I have received the following release from Simon McMillan, CEO of the Sudbury Federal Green Party Association:
Sudbury Green Party Expresses Condolences on the Passing of Diane Marleau
SUDBURY – The Sudbury Federal Green Party Association and the Nickel Belt Greens wish to express their deepest condolences to the family and friends of Diane Marleau, Sudbury’s former Member of Parliament, who passed away earlier today.
Diane Marleau was a dedicated public servant, who ably represented her constituents throughout her many terms in Parliament, and as a municipal councillor. She was respected by both her political allies and opponents.
Her tireless work on behalf of the community, and her passionate commitment to public service, will not be forgotten by the people of Sudbury.
----- (opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)
Yesterday, upon returning to the House after an extended Christmas break, the Bloc Quebecois announced that it was introducing a new (and relatively straight-forward) Bill to repeal the Clarity Act (apparently consisting of the operative wording, “The Clarity Act is repealed”, if I understood Bloc Leader Daniel Paille correctly on last night’s Power Play with Don Martin). Of course, it stands to reason, I suppose, that a separatist party would want to remove any all constraints to Quebec’s potential exit from Canada, and the Clarity Act, passed by the Jean Chretien Liberals, has been seen as an impediment to Quebec separation for some time now. Whether it is, or not, remains to be debated – but likely such a debate wouldn’t occur until after Quebecois have voted in a referendum, so I can see why the Bloc wants to get out ahead of this issue.
A potentially compelling argument was highlighted by Paille in a letter to the leaders of all of the parties in the House (except Elizabeth May of the Green Party), which pre-emptively scolded party leaders for voting to support the notion of Quebec as a nation in 2006, but not allowing the Quebec nation to decide on its own whether or not to continue within the political association known as Canada (the Green Party was not represented in the Parliament in 2006).
So, from the Bloc’s point of view, this private member’s Bill (the Bloc does not have the status of an official party in this parliament) makes a lot of sense, given the separatist pre-disposition of the Party. On the other hand, the Bloc is clearly playing a partisan political game in the House, largely at the expense of the NDP. The fact is, the Bloc’s bill isn’t going to go anywhere without the support of the Conservative Party, period, end of story. And whether Conservatives have ever truly embraced the Clarity Act or not, clearly this isn’t a can of worms that Conservatives will want to open. Apparently, they’ll leave that to the Opposition parties.
The Clarity Act
The Liberals, the Party with which the Clarity Act originated, regard this legislation as almost sacrosanct. Given that the legislation itself spells out the acceptable criteria regarding how the Canadian union can be broken apart, and given that the legislation was written with the benefit of Canada’s Supreme Court having reviewed a question about that criteria, there may actually be some merit for looking at the Clarity Act that way. Former Prime Minister Jean Chretien certainly regards it as one of his legacy items which his administration left behind to help build a stronger Canada. I’d argue with Chretien that his election financing reforms were actually a stronger nation-building legacy, but hey, I’ve never been the Prime Minister.
To recap, the Clarity Act establishes that for negotiations to occur between Canada and Quebec on separation, a referendum question put to the people of Quebec must be clear (arguably, the past two questions put to voters in 1980 and 1995 were anything but clear in terms of what the outcome of “Yes” vote might have been), and it must be supported by a “clear majority” of voters.
Of course, no examples of a clear question or what number, exactly, constitutes a “clear majority” were offered by the Supreme Court (and therefore, these items didn’t work their way into the Clarity Act either). Despite this lack of certainty in the Clarity Act, it is pretty clear that the Supreme Court did not consider a margin of voter acceptance of 50% plus 1 as an expression of a “clear majority”.
"Clear" vs. "Simple" Majority
So, what is a “clear majority”? The Supreme Court appeared not to offer much in the way of guidance on this issue, but Liberal legislators such as then-Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Stephane Dion certainly did give it some thought. Dion, apparently, is still thinking about this, as the CBC reports he asked the following question in the House: If 50% plus one is a “clear majority”, what would an “unclear majority” be? (see: "Trudeau knocks Mulcair for 50-plus-1 stance on separation”, CBC, January 28, 2013). Remember, the Supreme Court is comprised of legal experts who use language in a very precise manner. Dion is absolutely correct: through the use of the term “clear majority”, the Court did in fact imply that a “simple majority” of 50% plus 1 isn’t a “clear majority”, else it would have used “simple majority” or “50% plus 1” in its decision.
The Liberal position on the Clarity Act, then, remains consistent. The 4-member Bloc certainly won’t be receiving any support from the Liberals for its Clarity Act-killing Bill.
The NDP and the Sherbrooke Declaration
So what about the NDP? One might think that the NDP’s historic support of the Clarity Act back in 1999 (with only 2 MP’s dissenting – back when NDP MP’s could actually vote against the position of their Party), one might think that the NDP would continue to support the notion of a “clear majority” vote for separation.
But things have changed for the NDP. In 2005, the NDP adopted what has become known as the “Sherbrooke Declaration”, which states that a clear question need only receive 50% plus 1, a simple majority, for separation to take place. At the time of its adoption, pundits and critics believed that the NDP, which had never been strong in Quebec, were simply pandering to sovereigntists voters in an attempt to show that the NDP could be more “reasonable” than the Liberals. Electoral results in Quebec since 2005 seem to suggest that this may have been exactly what happened in Quebec, as the NDP’s success soared to undreamt of heights in the 2011 national election. While I’m sure that this was not simply because of the Sherbrooke Declaration, I certainly believe that the NDP’s “separatism-lite” stance had a lot to do with their electoral success.
So, despite the NDP having moved closer to the Bloc’s position on separation (at least in terms of a simple majority), the NDP has indicated that it won’t support the Bloc Bill to repeal the Act. In an attempt to show that the NDP is a worthy successor to Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, at least as far as the Orwellian naming of Bills goes, NDP MP Craig Scott introduced the “Unity Bill”, which would repeal the Clarity Act, and replace it with new legislation that requires a clear question and a simple majority.
The NDP believes that their Bill will actually provide a clearer framework for the break-up of our country. On paper, it might seem that they’re correct. Establishing a numeric threshold, rather than trying to figure out what, exactly, a “clear majority” is after the fact, seems to be an improvement over the Clarity Act. But keep in mind that the threshold for Quebec’s separation is to be set horribly low – a simple majority. And, importantly, keep in mind that this threshold contradicts the threshold established by the Supreme Court of Canada.
The NDP's "Unity Bill": Crisis in the Making
Is the NDP deliberately inviting a future constitutional crisis by proposing legislation which goes against the expression of Canada’s top court? Remember, the Supreme Court has used the term “clear majority”, which the NDP, erroneously I believe, have interpreted to mean “simple majority”. And it’s not just me who sees it this way.
While the NDP’s “Unity Bill” almost certainly will not be adopted by this Parliament due to the Conservative’s majority (not to mention all of the dissenting Liberal votes), it is very reasonable to conclude that should the NDP ever form government, similar legislation would be offered up, and potentially approved by an NDP majority. From there, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where a fairly straight-forward question is put to the people of Quebec, and receives a “Yes” vote of less than, say, 55%. Having met the threshold of a simple majority, our government and the Quebec National Assembly begin to negotiate Quebec’s divorce from Canada. But wait a minute! There’s a legal challenge from someone with an interest in keeping Quebec in Canada, and the legal challenge hinges on the notion that 55% isn’t a “clear majority” as articulated by the Supreme Court. What if such a legal argument is made in front of the Supreme Court – and the Court accepts it!
