Stephen Harper seems about to force an election on Canadians on completely bogus grounds.
And, at the same time, he's breaking a key promise from the last election campaign.
Harper has launched a blizzard of phony excuses over the last few days to try and justify an election.
But really, this is just about political opportunism. It's exactly the kind of abuse of power Harper promise to end in two election campaigns. Once the Conservatives won, as part of his commitment to improve democracy, he followed B.C.'s lead and established four-terms for governments.
"Fixed election dates prevent governments from calling snap elections for short-term political advantage," Harper said. "They level the playing field for all parties."
So the Conservatives passed a law. The next election was to be Oct. 19, 2009.
But Harper's law is full of holes and now he's decided short-term political advantage isn't so bad after all.
The Liberals don't have much money and aren't really ready for an elections.
And things could get worse for the Conservatives, especially on the economy, by next fall.
So Harper looks ready to call an election. He's tried to come up with justifications, but the arguments are empty, and kind of insulting.
Parliament has become "dysfunctional," he says, whatever that means. There has been "impasse" on a range of issues, the prime minister complains. The Liberals have different policies than the Conservatives.
It's all apparently just too much.
Except there is no deadlock. The Conservatives haven't been stopped from governing. Their budget and tax program passed. Crime bills have made their way through Parliament. The Conservatives have made changes in ministries and at least a start on increasing military capability.
Even the commitment to keep fighting in Afghanistan until 2011 was reached in a way that suited the Harper government. For a minority government, the Conservatives have had a pretty free hand, thanks in large part to the Liberals' disarray.
There has been lots of bad behaviour and partisan jockeying, particularly in Parliamentary committees.
But the Conservatives have contributed their share to the shabbiness; the Prime Minister's Office gave committee chairs a manual on how disrupt and delay things to make sure that nothing would come out that embarrassed the government.
Those are peripheral. The main point is that the Conservatives have been able to govern. They have never lost a vote on a significant bill, let alone a confidence vote.
It's possible they have felt constrained by being a minority government. Harper hinted at that this week, saying that even if an election produced another minority government, the party in power will have a "mandate to proceed and to proceed quite aggressively for some period of time." (That might make some voters nervous.)
But this is the Parliament that Canadians chose - Conservative minority, with strong counterbalancing forces. Harper has shown no reason to ignore the will of the public.
It might be better if Harper took a more candid approach, and just said he decided he'd made a mistake in giving up the political advantage by committing to fixed election dates. The Liberals are weak and it's a good time to try for a majority, he could argue.
Harper mentor Tom Flanagan, a University of Calgary political science professor, thinks the goal is more strategic. The Liberals are having trouble raising money. An election would be expensive. Another leadership race, if leader Stephane Dion got dumped, would require more fundraising and divide the party.
As long as the Conservatives keep win at least minority governments, they could plunge the Liberals into years of hard times.
The parties are all pretending to be ready and eager for an election, though that's not likely too.
The big losers are the Canadian people. The election will cost some $200 million, a fair chunk of it from taxpayers. And there is no indication the public is looking for a chance to pick a new government.
Footnote: So what would the election be about? Mostly, it seems likely, about how bad the other guys are. Harper will talk about Dion's carbon tax and say he's too free-spending. Dion will say Harper has forgotten ordinary Canadians and is too right-wing. It won't be pretty.