Well, it's that time of year...time to dust off my crystal ball, and make some predictions about the upcoming year that I can write about again next December and discuss how poorly I did. Well, it's all fun and games for me, and I hope that you get a little something out of this as well.
Of course, every year, these blogposts get longer and longer, even though I have developed a reputation for being short, concise and succinct. I chalk it up to the fact that there's just so much going on in the world on which to write about. Anyway, this year, I'll be treating you to a series of 3 Crystal Ball Blogs. The first will be about the Canadian political scene. The second will be about some larger global trends, especially those related to the economy and democracy, with a bit of a focus on the United States. The 3rd post will return to making specific predictions on international events, which is almost always sure to generate a comment or two from my friends in Australia!
So, enjoy these posts.
The Canadian political scene will not be as dynamic during 2012 as it was in 2011. And that stands to reason as 2011 was a pretty explosive year, politically speaking. We had a federal election and a number of provincial elections, including a hotly contested one in Ontario, which proved to be more of a sleeper than anything else.
While Dalton McGuinty’s minority Liberal government should give us political junkies a little bit of action to watch, generally speaking the federal scene is going to settle down somewhat, into a “more of the same” situation, now that Stephen Harper’s regime has captured a majority of seats in the House. It seems that even though scandals come and go, the Conseratives aren’t affected, largely due to the media’s reduced attention-span (and to the fact that increasingly the mainstream media has shifted from reporting the news to making the news, and in a few cases, "making up" the news). That coupled with an opposition in transition will mean that Harper will have it pretty easy throughout 2012.
The NDP Leadership Race
One of the biggest stories on the federal political scene is sure to the NDP’s leadership race. Unlike pas Liberal races, NDP leadership contenders appear content to play nicely with one another. The format for the leadership decision-making process too lends itself to a degree of disinterest, as counting mail-in ballots doesn’t exactly make for gripping live television. But at least the NDP has moved to a "one member, one vote" format, getting rid of allowing Union supporters the right to cast ballots (if you're a party that doesn't believe that corporations are people, then frankly unions shouldn't be able to vote as if they were).
We can expect the NDP leadership contenders to come under greater scrutiny as time goes on, especially the four leading contenders (who are Brian Topp, Paul Dewar, Peggy Nash and Thomas Mulcair). Although the media is looking for which contender will emerge as the “next Jack Layton”, none of these leadership candidates is campaigning that way, which is smart in my opinion. But it does mean that the media will generally remain fairly negative about the contenders, particularly the unelected Brian Topp (who has none of the personality of Layton, but all of Layton’s killer backroom instincts) and Mulcair (who lacks Layton’s broad depth of support, having been affiliated with the Liberal Party not all that long ago).
Having said all of this, I expect that Peggy Nash will emerge as the next Leader of the NDP, specifically because NDP voters will come to view her as the closest of the leadership contenders to the Layton ideal, which is really want the grassroots wants. That Nash is also a very respected leader in her own right (which she will ably demonstrate in the next few months leading up to the leadership decision) will become obvious as well. And for my money, the NDP would also be best served by Nash (although as a Green partisan, I'm less than enthusiastic with Nash leading the NDP).
Not only is Nash a dynamic, fluently bilingual woman with a history of not backing down, she may be the only leadership contender able to shape and carry NDP policy in such a way that it will resonate both with the traditional NDP base, as well as former Liberal (and, let’s be honest – Green) voters. She will also do well in Quebec (well, better than the other contenders might, and I include Romeo Saganash and Mulcair in that mix). Nash’s appeal is going to become obvious to most everyone who is watching.
So while I will cross my fingers and hope that the NDP elect Topp as their Leader (who will certainly take the NDP back to third party status, as he is a ripe target for whithering Conservative attacks), I suspect that the NDP’s membership will instead choose a more principled leadership candidate in the form of Peggy Nash.
A federal by-election will be held in the riding of Toronto-Danforth in 2012. This was Jack Layton’s riding. The biggest question that I have is not which party is going to win the by-election (it will be the NDP, without question), but who the NDP will choose to represent them their. My prediction is it will be Toronto municipal Councillor, Mike Layton.
The Conservative Party of Canada
The Harper regime is going to have an easy ride, especially if the NDP make the foolish decision to elect Brian Topp as Leader. Without a seat in parliament, Topp will remain out-of-sight, out-of-mind to a degree; but the Conservatives will have a field-day pilloring this former Union leader. If Topp gets his party's leadership nod, it will leave the hapless Nycole Turmel helming the NDP in parliament, where she has been overshadowed significantly in the last session by Charlie Angus and David Christopherson (which has no doubt come as a relief to the Dippers).