NDP: Intent on Ignoring Reality for Partisan Gain
This isn’t the stuff of fantasy, by the way. This is a very possible road that we all might find ourselves on if the NDP’s reckless Sherbrooke Declaration ever ends up in law. This is an example of how partisan political pandering on the part of the NDP in Quebec can lead to a crisis of unity for the nation.
Tom Mulcair, since taking on the reigns of leadership of the New Democratic Party, has been very clear and unequivocal about his support for the Sherbrooke Declaration. As far as building and maintaining a partisan political base of support in Quebec, Mulcair’s embracing the Sherbrooke Declaration makes sense. But what about other parts of the country in which the NDP ostensibly has an interest? All that Mulcair and the NDP have been saying to the Rest of Canada is that a simple majority was the threshold in 1980 and 1995; it’s what’s being used elsewhere, and it’s good enough for all sorts of votes, why not use it on the issue of separation as well?
Of course this simplistic answer ignores the current reality: in this particular case, the threshold for Quebec separation has already been discussed by our Supreme Court, which determined that a “clear majority” is necessary. It’s no longer 1980 or even 1995 – nor is this Scotland. It’s Canada in 2013, and here the NDP continues to want to pretend it’s otherwise. Mulcair’s arguments might sound persuasive if accepted out of this context – and in ignorance of reality. But our legislators shouldn’t be ignoring reality, especially not on something as important as the future of Canada as a nation.
No Need for New Legislation
The Conservative government has recently found itself embroiled in yet another scandal as a result of accusations that it has knowingly been passing legislation which ignores the laws of the land. Does the NDP really want to be known for proposing legislation which is out of step with legal rulings?
Richard Fidler, in his Life on the Left blog, wrote in May 2011, that former NDP Leader Jack Layton had this to say about the Sherbrooke Declaration and the Clarity Act: “We’ll follow the decision of the Supreme Court judges,” he said. “We think that’s an appropriate framework. We don’t need to be revisiting legislation.” At the same time, he said in French that he stood by the Sherbrooke Declaration (see: "Layton chooses Supreme Court, Clarity Act over NDP's Sherbrooke Declaration", Life on the Left, May 25, 2011). Statements such as this probably led pundits to conclude that Layton had the habit of saying one thing in French to Quebec, and another in English to the rest of Canada, which is certainly one of the most cynical games a national politician can play, especially when the heart of the issue is the nation's unity. Nevertheless, what is clear is that an NDP Leader, as recently as 2011, was signaling that there was no need for new legislation on this matter.
So why is Tom Mulcair wanting to revisit this issue now? Is revisiting the Clarity Act really one of the most important hot-button issues in Canada right now? Sure, Opposition Parties have the capacity to do more than one thing at the same time, but c'mon. Is this even in the top 10? Top 20?
Or does the NDP's sudden interest have more to do with heading the Bloc Quebecois off at the pass in 2015, by getting out in front of this issue in Quebec? And, by extension, getting out in front of a new, vibrant, populist, Quebec-centred Liberal Leader, who will be annointed by the Liberals later this spring? Mulcair wants to show Quebec voters that the NDP remains willing to walk a tight-rope on the issue of self-determination (that would read "separatism" in the Rest of Canada), no matter that one end of the tight-rope is tethered in some alternate reality, sort of like that scene from "Poltergeist" where Craig T. Nelson walks through the closet door to who knows where and later emerges through a portal in the living room ceiling. Seems to me that on this issue, the NDP wants to take all Canadians on a similar excursion.
National Unity - Bigger than Partisan Game-Playing
Judging by the headlines found from newsmedia around the country, the NDP’s position is going over like a lead balloon in the Rest of Canada. Why Mulcair has allowed his party to get sucked into this vacuum of the Bloc’s creation, I just don’t understand. Up until this point, I had thought that Mulcair had been doing a respectable job of showing Canadians – all Canadians – that the NDP is getting ready to govern. But with this latest “Unity Bill” nonsense, it’s clear that the NDP remains, to some very real and troubling respects, the gang that can’t shoot straight. This bungle would be comedic in nature, if it wasn’t for the fact that they’re messing around with something as important as our national unity. Now this partisan ploy is just reprehensible.
Here in Greater Sudbury, we are represented by two NDP MP’s – Glenn Thibeault (Sudbury) and Claude Gravelle (Nickel Belt). Given the NDP’s propensity to use the whip to keep its voting MP’s in line whenever it can, it would seem likely that our MP’s are going to vote for the “Unity Bill”. I hope that’s not the case, as there really is no convincing argument which can be made which supports a threshold of 50% plus 1 for a referendum question which breaks up our nation, especially given that the Supreme Court has suggested that a “clear majority” is necessary, and that this concept has been enshrined in legislation since 1999. I have sometimes been accused of being “out of step” with members of my community on certain issues, but when it comes to national unity, I’m pretty darn sure that most Sudburians would agree that legislation enshrining the “simple majority” concept for the break-up of our nation is quite problematic. Thibeault and Gravelle ought to carefully consider the aspirations and desires of their constituents when voting on the Unity Bill in the near future.
So, U.S. President Barack Obama has finally started to talk about climate change. After a year-long presidential election campaign in which the words “climate change” were barely mumbled by either the Republican or Democratic candidates, in Obama’s inaugural address given on January 21st, he had some powerful words to share with the American people – and by extension, the world – on the subject of climate change. While what, if anything, Obama now intends to do about the global climate crisis, after years of inaction on the part of the United States, and after scuttling any real progress which could have been made at the international Copenhagen climate talks in 2009, Obama had this to say about climate change (as reported in the Huffington Post):
“We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”
In Canada, conversations in the mainstream media around Obama’s pronouncements have largely focussed on how this might impact the pace of resource extraction in the Alberta Tar Sands, and whether this may be a signal from the President that he will not approve TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline project. The entire substance of Obama’s pronouncement on climate change here appears to be viewed through a lens of resource-based economic development, which, for me, and most Canadians, is a really strange way of looking at the world, given that Obama is talking about new jobs, sustainable energy, and the perils we face from rising and acidifying oceans, extreme weather events and the future world which we will be leaving behind for our children.
Nevertheless, politicians and pundits are reacting predictably, and the mainstream media is giving Canadians only a small slice of an overall narrative. Alternatives voices to this narrative remain active in the world of social media (thanks for reading, by the way!), but even when warming weather trends are discussed, or opponents to pipelines are interviewed, the idea that human-produced greenhouse gases are altering planetary climate to the detriment of our economy just isn’t in the picture.
Right-wing media pundits predictably try to frame the Canadian “debate” around the notion that there are some alarmist and emotional environmentalists (who clearly don’t understand economic realities or scientific facts) who want to shut down the tar sands for, well, whatever bizarre reason they might have. Of course, I find this line of reasoning from right-wingers interesting, because it is becoming increasingly clear that those who identify with the Conservative Party of Canada (but not necessarily small-c “conservatives”) clearly do not understand either basic economics or the idea that decision-making should be based on factual evidence. If they did understand, they would be taking the climate crisis far more seriously, for the threat that a warming planet poses to our economy, if for no other reason.
