The working assumption among senior ministers in the Harper Cabinet is that the country will go to the polls after a Conservative budget; the legislative schedule that will be rolled out from today is designed to cram as much as possible into the shop window between now and then...
The Conservatives will attempt to engineer their own defeat in order to achieve Stephen Harper's stated ambition to drive a stake through the heart of the Liberal Party of Canada.
The budget should be a collection of goodies meant to buy votes. If the Tories continue to stall in the polls, I wouldn't be surprised to see them fastrack the next GST cut, due to increased revenues. Strategically, the spring budget affords the Tories their best chance to frame the election debate, on issues that they deem attractive. Also, the achilles heel of Afghanistan should be relatively quiet, as the budget will be delivered before the usual uptick in Taliban activity each summer. For a control freak like Harper, the lure of budget time will be too tempting.
However, I think the spring budget may also be great timing for the Liberals. You would expect a bounce in support after a high profile convention, as well as a honeymoon period as the new leader gets acquainted. The budget timing should weave in nicely with the "new" Liberal Party, headed by a leader who still enjoys a positive vibe. I don't think the media will turn on the new leader at such an early stage. I also think the Liberals will look relatively effective with a clear face at the helm, as opposed to the mish mash we have presently. Harper may have trouble using his standard line of the tired old Liberals, when appearances would suggest otherwise. As far as I'm concerned, Harper is dreaming if he really thinks he can "drive a stake" through the Liberals. Spring sounds good to me.