Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Brace yourself, 2012 is coming...

In a couple of days time, 2011 will be done and dusted. A year that saw multiple elections will have passed and the #cdnpoli world (thank-you twitter!) will turn its attention towards 2012.

The coming year offers much for politics watchers across Canada. There is the NDP leadership race, the Liberal reinvention project, the advent of a new political party in Quebec, and more provincial elections (definitely in Alberta, possibly in Quebec).

For this politics watcher, however, the things to watch in 2012 will be on the policy front.

By the time MPs return, the Conservative majority will have seen or be very close to seeing its "bread and butter" pieces of legislation come into law. The gun registry will be scrapped, the crime bill passed, and the wheat board could well be on its was to being dismantled (depending on court challenges).

With these base issues addressed, the government will more meaningfully turn its attention towards the deficit; a focus which will tell us much about how the Prime Minister sees the role of government. Already we have seen glimpses of how Mr. Harper sees the future for this federation.

First, on the health care file (Paul Wells penned a nice piece on this recently), the offer tabled with the provinces to replace the soon-to-expire health accord shows a Prime Minister who sees little role for the federal government in health care (an area of provincial jurisdiction).

His position is that the provinces should be given reasonable and predictable means to deal with what is their responsibility. National standards or federal expectations as to how the money should be spent do not fit within his vision.

Second, in the area of tax policy the Prime Minister's focus on tax reduction (GST, personal, corporate) appears designed to limit the long-term ability of the federal government to act as an agent of change. The government that chooses to do so in the future must either cut spending in other areas, or raise taxes. It is akin to being painted into a fiscal corner.

So what does this tell us about 2012? In a March 2010 post I wrote the following:

"Maybe, just maybe, the crisis presented the government with an opportunity. An opportunity to get back to its core values and roots. A real chance to enact a change in the role of government."

This is where we stand today.

A world in economic turmoil, a structural deficit at home, and a government with the Parliamentary means to effect the changes they want. Freed from the shackles of a minority Parliament, the Conservative majority is now in a position to implement its vision for Canada. And whenever questioned, the government can now point to developments taking place in Europe and the U.S. as the justification for its actions.

Cue Budget 2012.

The next federal budget will be tabled in the coming months. In the run-up to this budget we have had the public Finance Committee pre-budget consultations and the not-so-public spending review occurring across government, which is being vetted by a a Cabinet committee.

The fruit of these exercises, and in particular the latter, will help frame a budget that will take another step along the road towards redefining the relationship between the Government of Canada and us.

Shouldn't we be talking about it?


Many have said that 2011 was the year that Mr. Harper got what he wanted. A majority was secured and the Liberals were knocked down to a level from which many feel they will not be able to climb.

My sense is that these accomplishments are seen by Mr. Harper as means to an end. I don't think these are the reasons that he has gotten out of bed each morning. What these accomplishments do is position him to redefine the role of the federal government in the lives of Canadians.

This is topic which can allow for many positions and varying points of argument. It is a great topic in that it strikes at a core question for any country - what do we expect of the governments we elect?

Yet it is a conversation we are not having. At best we play at the margins, or debate specific issues and not the broader policy thrust and how the pieces fit together. We need to do better in 2012.


  1. Well, IMHO.... maybe not so humble!

    Most people doesn't even begin to grasp the changes that the Harper Government is making, and they for the most part are quite smart ( I disagree with a few policies and also the way sometimes they apply or approach them). He is changing 100% the role of the Federal Government in our lives and will make it almost impossible for any other government to change it back.

    It won't be big surprises on the budget, he needs to balance the books sooner than later, will be quite restricted.

    NDP is done, Jack Layton was the one who got elected, not the party. Mulcair is hardly qualified, Topp has the charisma of a door know, Nash will kill any chances for the NDP to do well and Dewar (whom I think is the dark horse in this race, very smart fellow) has problems with his french, but Quebecers are very unique and might forgive his not fluent yet.

    LPC is not dead as most pundits tend to believe, very good odds for them to be the official opposition next election. It's a shame with Rae he really could have been a one of a kind politician, but his fat ego has gotten the best of him every time and will do it again. He just wants to make it in to the history books, doesn't matter how, he'll do whatever and however is necessary to make it, too bad!

    I don't think it ill be very big surprises for the next budget, will be restricted somehow, to try to balance the books.

  2. Oh and Redford is going to be elected, against my will though ... haha...


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