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December 29, 2011

Look to 2012

Political pundits will have plenty to talk about in 2012. The US presidential election will provide a backdrop during the few lapses in the Canadian political season, starting with the Iowa Caucuses on January 3rd and continuing at a hectic pace until early June.

The Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) will hold its biennial convention January 13-15. At noon on January 14 the convention will consider the party's "roadmap to renewal". Delegates will be asked to approve a US style primary process that would make anyone who registered as a Liberal supporter eligible to vote for the leader as well as to vote in nomination contests for LPC candidates for parliament. If the recommendations are approved, the next federal Liberal leader will be chosen by a complicated weighted vote process staged regionally between March 1 and June 30, 2013. While interim leader Bob Rae is currently prohibited from running, the rules could change in Putin-like-fashion. In the May 2, 2011 election the LPC received 2,783,076 votes, down from 3,633,185 in the October 14, 2008 election. A risk the LPC runs with its primary proposal is few will care enough to participate. With close to 3 million potential supporters, how will it look if far less than 10% register to vote for the leader? The grand Hail Mary pass designed to resurrect the LPC may contribute to its demise.

In the 2011 election the NDP received 4,512,411 votes, up from 2,515,288 in 2008. The Conservatives received 5,835,270 votes, up from 5,209,069 in 2008. The NDP's leadership vote will happen on March 24, more than a year before the LPC finishes its contest. The new NDP leader will be chosen by an unweighted one-member-one-vote system that, with current party membership, gives BC almost 30% of the votes. In order to vote it is necessary to be a member in good standing on or before February 18, 2012; that is an interesting deadline for BC members because half of its members signed up for the provincial leadership race and most of those members will need to renew just before the federal deadline. A key indicator for both the federal and provincial NDP in BC will be how many BC NDP members are eligible to vote on March 24th. For the rest of the year federal politics may shift once the Official Opposition has a duly elected leader to replace Jack Layton, while the third party LPC continues to struggle in its bid for renewal.

In provincial politics, the BC legislature will resume sitting on Valentine's Day. A week later, February 21, the 2012-13 budget will be tabled. The Budget Transparency and Accountability Act requires that at the time the budget is tabled service plans for each ministry must also be tabled which "address the fiscal year and the following 2 fiscal years"; in other words, Premier Clark must make her "game day" call on the deficit for 2013-14 before February 21st. Clark is in a difficult position; if she claims her budget will be balanced going in to the 2013 election she stands to be accused of repeating Gordon Campbell's big 2009 deception, but if she admits that BC's finances won't recover by 2013-14 she is open to attack from BC Conservative leader John Cummins. Either way she runs the risk of having the ballot box question focus on whether anyone can trust the Liberals. Leadership candidate George Abbott put it correctly when he said it would take the Liberals a full term to try to restore trust for their party.

BC will have two by-elections early in 2012. BC Liberal Iain Black resigned effective October 3, 2011, so a by-election to fill the vacancy in Port Moody-Coquitlam must be called by April 3rd. Chilliwack-Hope MLA Barry Penner has also said he will resign but he has not yet done so. Premier Clark suggested she might call both by-elections at the same time, but it will not be possible without the cooperation of Penner. The legislative session works to the benefit of the opposition as it holds the government to account. The Port Moody-Coquitlam by-election will have to overlap the February 14 to May 31 session, so Clark may want to call the by-election early in the New Year so it will be over before news focuses on the daily question period. It will be interesting to see when that call comes and whether Penner resigns to help Clark. The NDP and BC Conservatives are ready for the election call, but Clark has yet to field candidates.

Already scheduled events will provide much political interest in 2012 but the surprises are what will really be interesting. How will Premier Clark respond to decisions regarding the XL and Northern Gateway pipelines? Can she cope with a double dip US recession? Will her jobs plan have any credibility if BC continues to rank 4th or 5th in national job creation? Premier Clark may discover that governing for over two years before finally standing for election on May 14, 2013, digs her into a hole almost as deep as what Gordon Campbell left her in as she completes his term.

A year from now will still be five months before a provincial election. We canít begin to imagine what the political landscape will look like in December 2012, but itís safe to bet that youíll see millions of your tax dollars spent on advertising in a desperate attempt to re-elect the Clark government.