Mate in Five?
If Stephen Harper wants an election this spring, then this would seem to be his issue. The Government's Clean Air Act has been completely rewritten in committee, and the Government is now making its first public complaints. One way to force an election, of course, would be to put the original bill back before Commons for a vote. Since all three opposition parties participated in the complete rewriting, they would all three be more or less obliged to vote it down. And since all three parties (though the NDP to a lesser extent) have been making environmental issues the cornerstone of their criticism, most people would take this as a Confidence Measure at this point. In other words, if the opposition doesn't want an election, it's just done a really stupid thing by handing Harper the nuclear "football." Now we get to see just how serious Harper has been about his pledge not to call an election for the time being.
I don't want to downplay what a risky move doing something so arrogant as returning the original version of the bill to the floor would be. It would depend on how well Harper thought he could handle the Opposition's criticisms in the election. It isn't an impossible task by any means. After all, it's also a bit arrogant to simply rewrite an entire bill - especially one that the Conservatives had to fire their Environmental Minister to get written in the first place. Harper himself is no doubt up to the job. The question I imagine he's probably weighing right now is whether the other members of his party are. He lost his first head-to-head with Paul Martin's Liberals more or less because of embarassing gaffes on the part of individual candidates owing to a lack of coordinated discipline. Fighting the Kyoto issue head-on - which pursuing this strategy would involve - would require a lot more close cooperation from his party than he's needed to this point. He'd better make sure everyone is on board - and that no one snoozes through the strategy sessions. (I haven't heard much from Peter McKay lately. I wonder whether he would take this as an opening to muscle in on Harper's position? Probably not till after they lost the hypothetical election...)
Not that anyone important (or anyone at all) reads this column - but my advice is GO FOR IT! I think it's an election the Tories could win. Canadians are capable of understanding what's wrong with the Kyoto Treaty. The problem is that no one has bothered to explain it to them. Harper can, and should, take this opportunity to do so. He's sitting on a goldmine of subtle insinuations that the Liberals have become disconnected from the people (which they have) and are therefore more interested in the country's reputation than the livelihoods of its citizens. And if he pulls this off for the Liberals, the Bloc is headed to oblivion (having just had a jumpstart on its trip there last Monday).