Early federal vote unlikely

By calling a provincial election for April 16, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has opened a window for an early federal vote.

If Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were so inclined, he could send Canadians to the polls before Canada Day.

He would not need to look very far for a rationale to justify pre-empting the fall campaign by holding the vote this spring.

The Conservative opposition has provided the ruling Liberals with a tailor-made reason to jump the election gun.

Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says he is determined to bring parliamentary business to a halt over the Liberal decision to shut down further committee inquiries into the SNC-Lavalin affair.

There are nine scheduled weeks of sittings between now and a summer adjournment that should not see the House of Commons back until after the Oct. 21 election.

Tuesday’s budget was the last big item on the government’s to-do list. Absent any hope of opposition co-operation, the Liberals are about to conclude their current term on a toxic parliamentary note.

For all intents and purposes, Trudeau has drawn a line in the sand on the SNC-Lavalin affair.

By all accounts, that line is definitive, not tentative.

It seems the prime minister would rather endure a spring of raucous opposition discontent than bend to the other parties’ will to hear more from the controversy’s main protagonists — starting with former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould.

Trudeau’s team has so far been adamant that it is content to wait for the fall and the set Oct. 21 vote to present its case for re-election to voters.

But until this week, it was not clear that the option of a pre-summer federal vote was even available.

Per Alberta law, Notley could have called the election for a vote to be held as late as May 31 — blocking off in the process most of the spring’s political calendar.

It is easier to make a case for the Liberals using all the time at their disposal to allow the dust to settle on SNC-Lavalin than to explain why the Conservatives are not clamouring for an election.

Polls show the affair has taken a toll on Trudeau’s electoral prospects. Still, whether that damage is permanent remains an open question.

On balance, Tuesday’s budget was well received. Anyone looking for a visionary document was left hungry.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s fourth budget will not go down in history for its structural impact on the country. As a rule, few pre-election budgets do.

But nor did it come across as the product of a government on its last legs, at a loss to spring back from the hits it has been taking for more than a month.

The opposition parties may want to prevent the government from moving on from this crisis, but anecdotal evidence suggests public fatigue with the SNC-Lavalin furor is already setting in. Oher issues are moving up on the radar.

On Thursday, Quebec Premier Francois Legault oversaw the presentation of the Coalition Avenir Quebec’s first budget. With contentious legislation on religious signs in the public service in the pipeline, the province’s religious accommodation debate is also about to resume with a vengeance.

The Ontario budget is scheduled for April 11. Battle lines over class sizes are already being drawn with teachers and many parents on the opposite side of Doug Ford’s government. Alberta, of course, will be preoccupied with the shape of its provincial political landscape for at least the next five weeks.

If the past is any indication, public patience with parliamentary guerrilla wars and those who instigate them tends to be limited.

For the better part of the past month, Scheer has been arguing that the prime minister no longer has the moral authority to govern. On Trudeau’s role in the SNC-Lavalin affair, he has already come to a conclusion.

The Conservative party is committed to paralyzing Parliament for as long as it takes for the government to cave to its demands — something that seems unlikely to happen between now and the election.

If Scheer believes his own rhetoric, should he not be calling for Canadians to be given the earliest possible opportunity to kick the Liberals out?

And yet, prior to and since Tuesday’s budget, he has had plenty of opportunities to call for an earlier election and he has so far passed on all of them.

Scheer is betting that weeks of parliamentary warfare will enhance his pre-election standing. As it happens, so — at least for now — is Trudeau.

Chantal Hebert is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.

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