To Change or Not: The Next Twelve Months

We are entering the twelfth year of the new millennium, and the usual spate of predictions and tea-leaf readings is piling up. 2011 has been a tumultuous year for Canada—although far less so than for most other countries—and for the world as a whole. Although any answer is speculation at this point, it’s worth asking: what does 2012 hold for Canada and its politics?

The government will almost certainly continue on its hard-line path, but what the next steps will be is more difficult to predict. Stephen Harper is nothing if polarizing as a Prime Minister; hate his policies or love them, Mr. Harper is bent on fulfilling his promises. Dismantling the federal long-gun registry, pushing through with controversial crime legislation, and trying to tackle the country’s deficit: these are fire under the feet of the opposition and arguably nothing more than appeals to the Conservatives’ solid voter base. That being said, the government has suffered slightly for its perceived rough touch: several polls show them slipping from their peak support around the May election. The measures have, unsurprisingly, garnered wide support in Western Canada, but have received a rather muted response from Ontario—the province where most governments are made or broken. Quebec has essentially been a slow-motion train wreck for the Conservatives, and their recent policies haven’t helped.

As for the opposition, it’s a bit more difficult to envision what 2012 will bring. The Liberals and the NDP have been trading places in popular support over the past few months, dipping up and down, but maintaining essentially equal levels of support. Much of this is attributable to an NDP drop in Quebec—where Bloc support has begun to rebound after a disastrous year—and a Liberal rise in Ontario. Some polls even have the Liberals neck-and-neck with the governing Conservatives in Canada’s most populous province, but whether that holds in the long term remains to be seen. Much of Stephen Harper’s success in Ontario is the result of vote splitting: when the NDP does well, the Liberals suffer, and the Conservatives ride up the middle. If either opposition party massively falters to the benefit of the other, it could spell trouble for Mr. Harper and his swath of new Ontario MPs.

Provincial politics are likely to be much more interesting than federal politics next year. All the elections of 2012 restored their respective governments—Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Newfoundland and PEI all re-elected incumbent governments. Indeed, this trend toward stability was likely one of the largest factors in Mr. Harper’s winning his coveted majority. In 2012 we will see elections in Alberta—Alison Redford’s PCs will likely continue their four-decade domination of the province—and possibly BC and Quebec as well. It is these latter provinces that bode to be highly interesting races, if elections indeed occur. BC’s governing Liberals are languishing in the face of an invigorated NDP. Quebec is in complete disarray; for the first time since the 1970s, people are dealing with a political option besides the old “sovereigntist-federalist” choices. There is a good chance that a Quebec election could wipe out the governing Liberals, and send the Parti Quebecois into the political wilderness to join its federal cousin, the Bloc.

And, finally, there is the perennial unknown of what influences the outside world will bring to the table this year. International activity, both political and economic, can and will have effects on Canada. What those effects will be in 2012, however, is virtually impossible to predict. The state of the economy is the federal government’s bedrock; years of Conservatives portraying themselves as sensible economic managers have paid off handsomely. But if the international economic decline seeps into Canada and undermines confidence, the government could find themselves in trouble from a problem that is out of their hands. At the same time, political strife abroad could work to Mr. Harper’s advantage and allow him to hammer home the message that a Conservative majority may not be everyone’s preferred choice, but it’s far better than the fractured instability of many other national governments.

It is often said the only true constant is change, but for the time being, Canada seems to be bucking the trend and favouring the status quo instead of the unknown. Even the stability is dynamic, however, and what transpires over the next 12 months is anyone’s guess. As we’ve seen outside Canada, the foundations we’ve trusted for so long could be pulled out from under us incredibly quickly.

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