Election speculation rife as upbeat Liberals hold retreat for caucus
A revitalized Liberal caucus will have a better sense of how soon they are going to force the Harper government to face the electorate after MPs and senators end their three-day retreat in Kitchener.
Bouncing back from a year of demoralization and dissension under new leader Stéphane Dion, Liberals are increasingly upbeat, convinced that a growing list of political controversies and a slipping economy are making Prime Minister Stephen Harper vulnerable in an election.
“More and more Canadians are starting to feel that they’ve had enough of the Conservative government,” said national caucus chair Anthony Rota.
Dion is keeping his options open, saying it’s important to see what’s in the federal budget, expected in about six weeks, before taking a decision on defeating the Conservative minority and precipitating a national vote.
But many Liberals are impatient about continuing to support Tory policies in the House of Commons to avoid an election.
“I just don’t see how we can continue to prop the government up,” says MP John MacKay. “I think there is a sentiment to go” among his caucus colleagues, he added.
While admitting there’s no way of telling how the Liberals would do in a campaign pitting Harper — a proven campaigner — against the untried Dion, the party can’t put off that risk forever, MacKay says: “Whatever happens, happens.”
Election speculation is certain to be the dominant topic as the Liberals, who have 157 MPs and senators in their caucus, meet prior to the reopening of Parliament after its holiday break on Jan. 28.
Liberals say they have been heartened by a string of recent developments that have people wondering if the Conservatives have lost their once sure-footed management abilities. Among them are the handling of the Mulroney-Schreiber uproar, the government’s late-night dismissal of Canada’s chief nuclear safety watchdog, the federal Tories’ insistence on calling Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty as “the small man of Confederation,” continuing friction over the Afghanistan mission, and Canada’s reputation as an international laggard on climate change.