See you next year, ballot box

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National Post, Friday, June 5, 2009

There are 16 reasons why there won't be an election this summer, and probably won't be one before next summer. Sixteen is the number of Bloc Quebecois MPs first elected with the class of 2004, who will qualify for their parliamentary pensions six years to the day later. On June 28, 2010.

Those 16 Bloc members need to be in Parliament until then for their pensions to vest Should any of them lose their seats in an election first, they would also lose their pensions. This is no small consideration in keeping the House going until then.

Consider:MPs' pensions vest at 3% per year of their salaries for the first six years. That's 18% of $155,000 (MPs' base salary) per year, or $27,900 a year. Indexed. For life.

No seat for six years, no pension.

Bloc MPs always resent any suggestion that they're here working on their pensions from a country they'd like to break up, but that's just one of the things that makes Canada such a great country.

As it happens, there are eight members of the NDP caucus who are also members of the class of 2004, and whose pensions vest next June. But of course, being socialists, they're here for the people, not the pensions. Naturally.

Neither the Bloc nor the NDP are in a hurry for an election, since both would take a big hit from the resurgent Liberals, the Bloc in Quebec and the Dippers in southern Ontario. So while the Liberals might want a summer election, they won't get one, unless a non-confidence motion passes by accident, or they frame one in such a way that the Bloc and NDP feel they must not only support it, but show up for it, too.

The current sitting ends with the House rising for the summer on June 23. The government has back-end loaded the opposition days and -- what a coincidence!-- the next Liberal opposition day, and chance to defeat the minority Conservative government, is on June 23.

Which happens to be the eve of Quebec's fete nationale, Saint-Jean Baptiste Day. And it just happens to fall this year on a Wednesday. As a nontransferable holiday, about 16 Bloc members may find they are too busy with Fete St-Jean events in their ridings to make it back to Ottawa.

So Michael Ignatieff can threaten an election as much as he wants, but he can't force one. He can bluster about EI funding formulas and thresholds, or any other trumped-up reason to take advantage of favourable poll numbers, but he shouldn't count on Gilles Duceppe and Jack Layton to help him win an election at their expense. Least of all, a summer election the voters don't want.

That's one thing for Ignatieff to think about. Another is that he is beginning to sound like the Big Bad Wolf, huffing and puffing and blowing your house in. Worse. He's beginning to sound like Stephane Dion, always threatening to defeat the government, and then folding.

A summer election? No way. Not with so many pensions riding on the House staying in business for another year.

Check back with the Bloc next June. Meantime, have a nice summer.

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