Small-c “conservatives” understand that if climate change unfolds in a manner which scientific experts are telling us it will, the impact on Canada’s economy is expected to be staggering: upwards of $5 billion a year annually, and between $21 and $43 billion by the 2050s, according to a 2011 report from Canada’s National Round Table on Energy and Environment (“Climate change will cost Canada $5 billion yearly by 2020, reports says”, the Toronto Star, September 29, 2011. After this report was published, the large “C” Conservative government decided to terminate the roundtable, ostensibly because it continued to argue for a “job-killing” carbon tax. Of course, NRTEE did nothing of the sort. NRTEE was, however, guilty of providing inconvenient facts which raised questions about the Conservative government’s handling of the economy in the face of a crisis which the government refuses to recognize.
What about left-wing politicians and pundits, though? The right-wing often views climate change as a left-wing issue (erroneously, in my opinion), because the Conservative Party in Canada (and like-minded provincial political parties) kow-tow to the oil industry; they’re intent on giving as much of our natural resources away as quickly as possible, to generate a buck today instead of saving for tomorrow. The left-wing has often taken what can be called a more socially-minded “go slow” approach to resource extraction; one which focuses on revenue sharing over a longer term, rather than runaway resource depletion.
Tom Mulcair, before becoming Leader of the NDP, wrote about the Tar Sands and resource extraction in Policy Options Magazine (“Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Country”). Shortly after Mulcair’s musings appeared in print, I wrote about his piece in my blog, and praised him for his “excellent article” and wrote that “It’s clear that Mulcair understands the need of putting sustainability at the head of decision-making processes.” (“Tom Mulcair and the Tar Sands: One Step Forward, One Step Back”, Sudbury Steve May, March 21 2012). Since then, and after taking a beating in the neo-liberal mainstream media over making comments about “Dutch Disease”, Mulcair and the NDP have largely backed away from discussing climate change in public.
Although his article was written almost a year ago, Mulcair has offered little more in the way of specifics with regards to what his concept of “sustainable development” would truly entail – and how it would be an economic benefit for Canadians. In short, he has allowed the right-wing to continue to portray taking action on the climate crisis as a threat to the health of Canada’s economy, even though he clearly knows better. Lamely, all Mulcair and the NDP seem to have offered Canadians on this topic throughout 2012 has been to fight denials made by Conservative MP’s and their lap-dog media pundits that they would introduce a “job-killing carbon tax” if they ever formed government. Rather than using the Conservative mudslinging as an attempt to engage in a mature discussion about carbon pricing and the economic impacts of climate change, Mulcair and the NDP instead continue to engage at the Conservative’s level – by slinging mud of their own right back at them.
The NDP – Can’t Commit to Action
NDP supporters who once believed that their Party was serious about wanting to tackle the climate crisis must be cringing, as it is becoming increasingly clear that Mulcair is willing to sacrifice good public policy options at the altar of “electability”, where the less said about much of anything, the better. Although the NDP continues to champion a Cap and Trade carbon pricing mechanism, discussion about how such a scheme could work isn’t happening in public, and NDP MP’s appear reluctant to draw attention to it (maybe because it’s an overly bureaucratic way of reducing emissions, particularly in comparison to, say, a straightforward revenue neutral carbon tax). Of course, this level of engagement on the issue of climate change is of no help to Canadians who are clearly growing frustrated with the lack of solutions on offer from our so-called leaders.
Keep in mind that while the federal NDP has never formed a government, the NDP has found itself in power provincially. There are currently NDP governments in Nova Scotia and Manitoba, and those governments, along with former NDP governments in British Columbia and Ontario, have consistently failed to take any action at all on carbon pricing, despite NDP member-approved policies which call for action. Only Liberal governments in Quebec and British Columbia have actually taken the idea of carbon pricing seriously, with the B.C. carbon tax being hailed throughout the world as a model for other jurisdictions, national and subnational, to use to reduce emissions and shift tax burdens. Yet the NDP, in the provincial election campaign of 2009, cynically ran on a platform to “Axe the Tax”. Had they formed government, it’s clear that the international successes which B.C. has been lauded with thanks to its carbon tax would not have happened. It is unclear today whether BC NDP Leader Adrian Dix will once again lead his Party in a campaign to axe the tax – a slogan that always finds resonance with voters, even those who enjoy the benefits of a healthy economy and the public services provided by their government. For the NDP, though, obtaining and keeping power is always more important than good public policy.
The Liberals – Who Knows?
The Liberals seem to have even less to offer Canadians than the NDP. A blogpost from Liberal Environment Critic Kirsty Duncan has been making the rounds on the internet lately. Some have suggested that her blog, and remarks made by Leader-in-Waiting Justin Trudeau, shows that the Liberals are serious about wanting to take action on climate change. While Duncan’s blog presents the facts around the issue of climate change, it reads like a laundry list of what we already know about the crisis. Very little is offered in the way of what Canada should do about it, and what is on offer is the usual sort of platitudes about getting serious about developing an action plan. Good, I suppose, for what it is, but so general as to be of little utility. Kind of like the Liberal Party’s position on just about every other issue of importance to Canadians.
Trudeau’s recent musings in particular demonstrate to me that the Liberals will continue to try to convince Canadians that we can have it both ways: A booming oil-based runaway-extractive economy which mines what NASA scientist James Hansen has referred to as the “carbon bomb”, as quickly as possible, while still reducing emissions. For all that Duncan criticizes the Conservative government for not having a “plan”, it’s clear that the Liberals themselves don’t have a plan either, and that they never had a plan even when in power under Jean Chretien, other than to fool Canadians into thinking that we were going to live up to our international commitments under Kyoto to reduce emissions. And fool Canadians the Liberals did. I guess if it worked once, Liberals like Trudeau think that they can do so again.
The Mainstream Media
Given the circumstances which Canada’s old-line political parties find themselves in, it’s no wonder that the mainstream media, beholden as it is to its profit-obsessed neo-liberal interests, has failed so miserably at presenting alternative views related to climate change. The media continues to position taking action on climate change as being an adversarial position to economic growth. That’s their narrative, and they’re sticking to it. Not even the Official Opposition dares question this media-driven paradigm which defies the facts and sound long-term economic planning. Where in the mainstream is the “green” point of view on climate change? And, for that matter, the Green point of view?
Green Voices in the Media Wilderness
Despite receiving a significant percentage of the vote-share in the past several Canadian elections, and electing Party Leader Elizabeth May to parliament in 2011, and despite ideologically-linked Green parties having significant influence on governments throughout the world, Canada’s mainstream media continues to treat green political ideology as a non-existent. Greens and their political analysis, position and policies, are an afterthought at best, or grossly misrepresented at worst – not necessarily out of malice, but often simply due to a lack of understanding of green politics and ideology.
