As Lawrence Martin sees it, there are four scenarios in Stephen Harper's future. The first is to hold an election at the prescribed date, set in place by a law he passed:
The thinking here is that he needs the time to make up ground on the leading Liberals. Also, he doesn’t want to risk alienating voters by changing the set October date. The timing of the Duffy trial, slated to run from April to June, is troublesome, but it’s better than being seen as forcing an early election to avoid it. The image of being morally bankrupt (see last week’s Paul Calandra fiasco) is already hurting the government. It doesn’t want to fuel that perception.
Then there's the possibility of a spring election:
Mr. Harper brings in a February budget that contains highly controversial measures, then triggers an election on it for the end of March. Many would see this as blatantly opportunistic, coming just ahead of the Duffy trial. But Mr. Harper would rely on the hope that the timing is an issue only for the campaign’s first few days, as we’ve seen in the past. Not to be ignored in these calculations is the chance that the Duffy charges could be settled out of court, or that the trial’s timing is pushed back. No doubt, the Prime Minister’s men will be pulling all strings possible to bring about such outcomes.
A third possibility is that Mr. Harper might call an election this fall:
If Justin Trudeau’s popularity numbers start to slide, Mr. Harper may pounce right away. There is concern in Liberal circles and hope in Conservative precincts that the reason Mr. Trudeau is rushing an autobiography into print (it will be released in three weeks) is that there are embarrassments from his past that he wants to disclose on his own terms, instead of leaving the deed to the Harper attack machine. The Conservatives have a budget update to deliver, and if they’re gaining ground, they may use it – with some big tax-cut promises – as a springboard for a snap election. It would be 31/2 years into a majority mandate. Jean Chrétien went to the polls twice on a similar time frame.
And then, of course, he could resign:
The PM reads the tea leaves/billboards and concludes that it’s time. He calls a Conservative leadership convention to be held in February. The option has much to recommend it. He goes out as one of the big winners in party history, having moved the conservative agenda appreciably forward in many policy areas. He avoids the distinct possibility of a humiliation at the hands of a Trudeau.
Mr. Harper always holds his cards close to his vest. So predicting which scenario he might follow is not easy. Reports are that the party is clamouring for him to leave. But this is a party which grovels before its leader. And despite the fixed election law, we should all know by now that Mr. Harper believes he can break rules with impunity.
So which route will he take? Your guess is as good as mine.