Monday 2 May 2011

Federal Election: Why NDP owes Dion and who will be in the Senate?

If NDP leader Jack Layton wants to extend a big thank you to one of the true inspirations for his big Orange machine’s incredible sweep in Quebec, it is St. Laurent-Cartierville MP Stéphane Dion. He was the leader of the Liberal Party in 2007 when a by-election was called in the longtime Liberal stronghold of Outremont to replace Jean Lapierre, who had returned to broadcasting.

Justin Trudeau wanted the nomination. But Dion had other ideas. Instead he chose journalist Jocelyn Coulon. Seeing an opportunity, the NDP parachuted former provincial cabinet minister Thomas Mulcair in the mix. Coulon was a total train wreck and Mulcair ended up becoming the NDP’s only MP. He won the riding again a year later and of course trounced to victory on Monday. Trudeau ended up seeking a hard fought nomination in the tough Papineau riding, which was held by the Bloc Quebecois. He defeated incumbent Viviane Barbot two and a half years ago and did so again on Monday.

Why did Layton and the NDP catch fire in Quebec? There are many reasons, but the presence of Mulcair is one huge reason. I can say with almost certainty that had Dion allowed Trudeau to run in Outremont, Mulcair would have sat out that by-election and waited for the 2008 general election.

Justin recognizes that he did not choose an easy constituency. He rightfully should have been handed the Outremont riding nomination for the 2007 by-election. Instead, then party leader Stéphane Dion chose journalist Jocelyn Coulon instead. Coulon was no match for Thomas Mulcair, who made history for the NDP by taking the riding. I remember speaking to Mulcair a few months earlier and Outremont was a long shot for him at the time. Had Trudeau run there, it is highly likely Mulcair would not have thrown his hat in the ring.

Senate Talk: There is no doubt now who is running this country. It is Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada, with majorities in the House of Commons and the Senate. The earliest we will go the polls again federally will be the spring of 2015. Besides appointing a new cabinet, Harper also has some work to do to boost his Senate majority. The Tories have 52 Senators, compared to 46 for the Liberals, two representing the old Progressive Conservative banner and two independents. There are three vacant seats, two in Quebec and one in Newfoundland and Labrador. The Senate possesses all of the powers of the House of Commons except that of initiating financial legislation.

Will he appoint a Senator from Montreal to the cabinet? Leo Housakos would be an excellent choice. Harper has done this before when former Senator Michael Fortier was appointed Minister of International Trade and then Minister of Public Works and Government Services. It would be nice to see Harper reward some of his defeated candidates in Montreal with a Senate appointment: Saulie Zajdel, Agop Evereklian and Neil Drabkin come to mind.

The Next Elections: When will Quebecers next go to the polls? A provincial election must be called no later than December 9, 2013. However, that would mark five years to the day Jean Charest’s Liberals won the last vote. Incumbent parties usually pull the switch after four years. If Charest steps down before the end of his mandate, which most observers expect him to do, then the timing will depend upon when he makes such a move and who succeeds him. When Daniel Johnson assumed the leadership of the provincial Liberals from Robert Bourassa in 1994 and became premier he stretched the mandate of his party in power. Raymond Bachand or Jean-Marc Fournier, seen to be the front runners to succeed Charest, could do the same thing. Municipal elections will take place on November 3, 2013. School board elections could be piggybacked with them on the same day and time.

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