneasy coalition that the Conservatives have warned against since the first prorogation of Parliament a couple of years back.
What makes it difficult for Valley voters is that the federal Liberals havent provided much constituency support over the years, and its unlikely they will parachute a star candidate into the riding. There hasnt been a Liberal MP in Alberni since the days of Pierre Trudeau and his parliamentary secretary, Hugh Anderson, and we havent seen a candidate of Andersons calibre for some time.
Its unlikely the federal NDP could convince MLA Scott Fraser to take a run at the federal seat, but voters will remember that the former Tofino mayor, in his first shot at the big leagues, gave Lunney a solid run for his money in 2004. Zeni Maartman is poised to run again, but last time out, there was a 15% gap between herself and Lunney, and federal NDP fortunes have faded somewhat.
The big question has been, did Flaherty simply scatter some kitty-treats in anticipation of an election, or did he really mean for this budget to fly? The finance minister could have ensured support in Quebec by including the $2.2 billion in compensation for adopting the harmonized sales tax (B.C. got $1.6 billion, and Quebecs population is commensurately bigger), but would he really want to exhaust that political capital with an election down the road at some date? Compensation for implementing the HST is inevitable. A cynic would say Flaherty torpedoed the Bloc by making them party to a forced election, and will now dangle the $2.2 billion carrot before the Quebec voters when they prepare to go to the polls.
For semi-rural constituencies like Nanaimo-Alberni, some of those boutique tax breaks, such as for volunteer firefighters and for family caregivers, will look pretty enticing, as will the revived ecoEnergy retrofit program. One could expect that the NDP and Liberals will embrace many of the goodies proffered in Tuesdays budget, but in trashing the Flaherty budget, theyve indicated theyre prepared to spend a lot more taxpayer money, and thats unlikely to resonate with voters in communities like ours.
Alberni Valley Times
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