The Harper regime will continue along its merry way with government by arrogance. A compliant media will largely continue to let the Conservatives get away with scandal after scandal, especially about spending. Debate in the House has already turned into the worst kept joke in Canada – expect more of it.
One would think that this kind of arrogance would lead towards more dissension. It won’t. With federal support of the NDP declining (which may be salvaged somewhat if Nash or Dewar become the Leader), and Liberal support on the rise under a dynamic Bob Rae, expect the opposition to remain divided, and the electorate to remain largely disinterested, just as it has been over scandals related to the Wheat Board; G20; Kyoto; Long Gun Registry data; Statistics Canada; environmental monitoring; scientist muzzling; Franke James defamation; F-35 fighter price-tag; the cost of new prisons; Attawapiskat; the omnibus crime bill fiasco; the recent health-care “deal” shoved down the throats of the provinces; invocation of closure to debates; dirty tricks rulings; illegal election financing; behind closed-doors border decisions; closed-door committee meetings; rights-removing internet legislation; Geneva Convention violations (this is getting depressing, so I’m moving on).
The Liberal Party of Canada
Under able interim-Leader Bob Rae, Liberal support will draw even with the NDP by the end of 2012. Rae will remain the darling of the media in the House, especially if an unelected Brian Topp becomes Leader of the NDP. There will be even more talk that the next Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada will be…Bob Rae.
The Bloc Quebecois
I usually don’t dabble in making predictions about Quebec, but I figure if I can go out on a limb and discuss the whacky world of the B.C. political scene, I might as well venture forth into the Quebec political quagmire. But only so far as it pertains to the federal scene.
I expect that former MP Daniel Paille, the new Leader of the Bloc, will succeed in any bid to regain a seat in the House during the next available Quebec by-election, no matter where it may be. I expect to see the Bloc’s polling figures continue their upward trend, as Quebeccers become increasingly despondent with a disinterested Conservative government. As a result, NDP support in Quebec will continue to drop, in preference to the Bloc.
The NDP had a very strange year in 2011. Although it experienced unprecedent success at the polls in the spring election, with the passing of its Leader, Jack Layton, the Party has become mired in issues related to leadership, and has begun to sag in the polls. A lengthy timeframe for the Leadership campaign, coupled with a staggeringly underwhelming performance by interim Leader Nycole Turmel, the NDP has left a lot of unanswered questions for 2012.
While a new Leader in the form of Peggy Nash or even Paul Dewar might breathe some life into this moribund party, expect national numbers for the NDP to continue their descent. But I don’t predict that the NDP will return to pre-2011 levels of support, even with Brian Topp as Leader. The NDP will remain a strong voice for Canada’s progressives throughout 2012. Beyond that, it’s hard to say much, pending the outcome of the Leadership race, which really is (despite my prediction) very difficult to call.
The Green Party of Canada
The Green Party of Canada was probably the biggest loser in the May 2011 election. Support for the Greens plummeted from almost 7% nationally to less than 4%. While the party elected its first-ever MP in the form of Party Leader Elizabeth May, the destruction of national support can not be understated. With only 1 second-place finish and 1 strong third place finish in all of Canada’s 308 ridings (of which the Greens only managed to field candidates for 304), the Green Party is going to be faced with having to do a lot of rebuilding over the next few years.
Recent polls have placed Green support at about 7%, which some see as a good news story. Certainly Elizabeth May’s strong showing in the House has been an asset to the Party, but a strong NDP remains a barrier to further Green Party entry into the House. This is because, like it or not, the Green Party continues to be perceived as a Party of the left, and because the NDP continues to be perceived as a party which champions the environment. Both of these misguided perceptions will continue uncorrected throughout 2012.
**Spoiler Alert** You heard this here first: Green Party Leader Elizabeth May will not be invited to participate in the next televised Leader’s debate. In a cynical attempt to keep both the Bloc and the Greens from participating in the debates, the NDP will push the Conservatives to limit debate participation to only those Leaders who represent political parties in the House (so just the Cons, Libs and NDP). I know this isn’t a 2012 prediction, but I’m making it with the hopes of waking some Greens up to the fact that we can not rely on May’s debating skills to rebuild the Party at the time of the next election, because she likely will not get the chance to have her “Layton moment”. Which means we have to start doing the hard work now.
