Election day: Could Michael Ignatieff play kingmaker?
Covering election day—as opposed to the far more thrilling election night—presents a bit of a problem for reporters, the biggest being that the story doesn’t really start until the polls close in Ontario (sorry, Rest of Canada). The result is a day filled with ho-hum photo-ops of party leaders voting, and, of course, rampant speculation. For the record, Jack Layton and Olivia Chow voted in their riding of Trinity-Spadina, Ignatieff voted in his Etobicoke riding, and it’s still early in Calgary. With that out of the way, we can skip straight to the fun stuff: namely, wondering what Michael Ignatieff will do once the ballots are cast and his party is left on the outside looking in.
With the race this tight there are oodles of different potential scenarios, and in all but one of them Ignatieff won’t actually have to do anything—except announce his resignation as Liberal leader. But it’s that one outlier that may just be the most intriguing of all. Though we would’ve dismissed it just two weeks ago, today it’s within the realm of possibility that the Liberals will end up holding the balance of power in the Commons. And that would put Ignatieff squarely in the kingmaker’s chair, choosing to make either Layton or Stephen Harper the prime minister.
The argument for supporting Harper is pretty clear, and arguably more constitutional. If Harper wins the most seats and the most votes he remains prime minister. At the very least, Ignatieff can justify supporting him until he sees the new budget. The unavoidable question for the Liberals will be whether they can revoke their support at a later date—especially if they’re in the middle of a new leadership contest.
The argument for supporting the NDP is undoubtedly different, but actually not as weak as it might seem. Harper is surely going to get at minimum a minority, so the NDP could (and almost certainly will) argue that the Liberals should support the “progressive majority of Canadians”—or something along those lines. In this scenario, the question the Liberals will have to answer is how they can support returning the Conservatives to power after spending months railing against the Harper government’s dangerous contempt for Parliament. After all, how constitutional is it to support a party that, they maintain, rules without respect for the Constitution?
Of course, it’s also entirely possible that Ignatieff won’t have to make this choice. If nothing else, this election has had its fair share of surprises. At the outset, nobody would’ve suggested that the Conservative leader would resort to courting Liberal votes in order to stop an NDP government. Unless Canadians have given pollsters the biggest punking of all time, it’s going to be one to stay up for, whether Ignatieff is forced to make a big decision or not.