Psychics, astrologers and other impeccable internet sources tell us 2020 promises to be an interesting year in which, “animals tell us what they think,” the world “becomes one country,” and Trump speaks “only nonsense.”
I suppose only two of those are actually predictions while the other one is a sad statement of fact.
Making predictions is always a mug’s game. And considering how much politics has changed in Alberta the past year, only a fool would attempt to predict what’s going to happen in 2020.
So, let me try.
The year 2020 might look like a new year on paper but in many ways it’s going to feel mighty old mighty quick. At least when it comes to Alberta politics.
Many of the big issues from the past year will continue to dominate the new.
Let’s look at a few.
Economy and jobs
Yes, it didn’t take a crystal ball to figure this one out. Jason Kenney and the United Conservatives won the election on a promise of a strong economy and more jobs. It didn’t work out that way and the NDP has been gleefully rubbing it in Kenney’s face every chance they get.
And they’ll keep it up in 2020 as the UCP government tries to kick-start the economy and create jobs. Economists predict “modest growth” in the province’s economy for the new year. Kenney will need to do better than that if he hopes to mute the critics — and claim “promise made, promise kept” in 2020.
If there’s one issue that has defined Alberta politics, this is it. Getting a new energy pipeline to tidewater has become an overwrought symbol of Alberta’s dreams and frustrations — the dream of another energy boom and the frustration at failing to get a new pipeline built.
In fact, a new pipeline will not solve our fiscal problems that are actually caused by a depressed price of oil and a world moving away from fossil fuels. And delays in getting a new pipeline built are not the fault of the federal Liberal government, as Premier Jason Kenney likes to suggest, but the courts. And the courts have delayed projects because of genuine complaints from First Nations.
Work has started on twinning the Trans Mountain Pipeline and that work will continue through 2020 (and for two years after that) but the project will still face opposition from some First Nations and environmental groups.
This will be a win-win for Kenney. If construction continues on TMX, he can point to it as a “victory” for his government; if it doesn’t, he can blame the federal Liberals and “foreign-funded” environmental organizations for continuing to undermine Alberta’s struggling economy.
Fight back strategy
Speaking of blaming others for Alberta’s ills, 2020 will see the UCP government maintain its pugilistic approach to issues via its Fight Back Strategy that includes the “war room” — officially, the Canadian Energy Centre — the public inquiry into the government’s foreign-funded conspiracy theory, and the “fair deal” panel that is looking into whether Alberta should have, for example, its own police force and pension plan.
These are all tactics designed to keep Alberta on a war footing and keep Albertans angry, frustrated and easily manipulated by a government that equates legitimate opposition with sedition.
The past year ended with some frustrated public sector workers musing about a general strike. That strike never happened and perhaps it never will. But we might see strikes by individual public sector unions in 2020. They are upset by a government that has removed joint governance of public sector pensions and is pressing workers to take wage cuts. The government has made it clear if the unions win wage hikes, they can expect job cuts.
Perhaps the government was peering into its own crystal ball this fall when it passed a piece of legislation giving it the right to hire replacement workers in the event of a public sector strike.
Panels, panels, panels
In 2019, the UCP government commissioned a long list of panels and committees to review everything from the $20-billion Alberta Health Services, to car insurance rates, to safe consumption sites. The granddaddy of them all was the blue ribbon panel that issued a report that formed the basis for the government’s cost-cutting budget that rolled out in October.
Those panels — with members and mandates carefully chosen by the government — will continue to influence government policy throughout 2020.
That includes Budget 2020 coming in late February, which will actually be the first true UCP budget. The 2019 budget, introduced in an election year, was an amalgam of UCP policies and leftovers from the previous NDP budget.
The never-ending campaign
There won’t be an election in 2020 but you’re going to feel like you’re trapped in a nasty election campaign anyway.
The animosity between the UCP government and NDP opposition isn’t just political, it’s personal. Kenney has gone to great lengths to dismantle the former NDP government’s legacy and the NDP sees Kenney as a right-wing bully. The mutual antagonism will continue as Kenney has already promised even more sweeping legislation in the spring session.
Kenney’s popularity took a substantial hit late in 2019, according to several public opinion polls, because of a sputtering economy and cuts to government services.
But it appears he doesn’t plan to stop or change direction.
“You ain’t seen nothing yet,” he told cheering UCP members at their convention a few weeks ago. “We’re just getting started.”