The Green point of view on climate change doesn’t start with the climate crisis posing a threat to Canada’s runaway resource-extractive economy because reducing greenhouse gas emissions will slow down oil sector growth. Instead, the Green point of view is informed by the science of climate change and the economic analyses which strongly suggest that inaction on reducing emissions will surely lead to future costs which we cannot afford to pay (refer back to that $5 billion annually, and up to $43 billion by the 2050’s, projected by NRTEE). Greens know that unless we can hold warming at 2 degrees Celsius by significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the short term, we risk running up against environmental tipping points leading to runaway warming. From there, Greens proceed to make the connection to the idea that Canada’s economy is going to be negatively impacted in a warming world, and understand that 2 degrees of warming is not something which we should be aspiring to, but instead is something which we might have to be forced to live with, even in a best-case scenario. Simply put, Greens understand that the costs of doing nothing are far greater than the costs of taking action.
Now, believe it or not, that appears to be a bit of a radical notion to the other political parties, and to the mainstream media. Even though individual MP’s in other parties might understand this fact from an intellectual perspective, their own point of view is often tempered by notions that they can’t say so publicly for fear of being “unelectable” because they might find themselves at odds with the mainstream media narrative. When message management becomes the first priority for our elected officials, it’s fair to say that there’s something grossly wrong with the priorities.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May recently wrote (again) about the 2 degrees Celsius threshold for warming (“Why a two degree Celsius increase in the global average temperature is a big deal”), interestingly on the same day as President Obama was giving his inaugural address and on the very same day that Environment Canada publicly changed its benchmarking for determining “normal” weather in an increasingly warming world (see: “Dramatic temperature increases could threaten Canadian health, infrastructure”, The Globe and Mail, January 21 2013). Yet, May’s point of view, which clearly connected the dots between warming weather, fighting climate change and the economic importance of holding warming at 2 degrees Celsius or less received no attention in the mainstream media. Pundit after pundit pontificated about the pace of runaway resource extraction, but nothing was said about the pace runaway climate change.
Honest Political Discourse
Look, this discussion is one which the mainstream media will continue to ignore as long as old-line politicians keep saying the same things over and over again. The NDP, Liberals and Conservatives want Canadians to believe that we can continue to develop the tar sands and prevent the world from experiencing the worst from global warming. They disagree only on the pace of development, not on whether it might just be a good idea to start thinking about leaving some of those resources in the ground. Pace is important, sure; but how about being honest with Canadians about the consequences of tar sands development?
Until a level of honesty is injected into the political discourse, the mainstream media will continue to ignore the fact that there is an alternative point of view. However, discussions are clearly taking place in the realm of social media. You can read about it on rabble, or at the Huffington Post. It’s just that as far as mainstream media outlets like CTV, the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and the CBC are concerned, the point of view isn’t one worth exploring. Of course, the usual series of media pundits trotted out by these news organizations tend to be affiliated with one of the three old-line political parties, so the opinions on offer go far towards reinforcing the idea that those are the only valid opinions on the topic.
Make the Damn Connections, Please!
As an aside, and for the purposes of illustration, I had the pleasure of watching CBC’s “The National” last night. The lead story had to do with the cold temperature being experienced across Canada. The second story of the night was also weather-related, and had to do with Environment Canada’s recent changes to benchmarking. CBC clearly reported that the world is warming, and Canada, in particular, had experienced a rise in annual temperatures of 3.2 degrees Celsius in the past 60 years. And that was interesting, sure, but what about context? No explanation was offered by the CBC as to why the world was warming. I initially thought that maybe the lack of explanation was because one wasn’t needed. We all know that our industrial society is responsible, right? Well, no, actually we don’t all know that. There are far too many who like to pretend that climate change isn’t happening, and our media seems keen on avoiding any conversation about it which doesn’t conform to the “resource extraction” lens.
I also had the pleasure of watching Don Martin’s Power Play on CTV last night. Don interviewed a member of a Georgian Bay stewardship group about concerns with the water levels in the Great Lakes. The Georgian Bay resident talked about the economic impacts of lower water levels to shipping, and how less shipping might lead to a direct impact on the economic health of the Great Lakes region. When it came time for a discussion about reasons for low water levels, the Georgian Bay steward pointed to climate change as one of the reasons, making the connection between the impacts of global warming and the health of our economy. Afterwards, Don interviewed the Finance Minister of the Province of Alberta, and talked about the need for provincial government spending cuts, because oil revenues were down. The solution both Don and the Finance Minister landed on was the need to get those oil revenues back up into healthy fiscal territory. No connection was made about the implications of continuing to burn fossil fuels and the health of the economy. Don might have offered something about how burning oil, which contributes to warming, might actually continue to exacerbate the problem with low water levels in the Great Lakes, and damage the economy of Ontario and Great Lakes States. But..No. As long as the government can continue to figure out a way to have Albertans avoid paying a sales tax, that’s really all that’s important. Right?
Real Solutions for the 21st Century
My point is, of course, that it isn’t right. It’s clear to me, and to many Canadians, that our economic system is failing us. We need to start having conversations about this increasingly problematic notion of “economic growth” on which we have invested so much of our hope for the future. We are living now in a time where the sort of exponential growth required to fuel a “healthy” economy just isn’t going to happen any longer. Just as Environment Canada was forced to rethink its benchmarks for “normal” weather in a warming world, so too must economists and politicians begin to rethink what a healthy economy means at a time when the concept of perpetual growth has been shown to be unsustainable.
Our economy, fuelled largely by non-renewables, is now butting up against the limits of a finite planet. While there remain plenty of fossil fuel resources in the ground for our exploitation, we know that relying on these resources is going to become increasingly expensive in terms of production (there’s a reason that the term “fracking” has entered into our vocabulary recently, and it has nothing to do with Battlestar Galactica). And we know if we continue rely on fossil fuels to power our economy, we are sure to warm the planet beyond 2 degrees Celsius and suffer the consequences of runaway warming. And that makes a reliance on fossil fuels unsustainable and dangerous to our long-term economic health.
President Obama, if we are to believe him from the words he spoke in his inaugural address, seems to understand this. We can’t continue along with “business as usual” because we’re deep into a new normal now. There’s nothing “usual” about paying $1.30 for gasoline at the pump. There’s nothing “usual” about warming the planet between 2 and 5 degrees in a matter of decades. There’s nothing “usual”, sensible or sane about handing our children a planet unprepared and ill equipped to meet the challenges they will face, because we have decided to mortgage their future for our own short-term benefit.
Credit Obama at least for having the audacity to finally talk about climate change after years of silence. But he now needs to back up his words with actions. The very first thing he can do is acknowledge that the economic risks of runaway climate change will be exacerbated by runaway tar sands resource development. Obama must formally kill the Keystone XL pipeline, and by doing so, slow the pace of production of the world’s dirtiest oil. That decision will not impact current levels of resource extraction, but it will certainly slow the pace of expansion, which is needed until real economic measures, such as carbon pricing, better balance the playing field for renewables.
Right now, fossil fuel production receives incredible public subsidies, which make their use for energy production more attractive than renewables like wind and solar. The elimination of direct government subsidies to fossil fuel companies would be a good start (estimated in Canada to be worth about $1.2 billion annually). A good follow-up would be imposing a price on greenhouse gas emissions, ending the pollution subsidy which producers and consumers have enjoyed for far too long. Getting the price of energy right after all of the decades of passing pollution costs onto our children will be a good start towards creating a more sustainable economy.
