Not If, But When
That's because the election train is picking up more and more speed by the day. The only thing that can stop it now would be the NDP - we don't know what Layton will decide, but from their tone in the house today, they certainly don't sound like a party looking for a way out.
So unless the NDP backs down or Harper prorogues (ha ha), the question becomes how the 40th parliament will meet its demise. Among the possibilities:
A. Defeat on the budget, slated to be tabled March 22nd, and voted on later that week in a series of confidence motions.
B. Defeat on an opposition motion: Although today's rulings did not trigger an immediate confidence motion, the committee exploring these issues is scheduled to report back to the House of Commons on March 21st and March 25th. Either could lead to a confidence vote, but if the Tories are set on tabling a budget, it's entirely in their power to delay the vote until after Budget Day.
The end result of these two possibilities is essentially the same: Canadians see the budget, and we all go to the polls on May 2nd or May 9th.
There is, however, a third option:
C. Harper goes to the GG and pulls the plug, like he did in 2008.
Now, there are some good reasons for Harper to wait. He can blame the opposition for causing an election nobody wants. He can show Just Visiting ads on every hockey game and cricket match for the next two weeks, without worrying about election spending limits. And he gets to table what most assume will be a voter-friendly budget.
That said, as Globe blogger Rob Silver argues, there are good reasons to pay a visit to Rideau Hall before then:
If I were Stephen Harper, given the pile of scandals that have the potential to become a dominant election issue (and there is no reason at this time to think that any of the scandals Harper is facing is harming him electorally), I think it would be foolhardy to give the opposition two extra weeks to lay tracks.
And heck, he can just turn the budget into his campaign platform anyways. Plus, it lets Harper get that messy election business over with before the Royal Wedding.
Add it all up and I tend to think we're in for two weeks of phony war before the campaign kicks off.
That said, if I were David Johnson, I wouldn't be making any March break travel plans. Just in case.