In one of the few times NDP leader Rachel Notley agreed with Kenney in 2019, she told a year-end interview she doesn’t think Kenney is about to ease up on the gas pedal in 2020: “There’s nothing that makes me believe that they’re going to change course and I think they’re going to push harder.”
Happy New Year.
This column is an opinion. For more information about our commentary section, please read this editor’s blog and our FAQ.
Those protesting the International Olympic Committee’s decision to ban political statements by participating athletes make several familiar arguments, all of them bad. The principal one is that since politics already saturates the Olympics—the parade of national flags, the contest between cities vying to host—the ban is incoherent and hypocritical, and the attempted interdiction of political speech is itself a political act.
No it isn’t. Declaring a politics-free zone is simply an assertion that one kind of activity is appropriate in a particular space and not another. Athletes, like anyone else, may be interested in political issues such as climate change, income inequality or minority rights. That’s why the committee is careful to say there will be no ban on political statements “during press conferences and interviews,” “at team meetings” and “on digital or traditional media.” But “on the field of play,” “during Olympic medal ceremonies” and “during the Opening, Closing, and other official Ceremonies,” words and gestures with a political message are outlawed.
Such restrictions are no more political than a rule preventing nurses from lobbying for higher wages during an operation or jurors from voicing their opinions in the middle of a trial. The point isn’t to suppress political views, but to recognize and honor the primary obligations taken on by those who enter a particular arena of practice. What Olympic athletes are forbidden to say at carefully specified moments, they are perfectly free to say in ordinary settings, when the severe requirements of disciplinary integrity don’t apply.
The IOC muddies the waters when it proclaims the importance of keeping “the Olympic Village and the podium neutral.” The word “neutral” suggests a space where contending political views are present and an administrative body resolves to favor none of them. Neutrality as a value comes into play only when the landscape is already politically configured. The landscape of Olympic competition isn’t. The committee’s effort is a prophylactic one: Politics might have infected almost everything about the Olympics, but the games themselves are a sacred zone that must be protected.
Why? Because if executing a backdoor play or breaking a world record in a relay solicits our admiration as an act affirming freedom or women’s equality or indigenous rights, what the IOC calls “sport and its values” will have been subordinated to a partisan agenda. The Olympics will be nothing more than a large scale political messaging center. Maybe that’s what the hundreds of millions of fans want, but I don’t think so.
Mr. Fish is a visiting professor at Yeshiva University’s
Benjamin N. Cardozo
School of Law and author of “The First: How to Think About Hate Speech, Campus Speech, Religious Speech, Fake News, Post-Truth and
There is one question that those who are madly speculating Stephen Harper may be about to mount some kind of return to political life have yet to satisfactorily answer. Do you get the sense that he particularly misses his life in the public eye? Is he so unhappy running his own consultancy back home in Calgary that he would decide to spend the next six months campaigning and then years waiting for the next election?
Does that sound like the Harper any of us spent 10 years getting to know?
A return to politics, specifically, to run the Conservative party he led to victory in three elections, would not improve his standard of living; if anything, politicians put up with a remarkable amount of personal sacrifice and aggravation for reasons hard to fathom for most of the population. He wouldn’t earn any more money by leaving his current private-sector gig to return to political life, with a long guaranteed spell as opposition leader before he gets a crack at the top job again. He doesn’t seem to lack for opportunity to travel the globe for meetings with well-connected officials or audiences interested in what he might have to say. And he’d have to start engaging in the personal-branding element of politics he was barely willing to tolerate during his first go-round.
Does that sound like the Harper any of us spent 10 years getting to know?
So why would he return?
Former prime minister Harper is a private, wonky and introverted guy. Huge parts of what it takes to be a successful political leader, parts that far too many leaders seem to think are the most essential, always seemed awkward and ill-fitting with Harper. Few question his intelligence. Likewise, few seem to believe he particularly enjoyed the schmoozing and baby-kissing parts of the job. Harper’s strengths, both as prime minister and as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, were in the policy and managerial domains. Over the course of his career, with much practice, he became passably good — at best — at the touchy-feely stuff.
In other words, he currently has the ability to do all the stuff he was good at and genuinely seemed to enjoy. And while he does the policy stuff, and the big-picture strategy stuff, and the thought-leadership stuff, he doesn’t have to do any media interviews, or show up at a legion hall to read some bland scripted remarks in both official languages, or be photographed walking his kids to school (which would be admittedly odd anyway, given that they’ve grown up). He gets almost all the good stuff and very little of the bad. He’s eating his cake and having it, too. And all he has sacrificed to get to this place is … actually, wait. Nothing. He’s sacrificed practically nothing.