Climate Change – A Non-Partisan Crisis
In Canada, our politicians, be they Conservatives, Liberals or NDP, seem to want to avoid these discussions at all costs. Only the Green Party is willing to engage Canadians in real discussions about economic sustainability. For the good of Canada, I sincerely wish that the voice of the Green Party was not a lone voice in the media wilderness – the stakes are too high. The climate crisis isn’t a partisan issue. I wish that the other political parties would stop treating it as such.
(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)
This is the final part of my Crystal Ball Gazing, 2013 Edition blogpost series. In earlier posts, I looked at municipal, provincial, and federal predictions, along with some global trends which will impact 2013. I also assessed what this year has in store for Canada’s national political parties. In this post, I’ll be turning my attention to international affairs.
The United Kingdom
Could this be the year that Conservative-Liberal Democratic coalition breaksdown, and the British return to the polls? Growing concerns amongst Conservatives regarding Britain’s role in the European Union may be the straw that breaks the Lib-Dem coalition partner’s backs. The EU has been taking a lot of abuse lately, despite winning a Nobel Peace Prize! Prime Minister David Cameron will be walking a fine line, trying to keep the pro-European Lib-Dems happy in the coalition government, while appeasing anti-Unionist forces in his own Party. The rise of the anti-Europe UK Independence Party (UKIP) in polling will also be a concern to Conservatives. While UKIP might not threaten to elect any MP’s, they will almost certainly siphon votes away from a Euro-waffling Conservative Party.
Look for Liberal-Democratic Leader Nick Clegg to pull his Party from the Coalition on a matter of principle (it would have to be, because the Lib-Dems polling is pathetic right now), and the government to fall before the end of 2013. The election will return the Conservatives to a minority government, and with the other parties unable to form a coalition, the Conservatives will attempt to govern without a majority (which will be an interesting experiment in Britain, where coalition partners are almost always sought in “hung parliaments”).
Italy will be going to the polls in early 2013. Look for a return of Mario Monti, Italy’s technocratic PM, as Italians opt for continuing the relative stability which Monti and his cadre have brought to the political scene. As a result, Italy may weather the storm of the coming economic recession better than most European nations. However, Italy’s long-term prospects continue to look bleak.
Expect protests to continue in Greece and Spain, as national governments continue to be prodded by Eurobankers to implement unpopular austerity agendas. I expect protests to widen, and Portugal and Ireland may be engulfed by the end of 2013. Even France’s socialist government might take a beating from citizens concerned about a downward shift in their quality of life expectations.
Will this be the year that Australians go to the polls? I think it might be, as the global recession is sure to negatively impact Australia. Concerns will be raised with the policies of PM Julia Gillard, and with her grip on power tenuous, all it will take will be one or two backbench defections or retiring MP’s to trigger the need for a national election. Look for Gillard to be returned, with a minority government.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party-led coalition will return to power in Israel after elections in early 2013. Netanyahu will interpret this as a green-light to bomb Iran’s nuclear installations and plunge the world into a pretty serious crisis. More on that below.
2013 will bring a period of peace to Egypt, now that a referendum on a new Constitution has been held, and the votes have been counted. Look for Mohammed Morsi to continue to consolidate his position as Prime Minister, and build the necessary power structures around him so that he can’t be ousted by non-democratic forces.
But Egypt’s relative peace will be shattered by international events, as Egyptians will once again take to the streets demanding action from Morsi. This time, though, the action will be to support the Palestinians in Gaza against a more aggressive Israel.
Will the civil war in Syria come to an end in 2013, with the fall of the Assad regime? No, although Assad will lose control of Syria and be forced to flee the country part way through the year. The war, however, will continue its factional violence. Turkey, which was almost drawn into the war this year, will stay the course and not be drawn in. Largely, Syria will continue to be left to figure out its own fate, and will be unable to do so in 2013.
The United States of America
This isn’t going to be a good year for the U.S.A. on several fronts. First, that little matter of the fiscal cliff and the incomprehensible deficit and debt situation of the American government. While it looks like legislators will punt the heavy lifting of decision-making back a few months (which the markets will view as favourable, until the next crisis), no satisfactory solution for Democrats or Republicans will be found. Indeed, the Republican Party is already at threat of splintering as a result of Tea-Party fundamentalists having seized control of the Party. Moderate Republicans may finally decide that it’s time to split (this would be the time to do it, too, giving enough advance room to create a new Party prior to the 2014 mid-term elections). Having said that, I don’t believe that the Republican Party will splinter, even though moderate Republicans really ought to divorce themselves from the Tea Partiers.
The global recession is going to take a toll on the U.S., and unemployment numbers will continue to rise. The recession itself may be sparked by U.S. action – or inaction if you prefer, on getting its economic act together. Equally possible (and in my opinion, likely), the U.S. will be drawn into a short, sharp conflict with Iran, thanks to Iranian retaliation against Israel as a result of Israeli air-strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
War with Iran, even a short war, is sure to send global markets plunging, and may be the ultimate cause of recession. Wanting to minimize U.S. involvement, look for President Obama to actively enter into negotiations with the Iranians to end the conflict. For his efforts, Obama will see his popularity plunge at the polls, as Republicans and the right-wing mainstream media portray him as a weak leader, and declare his negotiations as being “treasonous”.
Sounds a little nutsy, doesn’t it? But that’s the level of political discourse in the U.S. today. And the right-wingers will have some more ammunition at their disposal: Obama has already said that something must be done to curb the gun violence which for far too long has swept his nation. Calls for reforming gun laws will be met with stiff opposition and anti-American rhetoric from Republicans. Ultimately, Obama’s gun reform efforts are doomed to fail, although this might not be immediately apparent in 2013 (remember: the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was reaffirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 and again in 2010, and the almost unfettered right to bear arms appears to be a fact of life for Americans).
Every year I predict which NHL team will win the Stanley Cup, and every year, I’ve been wrong. This year, I hope that my prediction doesn’t come true, but nonetheless, here it is: The Stanley Cup will not be awarded in 2013, thanks to the NHL lockout. Should this labour situation ever resolve itself, the NHL is going to have to figure out some way to win back fans like me before the year is out. Moving the Phoneix Coyotes to Markham or Kitchener, the Florida Panthers to Halifax and the Tampa Bay Lightning to Quebec City might be a good start, and something which Gary Bettman and other team owners might want to think about.
(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)
In Parts 1 through 4 of this blogpost, I looked at some international and national trends and events which I expect to influence 2013. In Part 5, I'm taking a closer look at Canada's national political parties, and what voters and supporters can expect over the next year.
The Conservative Party of Canada
2013 will be a “steady as she goes” year for the Conservative Party of Canada. Although some pundits have been looking for breaks in Stephen Harper’s iron-clad rule of his Party (and have suggested that votes on life-determining private members bills might have demonstrated such breaks in 2012), the Conservatives will not begin to turn on each other in 2013. They’ve no reason to, as their base remains strong and committed, and polling numbers will continue to place their support in the mid- to high-30s. The Conservatives know, better than the other parties, that a mid-30 percentage in a national poll is really a few points higher for their party, as national polls include both Canadians who will vote and those who won’t. Since Conservative support is heaviest amongst older Canadians, and since older Canadians are the most vote-motivated age demographic, come election day, Conservatives will find a bit of a bounce in their numbers.
