Keeping house

NDP has big shoes to fill; Liberal party just hopes to find some shoes

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OTTAWA -- It was a pretty wild year in Canadian politics.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/12/2011 (3988 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — It was a pretty wild year in Canadian politics.

From a government found to be in contempt, to an election that caused sweeping changes to Parliament, to the death of popular NDP leader Jack Layton.

After more than seven years of minority government, Parliament is in a majority situation and there is finally one pretty solid guarantee for the new year: There won’t be a federal election in 2012.

It might not be quite as wild a ride as 2011 in federal politics but there will still be some fodder for interested parties.

Here are four things to keep an eye on in the new year.

 

The NDP leadership race

 

There are eight candidates left in the battle to fill the enormous shoes left by Layton.

Over the first three months of 2012, the race will heat up, culminating in the convention in Toronto on March 24. The decision on who will lead the party is critical. Last spring, voters who were moved by the Orange Crush were generally pulled there by Layton, not the party.

Those newly converted NDPers will look for someone to continue the path Layton began. While it’s unlikely the new leader will have the same charm that led Canadians to fall in love with Layton, it did take him more than seven years and four elections to win Canadians over.

The new leader won’t have that kind of time. Nor will he or she have the benefit of learning the ropes of leadership as the fourth-party leader in the House of Commons. The front-runners are slowly developing into clear choices.

Where the NDP goes from here will determine whether in 2015 it is a competitive option to form government or whither and die as a one-term official Opposition wonders.

 

The Liberal rebuilding process

 

Right off the top in 2012, the Liberals will hold a major policy convention in Ottawa. Scheduled for Jan. 13 to 15, the biennial convention will begin carving the road forward for the Liberals. They will elect a new president, and debate and pass a number of policy resolutions with the hope of generating policy positions for the party, which may once again interest voters and draw them to the Liberal fold.

All without a permanent leader. Bob Rae will remain as interim leader until 2013, but expect candidates interested in the permanent job to start identifying themselves this year.

Liberal organizers need this convention to re-engage everyday Canadians and attendance and interest in the convention alone will be telling for the party.

Outgoing president Alfred Apps predicts it will be a better attended convention than even the NDP and Conservatives have had recently. The party has a lot of work to do and whether it is dying or can come back from the nearly dead will remain a chief topic of conversation next year.

 

Government secrecy

 

The year is ending with several motions by government MPs to push committee hearings behind closed doors. Instead of rich debate in public, look for most discussions of committees to be held in secret. And look for opposition MPs to raise a big fuss. It is a scary direction for any democracy when its government feels it can’t and shouldn’t have to discuss things out in the open. But the only way to stop it from happening is for Canadians to take notice.

 

The budget and spending cuts

The Conservatives have some extremely tough promises to live up to and spending cuts to make heading into the spring budget. For the first time, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty doesn’t need to craft the budget hoping to woo opposition parties to vote for it. But that won’t make it really any easier to battle a deficit, and live up to a promise to carve $4 billion from the government’s $80 billion in program expenses. Although the full cuts aren’t set to kick in until 2014-15, Canadians and economists are going to be looking for the outline of a plan to get there this spring.

Last week, we saw one of the first major salvos at provincial transfers when Flaherty told the provinces health-care transfers will be tied to GDP growth starting in 2016. Expect some push back by the provinces in 2012. Canadians may currently think holding health spending in check is a good move financially, but if people start to worry the system won’t be there when they need it, the plan may start to backfire.

 

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

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