3 min

Chest thumping reaches a fever pitch

Election speculation is coming to a head as Michael Ignatieff is set to announce whether or not he’s going to vote against the government on their “report card,” which may just end up triggering the next election. Now, granted, just because Ignatieff says that he’s going to draw his line in the sand and vote down the government, it doesn’t actually mean that we’re going to be in an election. Why not?

Jack Layton is still in play. Sure, he’s announced that he’s not going to support the government’s “report card” either, but he’s also let it be known that he’s looking to make a deal with Harper. And if Ignatieff says that he’s going to vote down the government, well, Layton’s phone just might start ringing. After all, the NDP don’t really want an election more than anyone else does (they still have millions of dollars in campaign debts because they haven’t been fundraising while provincial elections have been going on), but the Liberals are also itching to start embarrassing the NDP by making them vote to prop up the government. But for Layton, if he can get Harper to give over a concession or two – just enough to keep them afloat until the fall or the next budget – well, then Layton can claim that as a victory too.

Of course, this is all still very much in the air. It’s going to be very hard for Ignatieff not to say he’s voting down the government because let’s face it – the stimulus money isn’t flowing, the Conservatives aren’t handling the isotope crisis very well, and they’re still hiding all manner of things in their budgeting, like the phantom asset sales. But on the other hand, if all of the opposition parties say they’re voting down the government, and there aren’t enough cases of diplomatic flu to go around (the Liberals are especially loathe to sit on their hands and abstain from voting now), well, electoral accidents can happen, and we could find ourselves on the way to a dreaded summer election.

But before we get there, the Conservatives are going to continue to do their damnedest to distract Canadians from the real issues of the economy, isotopes and ministerial competence by playing the tough-on-crime card some more. This time it’s limiting conditional sentencing. Never mind that our jails are at capacity, and that this is likely a ploy to create a need to build new supermax facilities (by private companies, of course) – just like they manufactured a refugee backlog crisis by deliberately not making appointments to the IRB. Never mind that this is a further attempt to restrain judicial independence – they need to pass a bunch of new laws that will not deter crime at all, but just further tax our system.

On the subject of isotopes, there’s been a lot more talk about the cancelled MAPLE projects of late. For example, some nuclear safety experts say that the MAPLE reactors are in fact safe to operate, and that they have produced isotopes during test runs. Surely those options should be explored. And then there’s the money issue. The government said they shut them down because they were a sinkhole for taxpayer money. The US National Research Council determined that given the main infrastructure is in place for those reactors, the “worst case” scenario would be to simply replace the cores of the two reactors at tens of millions of dollars, rather than spend hundreds of millions to keep the existing NRU running until 2016, or another billion to build a whole new reactor. Meanwhile, at the Senate Committee on Finance, one particular Senator decided to explore Lisa Raitt’s taped comments about it being “just about money” to fix the problem, and when AECL’s CFO said that it would take a billion dollars to fix the MAPLEs. It has been pointed out that a billion dollars would fix the MAPLEs and supply the global isotope demand with those two reactors alone. And how many billions of dollars – which Harper has said would be unrecoverable – to save the auto industry and maybe a few thousand jobs?

Still on the isotope front, McMaster University’s research reactor has started producing isotopes, but it’s a small amount at a greater cost, and these isotopes need to be used within hours of creation. Nevertheless, it’s a small stopgap measure.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Human Rights Commission has dismissed calls to stop investigate online hate speech, never mind that there are complaints that this impacts on the right to free speech. The commission did offer suggestions to help it reduce the amount of frivolous complaints that it receives, which may help, but still avoids the real issue.

Up today: Ignatieff’s press conference to announce whether or not he plans to bring down the government – and yours truly will be in the National Press Theatre for it. It’s also the Bloc’s opposition day, and their motion is on securities regulation.