For an American political wonk with a passing interest in this stuff it could be like Christmas coming early, because the rumors are a-flyin' that both Canada and the UK could be having federal elections before the year is out.
As far as the Canadians go, it seems like a case of Stephen Harper daring Stéphane Dion to destruct the government as the new session of Parliament is due to open on the 16th. A session opens with the government's Speech to the Throne, outlying their intended legislative agenda for the upcoming session. This Speech is in itself a confidence measure, and defeat of it would force an election. While the NDP and Bloc Québécois both seem eager to defeat the government in the end if the Speech is unacceptable, the Liberals have been mum on the issue. To up the ante, Harper has gone on record as saying that any issue that is brought up in the Throne speech will later be considered a confidence motion when they come up for votes, in other words, if you approve the Throne Speech now, everything in the Throne Speech will be passed later, and if it's not, we blow it up and go to the polls. There are reports (theglobeandmail.com) already going round that the Tories are recommending campaign offices be up and running by October 20th, and that if the government falls on the 18th, which is the first vote on the Throne Speech, the likely scenarios are a five- or six-week campaign, and an election by the end of November.
Across the pond, it's not as much an external staredown, as internal destruction, as Gordon Brown is runored to be planning to call a snap election as early as sometime this week (news.bbc.co.uk). The current government term actually ends in 2010, but ever since it was announced that Brown was heir apparent to Tony Blair the comments have been flying that he needs to call an election to earn his own mandate to run the country. The Liberal Democrats and the Tories are already calling on Brown to call the election, if only to end the speculation that has been flying heavy for the past week or two. The latest opinion polls saw the Tories take a 7-point bite out of the Labour lead, pulling them into anywhere from a tie with the government to being within 3 or 4 points, depending on the poll.
Seeing as how a UK election would also probably be held in late November, it produces a couple of interesting nights of news coverage. So, what say you, Canadian and/or British W's? Are elections at this point a smart idea for either leader? Do they change much of anything, or will it just reaffirm the status quo? (Conservative minority in Canada, Labour majority in the UK)
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Dion doesn't want an election right now since the Liberals will get killed. Dion is looking more and more like a terrible choice as party leader. Harper will still have a minority, since the NDP will end up being big winners (well, relatively big, maybe 10 more seats) if a federal election happens sometime soon.
Well I got here a bit late to answer your original question, as there isn't going to be an election now after all - Brown rules out autumn election (news.bbc.co.uk)
But while most of the news coverage is saying that Brown bottled it and looks weak, to be honest it was the right decision for him to make. A couple of weeks ago straight after his party conference, he was looking at an eight point poll lead, and that got tounges wagging, but of course the Conversatives had yet to have their conference bounce which evened it up a lot more.
Plus while most polls show he still has a lead countrywide, in the key marginal seats (where the Conservatives are concentrating a LOT of money), it's about even. Add that to the fact that boundary changes mean Labour will likely lose another ten seats automatically, then there's no point in calling an election unless he's got a healthy lead. Even if he did win, he'd end up with a small majority and with some of the legislation he wants to get through, it would just be a nightmare.
Most people are now saying he's been badly burned and he'll probably even pass on the next couple of election 'windows' - I wouldn't expect to see one until 2009 personally.