Coyne and Cosh on when the writ should dropAndrew Coyne has written a fine column urging the real Paul Martin, a man who he believes has a sense of shame, to postpone the next election.
Which means, finally, that a spring election is out of the question. This is no longer a matter of being fair to the opposition - though once upon a time fairplay was considered important, even in politics. It is in the public interest that the voters be presented with a choice of candidates, and parties, that are at least to some degree known quantities. Yet all three federal parties have, or will have, new leaders; one isn't even a party yet. And, after the Adscam affair, Mr. Martin has a lot to prove.His National Post stablemate Colby Cosh disagrees:
Another six months - a year would be better - would give us all time, not only to get to the bottom of the scandal, but to form an assessment of who is best suited to the task of cleaning out the Ottawan stables: whether to renew our trust in Mr. Martin, or whether it really is "time for a change."
I did notice immediately, with raised eyebrow, that Coyne has set aside the consideration that the present ministry has no electoral mandate to govern; traditionally it is considered good form for a new prime minister to "go to the country" as quickly as possible. But we could argue all day about what's "possible". The real genius of this concluding turn of phrase is that Coyne has made Paul Martin's inherited difficulties an argument for delaying Canadians' chance to choose "who is best suited to the task of cleaning out the Ottawan stables". Somehow, using ordinary English, he has presented an ostensibly convincing argument that Liberal-created troubles require us to give the Liberals a chance to correct them; and he has stood in for the electorate in requesting that we not be consulted during a crisis.As the Post's titans battle it out in Coyne's comments section, the fact is that the Liberal Party has not been as successful as it has been by timing elections with anything but the main chance in mind. At this point Adscam is looking like a huge, but not terribly interesting, scandal. No one who follows this sort of thing is the least surprised that firms in Quebec have been paid for doing nothing in the name of national unity. For the general public the idea that the Liberal party, particularily in Quebec, might be corrupt is not news. So where is the problem?
Dropping the writ for a May election has not a thing to do with Colby's happy notion that the present ministry has no mandate to govern. While this is a laudable sentiment, and one which Bagehot would certainly have endorsed, the truth is that th only mandate a Canadian Prime Minister needs is the votes of his party at convention. Martin could postpone the election for another year and a half and suffer no significant backlash. But he won't.
Martin won't because he knows that Adscam is just going to get bigger. He won't because he knows the Supreme Court of Canada is going to rule in favour of gay marriage. And he won't because you only get one chance to run against a Conservative Party at war with itself, a New Democratic Party obsessed with one liners and creating an even bigger government, and an electorate which is still under the impression that the Martin broom sweeps clean.
Coyne is absolutely right to suggest that the right thing to do would be to pospone the election for a year and get Abscam investigated and resolved. But if Martin sees the numbers coming back up and the economy perking up he is going to drop the writ to catch the wave. He's been a Liberal from the womb and no Grit will turn down the opportunity to win an election.