However, if there is a risk for Stephen Harper moving forward, it will be found in this older age demographic. Expect seniors issues to play an increasingly important role in Ottawa in 2013, as talk of pension reform continues. Conservatives must tread lightly on these issues, as both seniors and the opposition parties will be watching closely. For all of that, though, poll after poll has consistently shown that the seniors support of the Conservatives is rock-solid, and I believe that the Conservatives will be able to continue to count on seniors throughout 2013, and indeed into the 2015 federal election.
Electoral Co-operation Amongst the Other Parties
After the 2011 federal election which handed the Conservatives a majority government with less than 40% of the popular vote, talk about electoral co-operation heated up. In 2012, NDP leadership candidate Nathan Cullen finished 3rd in the leadership race after running on a platform of the NDP working with the Liberals and Greens in a one-time effort to defeat incumbent Conservative MP’s in the 2015 election. Clearly, Cullen’s message found resonance both inside and outside of the NDP.
Along with pundits musing about some form of electoral co-operation between opposition parties, and in some cases the out-right merger of those parties, we saw past Party Leaders such as Jean Chretien wade into the discussion about the need for co-operation. In August 2012, Green Party members adopted a resolution which called on their Party to negotiate with the Liberals and NDP to find a way towards making a one-time deal where electoral reform is put on the table, to take effect in time for the first post-2015 federal election.
Across the nation, Canadians have begun expressing their desire to see the opposition parties work with one another. Concerns were raised over “centre-left vote splitting” (a term and idea which irritates me to no end, as it implies the ownership of votes by a political Party), and were especially apparent during and after the late 2012 by-elections, and specifically in Calgary Centre. In that riding, Liberal Harvey Locke repeatedly took aim at Green candidate Chris Turner for splitting the vote, and allowing Conservative Joan Crockatt to eke out a victory. The Liberals’ sense of entitlement in Calgary Centre was particularly galling (as was the lack of media scrutiny around the assertion), given that Locke started the by-election campaign polling at about 28%, while Turner started with just 11%. On e-day, Locke pulled in 32% of the vote, representing a modest gain. Turner, on the other hand, received 25% of the vote. Clearly, since Locke didn’t lose any “Liberal” votes (and in fact, managed to pick up a few more), how is it that Turner “split” the vote? If anything, what’s clear is that the Green Party succeeded in convincing enough former NDP and former Conservative supporters to cast their ballots for Turner. But in the Liberal world of spin and entitlement, I suppose those voters should have moved to the Liberals.
Interestingly, Greens in Victoria never made the case that the Liberal candidate split their vote in the by-election there. Had all Liberal supporters in Victoria cast their ballots for Green candidate Donald Galloway, the Greens would have taken the riding from the NDP. Such an argument would have been the exact same as Locke’s and the Liberals assertion of vote-splitting in Calgary Centre, but since no Green has ever felt entitled to votes (largely because Greens tend to receive so few!), the argument was never seriously made, at least to my knowledge.
But I have digressed. Significantly. My bad. Anyway, my point was that Canadians are clamouring for electoral co-operation to oust Conservatives and to change our antiquated electoral system which was responsible for getting us into this mess in the first place. Members of one Party have already told their Party executive that they want to actively pursue electoral co-operation, and former Party Leaders and other brass have stepped forward to suggest that the time is ripe for more co-operation. Surely, any Liberal or NDP-led government has got to be better than what we have today, so why not make a deal? And as Justin Trudeau takes the reigns of the Liberal Party and polls start to draw closer between the Liberals and the NDP, it will be difficult to make the case against co-operation.
But the case against working with the other parties will continue to be made by Tom Mulcair and the NDP. Mulcair is already on record nixing any form of electoral co-operation with the Liberals and Greens, nationally and at the riding level (unless, cynically, Liberals and Greens abandon their Party and join the NDP). Although many NDP supporters and members think that this is the wrong direction to take, Mulcair has been adamant that he believes that the NDP can win it all on their own in 2015. And he may be right.
But regardless of whether he proves to be right or not, what Mulcair and the NDP have shown Canadians once again is that they will put the partisan interests of their party ahead of what is good for Canada. And on that score, Mulcair and the NDP aren’t alone; they are joined by Justin Trudeau, who will almost certainly lead the Liberal Party in 2013. With two stubborn, go-it-alone partisans helming the two largest opposition parties, the hopes and dreams of Canadians for a co-operative effort to Stop Harper are dead.
We will continue to talk about electoral co-operation throughout 2013, but increasingly it will become apparent that the opposition parties won’t reach a deal, due to the intractable positions of Mulcair and Trudeau. Greens in particular will continue to play up the need for co-operation, due in part to the lack of partisanship in the Green Party, and in part due to Green pragmatism!
The Liberal Party
Justin Trudeau will surely become the next Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada in 2013. The media seems to love Trudeau, and Canadians are excited that the Liberals are to be led by a dynamic and interesting Leader. Some in the media have even begun to talk about Trudeau’s policies, which is frankly a big step. Concerns are starting to be raised that Trudeau is starting to tack a little too much to the right of the political spectrum, but I’m sure that at the end of the day, whatever Trudeau has to say about anything won’t matter anyway, even if the Liberals do form the next government. I’ve no faith in the Liberal Party to do anything that they’ve said they will do, as they’ll say whatever they think it takes to get themselves elected. The Liberal Party of Canada has devolved into a cult of personality, devoid not of ideas (as many have suggested), but of the political will to implement bold visions. In power under Chretien and Martin, Liberals proved to be micromanagers, steering the ship of state through a series of small jolts, rather than using a map to plot out a real course. I expect more of the same from Trudeau, regardless of what he says.
Unfortunately, too many Canadians will start to take Trudeau at his word. And those words won’t just be the ones that he utters in 2013. Indeed, thanks to the Conservative Party, we’ll soon be recipient to repeats to some of the more interesting things which Justin Trudeau has publicly mused about over the years (as we were in 2012 when earlier disparaging remarks about Alberta came to light near the end of the Calgary Centre by-election). While Trudeau’s words may inspire many in 2012, they will equally turn off a good number of Canadians. And since the next election will be fought riding-by-riding, you can bet to hear more of Trudeaus’s harsh words about Western Canada, played for the battleground B.C. audience, and more of Trudeau’s musing about separatism for battleground Ontario voters.
By the end of 2013, it will start to become clear that the Liberals have once again made a mistake in their choice of Leader. Although Trudeau will continue to receive significant (and fawning) media coverage, the words of his own self-destruction will have been sown, and the predicted jump in the polls for the Liberal Party won’t materialize (although they will still likely be polling tied with the NDP). In Quebec and B.C., the Liberals will hardly experience any increase in support at all, and it is in these two provinces (along with Ontario) that the Liberals must do well in 2015 if they are to have any hope of recovery.
Expect to see a steady year from the NDP, building on their successes from 2012, during which the NDP’s full team of players really began to emerge and resonate with Canadians. It’s increasingly becoming clear that the NDP is a lot more than just its Leader, and that there is real depth to their bench.
