Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Predictions for 2010: Gazing into my Crystal Ball

Just trying to get a little ahead of the game here, by publishing my Crystal-Ball gazing predictions for 2010 a bit in advance of the New Year’s arrival. I must acknowledge that some of these predictions could go out the window before the year does, if certain actions to shut down Parliament are taken in the next few days by the Harper Government.

Of course, my predictions need to be taken with a grain of salt the size of a Prius. Last year I predicted, amongst other matters, that the Vancouver Canucks would win the Stanley Cup.

1. Afghanistan

Many will predict that the detainee scandal which rocked parliament at the end of 2009 will carry over into 2010, one way or the other. Right now, Harper is musing about progroguing parliament to avoid tough questions in Opposition controlled committees. Maybe he will or maybe he won’t. What I think is certain, though, is that this story will begin to fade, as most Canadians just don’t care about it. The story had a good run in the mainstream media, but over the holidays it’s largely died out. There will be no victims of this scandal in the Conservative caucus.

In fact, I expect that Afghanistan will remain a muted story across the board throughout 2010, as the die has already been cast for troop withdrawal in 2011. No one will want to rock the boat.

Internationally, though, expect to see some stabilization of the situation in Afghanistan as a result of the Obama Surge, but only because the insurgents will be content to lie low until such time that the Americans withdraw.

Pakistan, though, is likely to experience significant problems. Here you can expect General Ashfaq Kiyani to take the reigns of power by mid-year, after the Zardari government finally implodes. Kiyani’s coup will be bloodless, and supported by the U.S. Unfortunately, the military’s seizure of power, while providing stability in the short term, will lead to insurgency throughout much of Pakistan. Covert intervention by U.S. forces in the Northwest Frontier and possibly Baluchistan could result. Expect the Iranians and the Indians to be involved as well, as Pakistan begins to fall apart.

2. Double-Dip Trouble

There was talk not all that long ago about fears related to a "Double-Dip Recession"; in other words, a new recession eating into the economic recovery that we’re just beginning to experience. A lot of that talk has been banished recently, as the recovery appears to be picking up steam. But we’re not out of the woods yet. As the recovery begins to take hold, the very same factor which was the trigger for the 2008/09 recession will come back into play: rising energy prices.

As oil and natural gas prices increase, the recovery will sputter. Whether we end up in another recession or not remains to be seen, but confidence will be shaken, and jobs will be lost. Expect this to occur in the late summer / early fall of 2010, just after gasoline prices rise to over a $1.20 per litre across Canada.

What I think will be interesting about the stalled recovery, however, will be the recognition that rising energy prices were in fact to blame. There will be no suggestion that the international banking community or the U.S. housing bubble was the culprit. Instead, it will be clearer to economists and Canadians that the real culprit is energy. I expect a new term will begin to enter the editorial pages and water-cooler discussions next year. Well, new to most Canadians, but not us Greens. That term: Peak Oil.

3. North American Cap and Trade

As the U.S. finally figures out what it’s going to do in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, you can expect the creation of a North American cap and trade system will result (and you’ll hear talk of Mexico’s participation near the tail end of 2010). The U.S. will be shooting for emissions reductions of 14-15% below a 2005 baseline by 2020 (translating into an abysmal target of approximately 2% from the 1990 baseline just about every other nation is using). Given what’s in store for the North American economy in the emerging "Terrible Teens", the target will be achieved.

Canada will follow suit, and begin serious negotiations with the Obama administration, in an effort to wrap this up by the G8/G20. The biggest stumbling block which will be overcome will be to prescribe "intensity-based" reduction targets to tar sands producers, while committing Canada to a watered-down 2020 target in line with the U.S.’s (around 2% by 2020, using a 1990 baseline). This will, of course, be the last nail in the already shut and super-glued Kyoto coffin.

Don’t expect the Conservatives to present any policy on how the 2% reduction will be achieved, however. That will have to wait. The only certainty will be that Ontario and Quebec’s manufacturing sector will get nervous about having to contribute more for reductions than the tar sands. The mining sector, too, will be getting nervous (but few Canadians will care about that, given the already tarnished reputation of the Canadian mining sector). If Dalton McGuinty really does shut down the remaining coal-fired generating plants in this province, however, all of Canada will likely be on track to achieve the 2% target.

