Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced on Friday that three special elections would be held in early September, setting the stage for a possible general election later this fall.
The elections were to fill three vacant seats in Canada’s House of Commons. While the outcome won’t affect the balance of power, it would give the country an early look at where Canadians stand on electoral issues such as the slowing economy, the environment and healthcare.
The Conservatives have held power since 2006 — the longest a minority government has ever been in office. Harper unseated the opposition Liberals after nearly 13 years in power, but as a minority government the Tories have a tenuous hold on power.
Liberal Leader Stephane Dion, whose party holds the balance of power, said last week he now believes Canadians are ready for a fall campaign.
“We have seen over the winter and the spring more and more interest for federal politics,” Dion said. “And more and more appetite for an election.”
Liberals have been looking to Dion to rebuild the party after a number of political scandals. The Liberal party has dominated Canadian politics for much of the last century and Canadians have a left-leaning tradition that many hope to regain.
But the Liberals have gone to great lengths to avoid bringing down the Conservative government during multiple confidence votes over the past year mostly because Dion, a meek and fumbling character compared to the imposing Harper, has not made a positive impact on his constituency since taking over the party.
The elections for the House of Commons could be a measure of Dion’s recent decision to make the environment the centerpiece of his summer campaigning at a time when manufacturing jobs are disappearing in Ontario and British Columbia.
HOLD on to YOUR SEAT
The Liberals hold two of the seats to be voted on, one in Ontario and one in Quebec, and a failure to hold those two seats would undoubtedly raise questions about Dion’s leadership.
The third is held by the Bloc Quebecois party, devoted to the promotion of sovereignty.
The Tories have already revved up their platforms for the byelections. The key planks are family tax cuts, tackling youth crime and strengthening consumer laws to protect the health of Canadians.
Recent national public opinion polls suggest support for both the Conservatives and Liberals has barely budged over the past few months, with the two parties virtually tied at support levels well below what’s needed to win a majority government.