Mulcair, too, will continue to impress Canadians with reasoned discussion and debate, setting himself up not just as the anti-Harper, but as a sound steward for Canada, especially on economic issues. Thanks to Mulcair and strong NDP opposition critics, the Trudeau-tide isn’t going to rise high enough to wash the NDP’s hopes of forming government away in 2015. Which is not to say that the Liberals won’t pose a threat to the NDP.
Already during the last part of 2012, the NDP and Mulcair have largely disappeared from the media’s short eye of attention, as it has begun focusing on Trudeau, Trudeau, Trudeau. Politicians know that it’s never good to be out of the spotlight for too long (and NDP politicians in particular know this, having had to fight for most of their lives as members of the third party). In 2013, media attention will continue to focus largely on Trudeau at the expense of the NDP, but given the NDP’s Loyal Opposition status, they won’t be permanently removed from the spotlight.
When all is said and done, I believe that the NDP is going to have a pretty good year, and although “steady as she goes” will remain the theme of 2013, clearly the NDP’s longer-term plan to govern in 2015 remains on track, and we can likely expect even more from the NDP in 2014.
The Green Party
For the Green Party of Canada, it’s the little successes and setbacks which must be counted and balanced out in order to determine where things are going. In 2012, the Green Party, like the other parties, experienced both successes and setbacks, although it was the Green Party’s successes which Canadians were likely to hear the most about, even if those “success” stories were tinged with a bittersweet quality.
After having coming so close on election night to triumphing in the Victoria by-election, Green Donald Galloway was ultimately defeated by the NDP. Yet Galloway managed to garner 34% of the popular vote, a remarkable feat for a Green up against an NDP candidate. In Calgary Centre, the animated campaign of Chris Turner vaulted the Greens into third place, and propelled the Party to the centre of national media coverage for a few days, as pundits tried to figure out whether the Green Party was for real. Interestingly, most pundits seemed to have arrived at the conclusion that the Greens are for real, and can no longer be discounted, especially in Western Canada.
Interestingly, I have to agree with the pundits on this one. For regular readers of my blog, although I have always professed to be a partisan Green (and perhaps the most partisan Green in a party which prides itself on being post-partisan), I have nevertheless always been a realist when it comes to my own expectations about the Party. Therefore, for me to now wrap my head around the idea that my Party might actually be taken seriously by both voters and the media, well, that’s a little something special.
Although credit for success has to go to the local campaigns in Victoria and Calgary Centre (seriously – these campaigns were extremely local in nature, and while I’m sure that they received resources from the national party, the direction of the campaigns themselves, and the issues on which Galloway and Turner fought were local – and in one case, the execution of an aspect of one local campaign received some negative scrutiny from the Party Leader, with the proviso that her opinion doesn’t really matter, as she herself is not leading the campaign. In short, Greens do it differently from the other parties), the performance of Party Leader Elizabeth May has certainly started to turn the heads of Canadians – and catch the eye of the media.
Late in 2012, May was named Parliamentarian of the Year by her colleagues in the House of Commons. This honour has never before been bestowed on a woman, much less the Leader of the – wait a moment, I have to count this on my fingers – the fifth Party. May has made herself a force to be reckoned with in Parliament (and in the corridors outside of Parliament). May has the ability to laser-focus on specific issues, catching them well in advance of the other parties, and bringing them to the attention of Canadians and the media. In 2012, she was the first to catch the implications of the budget omnibus bills on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and the Navigable Waters Protection Act. She was also the first to sound the alarm on the government’s desire to enter into the FIPPA trade agreement with China without any debate taking place first in parliament. She was later joined by some of the opposition parties on these issues, but the fact is that May seems to actually have the time to read draft legislation and make the connections all on her own, and right away.
May would sorely liked to have been joined by another Green legislator in 2012, and in 2013, I predict that she’ll get her chance. At least one more Green will join May in the back corner of the House in 2013, and Canadians will notice. With Greens elected for the first time to provincial legislatures in Ontario and B.C., it will be the best of times to be a Green.
And it will be the worst of times to be a Green. Despite the Green Party doing well on the public stage, behind the scenes it’s going to be a different story. All political parties run on money, and the Green Party has received a larger part of its income from the per-vote subsidy than the other parties. With the subsidy scheduled to run out in 2015, and with another annual reduction kicking in in 2013, the finances of the Green Party may be the biggest factor working against it. New donors will need to be actively courted throughout Canada. Donors usually follow on the heels of well-known candidates, like Galloway and Turner. Therefore, I expect to see the Green Party begin to actively recruit and nominate candidates in key ridings in 2013, in order to engage in building local popularity and fundraising.
This may appear to be at odds with the Green membership’s desire to work with other parties, but given the stated positions of the NDP and the Liberals, there really will be little opportunity for electoral co-operation anyway. The Green Party will be forced to move ahead towards candidate nomination in key ridings (read: ridings which have a healthy organization in place, and especially those where Greens think there may be a shot at winning).
Green Party supporters, expect to be asked a little bit more often than you have been to contribute to the financial success of the Party. At least now, however, you can start to feel a little bit more secure that your contribution is going towards a long-term pay-off. Greens in Canada are succeeding in influencing the national and provincial political discourse, and our voices are only going to become stronger as voters increasingly discover that the old-line parties just aren’t up to facing the challenges of the 21st Century.
In Part 6 of my blogpost, I’ll explore some international predictions. Stay tuned.
(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)
In earlier blogposts, I laid the foundations for my predictions, and proceeded to discuss a few municipal-level issues, along with how next year’s political situation in Ontario might play itself out. I predicted that the Liberal government will fall, but I was uncertain whether that would be in the late winter/early spring, or whether it would survive until the fall with the help of Andrea Horvath’s NDP. Regardless of timing, however, I predicted that Ontario’s next government will be the NDP, likely in a minority situation with support from the Liberals and Guelph’s newly elected MPP, Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner.
Building on the trend of electing Greens, in Part 4 of this series, I’m going to turn my attention to a few of Canada’s other provinces, and the national political scene.
All eyes are going to be on B.C. for the scheduled May 14th provincial election. It is widely expected that B.C.’s Liberal government, led by Premier Christy Clark, will give way to the NDP, led by Adrian Dix. However, with the Conservative Party of B.C., a possible right-wing foil to Clark’s Liberals (actually a coalition of liberals and conservatives) looking like the gang who couldn’t shoot straight (and with the falling polling numbers to suggest that they really can’t), the Liberals might not end up getting decimated on the 14th.
That being said, Clark’s Premiership has been disastrous, and the Liberals can expect to reap the whirlwind. Look for Dix and the NDP to win an extremely strong majority, leaving only a handful of Liberals and maybe one or two Conservatives behind. Joining them in the Victoria will be the Green Party of British Columbia’s first ever MLA, Andrew Weaver. A few other Greens will find themselves in tight races on election night, but globally respected climatologist Weaver will handily win the riding of Oak Bay-Gordon Head.