Whoever the participants, though, the North American Cap and Trade program is sure to be a boondoggle, and will lead to little in the way of emissions reductions, relying instead of off-sets. This is one of the few things which I happen to agree with Sun Media writer Lorrie Goldstein on.

4. The Strange Case of the Continued Disappearance of Elizabeth May

I think this is going to be a very difficult year for our Leader. 2009 was truly a "Lost Year" for our Party, as we disappeared from the national political scene. Elizabeth May herself vanished throughout the summer of 2009, only truly returning to the national stage in December, after an unsuccessful performance at the Munk Debate. While she performed better in Copenhagen, coming across as truly committed on the environmental file (being the only national party leader to attend the whole darn conference – and having gained some decent media coverage as a result), we can expect May to continue to be a non-entity throughout 2010. Yes, no doubt her efforts are going to be focussed on Saanich-Gulf Islands, where identifying voters is going to be Job #1. And yes, I expect that there will be some pay-off there in the long-run as I fully expect us to increase our vote-count there (although I am still predicting electoral failure in SGI). The cost of putting our eggs into a single basket, though, is going to be significant for the rest of the Party.

A strategy of focussing on the election of our Leader in a "winnable" riding at the cost of every other riding might have seemed like a good idea in early 2009 after our ill-performance in 2008, but the longer an election is delayed, the worse off we’re going to be as a Party. Our relevance has already slipped, and for me, this is unacceptable at this time, particularly as Canadians have started waking up to the environmental crisis we now find ourselves in.

Increasingly, we can expect Canadians concerned about the environment to turn to the NDP. I sincerely predict that we’ll see Jack Layton’s polling numbers start to turn upwards as a result, and we will hear a lot more from Jack on the environment in 2010 than we’ve heard from him before. No longer will he be spooked to speak about carbon pricing, now that all Canadians will have accepted a cap and trade system. As the Green Party slips into irrelevancy across the nation, the NDP will fill the vacuum on the environment. Much to the detriment of Canada, I believe, because I continue to question the NDP’s sincerity here. Nevertheless, they’ll start to talk to the talk, while our voices will continue to be suppressed and/or remain unheard.

Throw in a minor scandal within the Green Party itself (which will begin to erupt early in the new year as the mainstream media starts to pick up on how our Leader’s people are trying to avoid a mandated Leadership contest, which will thus lead to what some would consider a dictatorial situation in a grass-roots party), as well as negative press stemming from a court case beginning in early January around her rejection of a high-profile British Columbia GPC candidate in the 2008 election, and it all adds up to a bad year for our Leader and for our Party.

Can we renew ourselves? Not in time for the next election, and potentially not afterwards either, unless the cult of personality is replaced. And the only way that’s going to happen is if May herself decides to step down as Leader or somehow manages to score a victory in SGI.

Look, I like May. In part I joined this Party because of her. But some very bad decisions are being made by Federal Council, in my opinion, and these decisions are going to start to haunt us further.

5. Fall Federal Election

A federal election in the fall seems inevitable, given the above predictions. With the economy down-turning into a recession, Harper’s popularity will take a hit, as it becomes apparent that the Conservatives don’t have a firm grasp on the economic matters of state. People will slowly start to realize the mess we’re in, with rising energy prices, rising unemployment, and a rising national deficit. While the hurt experienced from program and spending cuts will only just have begun to be felt, the Opposition Parties, will seize on this as the moment to bring down the government. And they will be right to do so, because clearly the Conservatives will remain headed in the wrong direction.

Added prediction #1: The Green Party’s message will be largely ignored by the mainstream media, and our Leader will not be participating in the televised Leader’s debate (indeed, there may not even be any such debates next time around; it’s possible that Harper will choose to duck out, and if he’s not there, don’t expect to Layton to show up either; the whole thing would fall apart). With a lack of national exposure, our national vote percentage will decline to around 5%, and we will fail to elect any candidates. Our Leader will finish in third place in SGI, behind the Conservatives and the Liberals respectively.

Added prediction #2: Expect a Conservative Minority outcome, but only just. The Bloc, Liberals and NDP will all gain at the expense of the Conservatives, with the NDP’s gains being the most significant. You can expect a Liberal-NDP coalition government supported by the Bloc as a result, after a quick non-confidence vote on the Throne Speech and a letter to the G-G from Layton and Ignatieff. There will be no prorogation, and no major constitutional crisis, and largely Canadians will accept this outcome. Expect the NDP to play a more prominent role in this government than they were willing to entertain the last time there was talk of a coalition. Harper will be down, but not out, though. Expect him to linger around for a while yet.

