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Election tealeaves: What's up when Canada's Old New Government morphs into 'the Harper Government'?

Do you remember "Canada's New Government"?

For a time there the phrase Canada's New Government was practically trademarked by the minority government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper after it squeaked into power in January 2006.

Nowadays, of course, Canada's New Government is getting a little long in the tooth for that moniker. Indeed, it's better known as Canada's longest sitting minority government, having managed to get re-elected in October 2008 while nevertheless remaining in a minority position. So, after about 20 months, CNG went the way of all political sloganeering that seemed like a good idea at the time.

Whether you love 'em or hate 'em, you’ve got to know that sooner or later, likely at a moment that offers them the maximum political advantage, Harper's Conservatives are going to call an election (or get the Opposition to call it for them) in the hope that three times is the charm and they can finally get the majority they crave.

From Harper's personal perspective, of course, this is very important. If he fails a third time to win a majority, that old Conservative tendency to turn on their own leaders with fangs bared is certain to reassert itself faster than you can say "John Diefenbaker."

In the mean time -- as long as an election is not to the Conservatives’ advantage -- it’s reasonable to expect the government to do what it can to keep the combined Opposition parties in Parliament from toppling it. So, one week there's talk of an alliance with the Liberals, another a détente with the New Democrats, another (quelle horreur!) some kind of a discreet deal with the Bloc Quebecois.

We outsiders, who are never consulted about these things until the moment of greatest advantage for the sitting government (and never mind that this sitting government was all for U.S. style fixed election dates until, well, it wasn't), are left to read the tealeaves for hints of when the next election might be in the wind.

So here, thanks to an alert reader, is a single solitary tea leaf for your consideration.

In time, Canada's New Government became the good old-fashioned Government of Canada. I guess someone in the Conservative High Command realized that Canada's New Government didn't exactly ring the right bell for a crowd that was cutting deals right and left to hang on to power until the moment the dice rolled their way.

Or maybe -- after a historically long period of minority rule -- they just decided it sounded more dignified to be associated with the solid old Dominion Government of John A. Macdonald, Jean Chrétien and sundry other prime ministers.

Have no doubt such things are tested and re-tested before scads of focus groups before any such change is made.

Now, suddenly, even before spring is in the air, there seems to have been a change in the government's nomenclature for itself. At Health Canada, at least, the Government of Canada appears to be no more, having been supplanted in mid-November by the … wait for it … "Harper Government."

Now, this is interesting and -- to my mind, which is always safely protected by a tinfoil hat -- mildly sinister.

To the people I hang around with, after all, the phrase "Harper Government" isn't exactly a compliment. Indeed, to some it may be an outright term of opprobrium! But if we just stop drinking our own social democratic bathwater for a moment, the sudden use for this phrase by the Harper Government suggests to me that their pollsters are telling them it's resonating positively with voters.

I don't think I have to tell you all what that means. A hint of an election?

On the other hand, maybe this was just some bright spark of a Health Canada PR man's idea of a way to mix things up for spring?

Whatever. Seeing as, for the moment anyway, all the other federal departments seem to be sticking with the stodgy old GoC.

Who knows? With the Harper crowd's reputation for tight control of everything, I'd bet on this being the first wave of a general trend.

Another cuppa, anyone?

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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