I’m always reluctant to weigh in on politics in Quebec, largely because there are nuances in the political scene which I do not understand as well as I ought to. And these nuances can often translate into significant political eruptions. Who, for example, would have thought that the casserole protests which started in Montreal would have led directly to the defeat of Quebec’s Liberal government, and former Premier Jean Charest losing his own seat, and retiring from government? Yet, when Charest cynically called an election in the late summer of 2012, ostensibly to capitalize on the public ill-will towards the protesters (and to silence the student protesters amidst a summer campaign), it ended up being Pauline Marois’ student-friendly Parti-Quebecois who benefitted, albeit with a very delicate minority and the lowest popular vote percentage for any government in Quebec’s electoral history.
Interestingly, two members of the ultra-left wing separatist party Quebec Solidaire were also elected to the legislative assembly; Quebec-Solidaire, which advocates for Quebec sovereignty, has many links to Tom Mulcair’s NDP, and their participation in the election was probably the reason that Quebec’s NDP MP’s opted to sit out the provincial campaign, concerned (rightly) with how the optics of their participation would play out in the rest of Canada.
Marois has done a pretty decent job (so far) of steering her government through controversies, although with the Liberals currently leaderless, some have suggested that she could have acted more boldly to implement her agenda. On March 17, 2013, the Liberals will select MNA Philippe Couillard to lead the Party, and when the National Assembly returns, all bets are off for Marois. Expect to see Liberal polling numbers bounce (despite significant negative press emerging from the Charbonnea Commission), and with the support of a hungry CAQ, Quebec’s third party, Marois’ minority government will fall in 2013. Couillard will govern with a minority, seeking PQ and CAQ support on an issue by issues basis. Post-secondary student tuitions will rise.
The National Scene
The big story on the national scene in 2013 will be a non-event: the established status-quo will not be shaken up. 2013 will look a lot like 2012, with the Liberals switching places with the NDP in terms of electing a dynamic and capable leader. However, the Stephen Harper’s Conservatives will continue to poll in the mid-30s, as neither the NDP nor Justin Trudeau’s Liberals being able to find a way to entice the Conservative base.
Trudeau will easily win the Liberal nomination on the first ballot, having signed up a significant new number of Liberal supporters. As a result of the Liberals new way of electing a Leader, Trudeau will be able to lay claim to having had the most individual Canadians elect him as Leader of the Party. The Liberals will see a slight bump in the polls, and may even surpass the NDP in national polling, but the 2015 election will be fought riding-by-riding, and in battleground Quebec, the NDP will continue to consolidate their 2011 gains.
The Harper government will continue to push through sweeping changes to Canada’s social and environmental programs through omnibus budgetary legislation, without the benefit of reasoned debate. The Conservatives will continue to play fast and loose with our democracy, and although there will be more scandals (including a big one involving the partisanship of the Speaker of the House which may lead to his replacement), by and large Canadians will continue not to care. Even the global recession which I predicted won’t significantly impact the Conservatives polling numbers, as blame for lost jobs and divestment will land elsewhere other than at Harper’s feet.
The biggest scandal Harper will have to deal with will lead to a temporary dip in Conservative popularity: Harper will not re-appoint Kevin Page to the post of Parliamentary Budget Officer. Instead, the post will remain vacant for a few months while a less aggressive PBO can be found. The mainstream media will howl, but for the most part, Canadians won’t notice Page’s termination. Conservative polling will recover a few weeks afterwards.
The Joint Review Panel will be making a recommendation on the Northern Gateway pipeline later in 2013, although additional time may be requested which will take the JRP into 2014. After “careful consideration”, the JRP will make the favourable recommendation for the pipeline which just about everyone has predicted. Despite the endorsement of the JRP, and the Conservative government’s backing of the pipeline, the Northern Gateway pipeline will remain just as dead in 2013 as it is at the end of 2012. While the JRP might maintain that obstacles such as mountains, rivers and wildlife habitat can be overcome, other obstacles, including the rights of First Nations, won’t be.
First Nations will continue to play an interesting role on the national political scene throughout 2013. The collegial Idle No More protests, which began late in 2012, will continue for the first part of 2013. The nature of the protests, however, may begin to evolve in the spring of 2013, and I am reluctant to speculate on how they might do so. Whatever direction these protests head in, however, and as much as it pains me to write this, I believe that the tide of public opinion is bound to turn against First Nations in 2013, as protests begin to inconvenience non-protesters.
First Nations will continue to find that they are shut out of federal decision making processes, as the Harper Conservatives frankly have little to gain by working with First Nations in broader terms. While they will want to be seen to be doing what they can on a reserve-by-reserve basis, the simple demands of respect for First Nations as articulated through Idle No More will not resonate with the government, or with a majority of voting Canadians.
Canada can expect to enter into free trade agreements with the European Union and China in 2013. There will be little or no debate in parliament about whether these are a good idea. The European Free Trade Agreement in particular will have an immediate impact on the lives of Canadians, as protectionist policies for our domestic dairy producers will come to end. Longer term, these agreements will make it more difficult for our federal and provincial governments to enact legislation to protect the environment, regulate land use and the emission of pollution, and signal their preference for projects which prioritize Canadian jobs over foreign jobs.
Although Elections Canada maintains that its investigations into the Robocalls election fraud scandal is continuing, in 2013 expect to see little in the way of results. Whether that’s because the fraudsters were successful in covering their tracks, or because the resources which Elections Canada can bring to bear on the investigation are inadequate and meagre, don’t expect to see results. The guilty will go unpunished, and largely unrecognized by the Canadian public.
The court case brought forward by the Council of Canadians to demand by-elections in several ridings in which voters experienced fraudulent robocalls directing them to wrong polling stations will be ruled on in 2013. The Court will determine that the Council of Canadians miserably failed to demonstrate any impacts on the outcome of any of the elections at the riding level, concluding that there is no need for by-elections. Due to the miserable failure of the case, the Court will shed little additional light on the standards for showing harm for future cases.
A poll released in the summer of 2013 will show that most Canadians aren’t engaged on Robocalls, and that while two thirds believe that they were committed by the Conservative Party, another third of Canadians will lay blame on the Liberals or independent mischief makers.
Environment? Forget it. Some pundits are claiming that environmental issues will re-emerge in 2013, and there may be some merit to those assertions, at least in terms of more politicians wanting to talk the talk (including Conservatives). But the fact is, we’ve taken so many steps backwards in 2012 (Kyoto; two omnibus budget bills which scuttled environmental protection by watering-down the CEAA and killing the Navigable Waters Protection Act), the ground we’ve lost in the name of “efficiency” (read: economic exploitation) cannot be re-won, and politico’s won’t be going there (including Tom Mulcair, much to Megan Leslie’s increasing annoyance) because there will be no votes in it at a time of recession/anaemic economic growth.
That being said, I do expect Canadians concerns about the environment to increase throughout 2013, although with global economic recession not far from everyone’s mind, the environment will continue to poll as a distant concern to the economy. This situation is likely to remain until such a time that pollsters, media, and our elected officials begin to actually understand that the economy exists as a subset of our natural environment, and that the two can’t be separated from each other. As an example, many Canadians continue to view climate change as an environmental problem (which it is), and not as an economic problem (which it is). When viewed through the single lens of “environment” only, the costs of taking action on climate change can easily become prohibitive. When viewed through the dual lens of “environment and economy” however, the costs of inaction become just plain stupid.
In Part 5 of this blogpost, I'll take a specific look at what I think 2013 holds for each of Canada's national political parties.
(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)