6. Election of Greens – to municipal councils in Ontario

This is one is a little more difficult to predict. Municipal elections are scheduled for October 25th, 2010. A fall federal election could play havoc with all party’s candidates who are also seeking municipal office in Ontario. If there’s any chance, the fall federal election date will try to avoid Ontario’s municipal election date, so expect the federal election to occur in late November, 2010, or even early December. This could mean an extended period of campaigning (beyond what’s become the typical 35 days) should the government fall in late September/early October.

Anyway, the good news here for Greens will be that many more local politicians with an affiliation to our Party will be elected municipally than ever before. As organization and campaign skills gained in the last federal are used by Greens municipally, and with increasing frustration with municipal councils being experienced in many Ontario locales (similar to what was felt here in 2003), many incumbents will be turfed by voters, to be replaced with "greener" candidates who know how to talk about what local economies need and how we’re going to get there.

The bad news here is that some of our federal candidates will be torn with devoting their energies to running municipally (where they have a shot at winning and actually making a significant green contribution to the political decision-making process) or federally (where they have no realistic hope of winning and are there to wave the flag and collect our per-vote subsidy only). Expect to see some higher-profile GPC candidates to jump ship in the late summer and enter the municipal fray if they haven’t already. Which will leave the Party less prepared to fight a federal election in Ontario. And I haven’t even discussed volunteers and campaigns here.

7. Moving out of the "Oh Oh!" years and into the "Terrible Teens"

This is more of a decadal prediction than one for a single year. I just read an article somewhere that described the "nature" of the past decade as being one focussed on "fear", and I tend to agree with that statement. So, while there were previously the "dirty thirties" and the "gay nineties", I think that we’ll one day refer to the years of 2000-2009 as being the "oh oh!" years. And those years of fear are going to give way to years of real panic throughout the world in the next decade, which we’ll start referring to as the "Terrible Teens", perhaps even before the year 2013 (I want credit in Wikipedia for coming up with these terms, ok?)

Economic recovery is not going to happen. And while this may be one way of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and hitting those shallow targets we’re in the process of establishing, I’ll argue that it’s not going to be a good thing. Rising energy prices will lead to inflation. Credit will all but vanish, and there will be a few threats as a result: pegging the international economy to a basket of currencies rather than to the U.S. dollar is going to cause grief in North America. A rising Canadian petro-dollar will spell doom to Ontario and Quebec’s manufacturing sector.

As good farmland throughout the world continues to be bought up by emerging powerhouse nations such as China, you can expect rising food prices (throw in inflation and increased transportation costs there too). As a result, there is likely to be suffering in the developing world on a scale not seen before. Expect several nations to descend completely or partially into anarchy as a result, the biggest being Pakistan (although India, South Africa, Brazil, the Phillippines, and Indonesia will not be immune). Most of Africa, in fact, will be in trouble. Even Australia isn’t likely to avert troubles related to an international food shortage.

Yet, for all of that, the teens will remain only a prelude to the real problematic years we can expect in the 2020s.

8. The Detroit Red Wings win the Stanley Cup.

A more solid pick than the Canucks, I think. But here I’m also revealing my own office hockey pool strategy, in honour of a well-loved member of my office who departed this world prematurely in 2009. I will be adopting his largely successful strategy of loading up on Red Wings when we have our playoff draft at the end of the NHL season. We all miss you here, Gord, and we wish you could fleece us blind again.


Anonymous said...

On #2 - I think the double dip will happen more in 2011 when Canada's housing bubble hits. All those 40 year, zero down mortgages that Flaherty allowed in 2006 will come up for amoritization (mortgage readjusted to 30 year now!) in 2011 and 2012 causing a lot of home owners to go bust trying to readjust their finances to cover higher monthly payments for homes.

In addition, I think your point #6 will explain why you'll be wrong on point #5. With volunteers, donors, etc. all busy with municipal elections in Ontario, the feds won't risk having two campaigns going at once. My guess is the next federal race will be Spring 2011 (also supported with point #2 as the Conservatives will want a new mandate before the double-dip hits!)

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