The one argument that could perhaps justify the speculation is that Harper did not like losing to Justin Trudeau and would like a chance at a rematch, especially since Trudeau has in many ways revealed himself to be exactly what so many of his critics long suspected — bluntly, a carefully constructed political brand that does not match well with the reality of the man who carries it. But not only is it far from certain that Harper would win such a rematch, even if he gets a chance, which might not be for years, it would be a huge risk to leave a comfortable private life just for that chance at knocking Trudeau out of the PMO.
And if there is anything that even his critics and supporters can agree on, it’s that Stephen Harper was always a shrewd and calculating operator. Why any of them think a political return would be a shrewd move likely to improve Harper’s lot in life is baffling.
If there is anything that even his critics and supporters can agree on, it’s that Stephen Harper was always a shrewd and calculating operator
Perhaps it’s simply that Harper continues to hold a plus-sized place in the minds of many, most especially his most vocal opponents. Even a full four years (and counting) after he left the PMO, they continue to think he’s behind every move, moving every lever. Watching, an intelligence vast, cool and unsympathetic, for the moment to return.
The truth, meanwhile, seems much simpler and in keeping with the private man who led this country, reasonably well, for a full decade — that he probably enjoyed the job, on balance, but he doesn’t much miss it, particularly all the hassles. He seems to have gotten over it far faster and much more completely than his strongest critics have yet been able to get over him.
Politicos, market watchers and deficit hawks are trying to figure out if the president really opened the door this week to entitlement reform.
Asked if entitlements are “on his plate,” the president told CNBC’s Joe Kernen Wednesday, “At some point they will be.” The president said strong US growth made addressing entitlements “the easiest of all things.”
Cue the Democrats.
“The president promised that unlike other Republicans, he wouldn’t touch Social Security, and Medicare,” said Senator Chuck Schumer during a press conference to discuss the president’s impeachment trial. “He’s already broken that promise and gone after Medicare. Now it looks like Social Security is in the president’s crosshairs as well.”
Just as the White House was dangling an election year tease for new tax cuts, the president made different headlines by casually touching the third rail of American politics.
“Social Security reform is a virtually impossible sell, and Democrats are smacking their lips — Trump has given them an issue,” wrote political economist Greg Valliere in a note to his clients.
Trump had promised during the election that a super-strong Trump economy growing at 4 percent would fix the long-term problems for big government outlays like Social Security and Medicare. (The economy instead is growing around 2 percent.)
Some think the president tried to climb down Thursday with a tweet he would “save” Social Security from Democrats who want to “destroy” it.
But it hasn’t quieted the debate.
“Democrats in this town have been hand-wringing about their prospects in the presidential race,” writes Valliere, DC-based chief US policy strategist at AGF Investments. “Las Vegas oddsmakers have made Donald Trump the clear favorite. Inexplicably, he gave Democrats a major opening this week — Social Security, the third rail that politicians never want to touch.”
It’s unclear if the White House is serious about entitlement reform or if the president was just, well, talking.
What is clear: the combination of an economy growing at just about 2% the president’s 2017 tax cuts, and a huge spending bill, have sent the deficit soaring. The budget deficit has already topped $1 trillion in the Trump Administration, and grew another 12% from the year before in the first quarter of this fiscal year.
Even if entitlement reform were a priority, the balance of power makes it unlikely.
“If re-elected, the President will pursue more tax cuts and will not pursue significant entitlement reform,” economist Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics tells CNN. It “wouldn’t happen unless the (Republicans) captured the House and held onto the Senate, which at this point seems unlikely,” Zandi says. “If President Trump is re-elected, we can expect $1 trillion plus budget deficits for the foreseeable future, and much large deficits when the next recession hits.”
Politics aside, there’s a case for slowing the growth of entitlement programs like Social Security, says Valliere. Congress periodically considers reforms to the cost of living adjustments, raising the age of eligibility, increasing Social Security taxes, means-testing benefits, and tightening eligibility rules. But cowed by public outcry and lack of consensus, never acts. And the deficit hawks in the traditional Republican party appear to be in hiding.
“Chances of enactment are close to zero,” in a second Trump administration, says Valliere.
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