About those Polls
This seems like as good a place as any for a quick note on polls, given the above reference to the Green Party’s polling having climbed back to 7%. Between elections, at least during the last several elections, the Green Party has traditionally polled much higher than the number of votes it tends to receive on election day. This may be because polls are designed to capture the opinions of all Canadians. Of course, not all Canadians vote, and that’s a really big problem for the Green Party, as Green Party supporters tend to significantly be found in younger age demographics. And since a higher percentage of young people tend to not vote, well, that leads to the difference between polls and results. It also works in favour of the Conservatives, although given the much larger levels of support for that Party throughout all age demographics, the bump in support which the Conservatives will receive between poll and election result will not be as pronounced (although it’s clearly there, as just about every pre-e-day poll under-predicted the Conservatives success in the May 2011 election).
The moral of this story is that as the health of our democratic institutions continues to decline, we will continue to observe that polls are becoming less trustworthy. This will continue until pollsters figure out a way to better present the specific opinions of those Canadians who will actually cast a ballot, weeding out respondents who merely think they might vote, maybe, if they feel like it.
And this should be a bit of a wake-up call for Greens who may believe that rising polling stats are indicative of a healthy Party.
Alberta's Provincial Election
There will be a provincial election in Alberta in 2012. It will see the Progressive Conservatives returned with a majority government, albeit one which is slightly reduced in size from their current majority. The election of Alison Redford to Leader of the Alberta PC’s was the best thing that the PC’s could have done for themselves. She is proving already to be a strong leader, and more importantly, is playing foil to the Wildrose’s Danielle Smith. Redford is in the process of reinvigorating and, to a lesser degree (but the media love this story) re-inventing the PC’s.
Expect Smith’s Wildrose to make additional gains in rural Alberta. But the biggest losses will come to Raj Sherman’s Liberal Party which, along with bearing the curse of the Liberal brand name, are already floundering for lack of policy direction under their new leader. Redford will handily gain more votes from Liberal voters than she will lose to the Alliance, although that may not play itself out in the seat count.
As for the Alberta Party, which was once considered the new flag-bearer of progressive politics in the province, forget about it. The AP will return zero MLA’s, and the progressive banner will be carried by the NDP, which will take one or two more seats than the 2 they currently hold (but will see their share of the popular vote increase as progressive voters look for a place to park their ballots).
And Alberta's newest party, the Evergreen Party, will barely register: in vote count, in the media, in voter recognition. And likely in candidates as well, as they're getting a very late start, having only just been recognized by Elections Alberta as a political party. With a spring election, no money in the bank, and zero brand recognition, the deck is completely stacked against the Evergreens (although I wish them well).
British Columbia's Provincial Election
With NDP Leader Adrian Dix’s popularity on the rise, and B.C. Liberal Premier Christy Clark’s own popularity waning, I expect that there will be no early election call in B.C. in 2012. An election doesn’t have to be held in the province until May of 2013, but there’s been a lot of speculation that British Columbians may end up going to the polls early, as the Liberals and NDP both have new leaders in place since the 2009 election.
If B.C. does go to the polls, I expect that the outcome will be an NDP minority government, with a very large contingent of Liberals. The B.C. Conservatives will not make significant in-roads, although the pundits will predict that they’re time has come (the latest polls shows the provincial Conservatives and Liberals tied at 23% support in B.C., with the NDP at 34%). The Conservatives may pick up a few strategic seats, but they run the risk of appearing to be unelectable, due to the extreme nature of party candidates and policy.
Despite polling at 15% at the end of December, 2011, the B.C. Green Party will see their previous levels of support evaporate to the NDP, and Greens will be shut out at the election, after another lacklusture performance by Leader Jane Sterk. Sterk stepped into a policy quagmire earlier this year when she dragged her party’s policy position away from the installation of time of use electricity meters (currently being installed by B.C. Hydro in an effort to combat climate change) in preference to a position which favours doing nothing with the meters until the science can unequivocally prove them to be safe, over concerns about electromagnetic radiation. CBC TV recently ran a story on this issue, and it made those who believe that smart meters are a health hazard look like ill-informed luddites. Sterk's position on smart meters will come back to haunt B.C. Greens at election time, but mostly Greens will be the victim of a strong NDP campaign.
Ontario & Quebec
There will be no elections in Ontario or Quebec in 2012. Dalton McGuinty’s minority government will continue on until 2013. Jean Charest’s Liberal government will continue to govern until 2013.
(Continued in Part 2...)
(opinions expressed in this blog post are my own and should not be considered to be in keeping with those of the Green Party of Canada)