What’s in store for the major parties in 2016

As the year winds down, it is time to views what new year has in store for us here in Canada. It is time to to view the challenges for the three parties and their performance in service of the people or otherwise. Government House Leader Dominic LeBlanc, Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair have spoken about their parties’ priorities for 2016.
No rush for referendum on electoral reform: LeBlanc
LeBlanc said the Liberal government will be setting up a parliamentary committee on electoral reform that will seek to hear all positions on the matter, including maintaining the status quo to moving toward a system of proportional representation, and “everything in between.”
The government House leader said, however, that the Liberals are not inclined to put the matter up as a referendum question to all Canadians.
“Our plan has been to use Parliament to consult Canadians,” he said.
LeBlanc also said Canadians can expect the minister of defence to unveil details of Canada’s new role in the anti-ISIS coalition.
During the election campaign, the Liberals pledged to withdraw its six CF-18 fighter jets from the U.S.-led coalition, and said Canada would instead bolster support through humanitarian and training missions.
LeBlanc said Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan is finalizing details of what Canada’s new contribution will look like, but maintained that the Canadian Forces will not be involved in a combat role.
“My impression is that the primary focus will be around training ground forces,” LeBlanc said.
‘Voice’ for fiscal conservatives
Ambrose said that in the days since becoming interim leader, she’s reached out to former Conservative prime ministers, including Brian Mulroney, Joe Clark and Kim Campbell, for advice.
She said all three gave her similar advice: take your time with the leadership race, and, in the meantime, be a “strong” and “tough” Opposition in the House of Commons.
And that’s what the party intends to do, Ambrose said, noting that the Conservatives will be the voice for fiscally conservative Canadians who don’t want the government to run deficits or raise taxes.
“We’re going to hold the government to account,” Ambrose said on Question Period. “We’re going to be that voice for taxpayers.”
As for the leadership race, she said the party will take its time, allowing all members, including those not already involved in politics, to build a strong candidacy.
“If we take a little extra time, that will mean we’ll have a better leadership race,” she said, adding that the leadership committee will meet in January and begin outlining the rules and the timeline for the race.
Ambrose said she’s looking forward to the renewal process, and giving the leadership candidates a chance to stake out their visions for the future of the party.
She added that she has no regrets over accepting the position of interim leader.
“When the time comes, I hope to hand that key over to the next person and say, ‘Things are in great shape, get off and running, and win us the next election,'” Ambrose said.
When that election rolls around, she believes that the Tories can make headway with fiscally conservative Liberals, whom she referred to as “Paul Martin Liberals.”
NDP to hold leadership review
Mulcair said while it was tough to be relegated to third-party status following the election, he’s looking ahead to figure out what went wrong for the New Democrats.
“We’re going to go through a review process to do one thing and one thing alone: To learn lessons from that campaign to make sure that the next time around, it’s there for us,” he said, noting that 3.5 million Canadians voted for the NDP in October, meaning the party still has a strong base of support.
The NDP leader also said he’s looking forward to his party continuing to be a “progressive” oppositional voice in Parliament, and to hold the Liberal government’s “feet to the fire.”
In April, the party will hold a leadership review, at which point party members will rate Mulcair’s performance as the head of the NDP.
He wouldn’t comment on what level of support he’d have to be at for him to consider stepping down, however he did say he’s “encouraged” by what he’s been hearing from party members. “I take nothing for granted, and I’m going to continue working non-stop,” he said.
Looking back at the federal election, Mulcair said he doesn’t regret taking a strong stand against a Conservative-proposed ban on niqabs, even though it resulted in a drop in support.
In fact, the NDP leader said that after taking a stand against the ban, his party dropped 17 points in just 36 hours.
“But I am proud of that (decision),” he said. “That’s what having values means; you stand up on a question of principle… I wasn’t going to pander to that sort of intolerance.”
Ten challenges facing Trudeau’s government in 2016
Bringing the Liberal party back from the dead was a monumental undertaking for Justin Trudeau: two and a half grinding years rebuilding the party apparatus from the ground up, filling its depleted war chest, recruiting impressive candidates and crafting a platform, capped by a gruelling 11-week marathon campaign that vaulted the Liberals from third to first with a solid majority victory on Oct. 19.
1. The budget. Finance Minister Bill Morneau is expected to table his maiden budget in February or March. He’s got the unenviable task of trying to deliver all the Liberals’ pricey campaign promises without plunging the country deeply into deficit.
Trudeau promised during last fall’s election campaign that a Liberal government would run “modest” deficits of less than $10 billion in each of the first three years before finishing up the final year of his mandate with a slim surplus of $1 billion.
But parliamentary budget officer Jean-Denis Frechette has estimated that over the medium term, the government could run up deficits $10.8 billion higher than Morneau has projected — and that’s before factoring in all the new spending the Liberals have promised. Morneau acknowledges the books are in worse shape than anticipated, as commodity prices continue to plummet and economic growth remains stalled.
Little wonder Trudeau’s promise to run modest deficits has already been downgraded to a “goal.” Trudeau says he’s still firmly committed to producing a balanced budget in the fourth year but the bigger the deficits amassed in the first three, the harder it will be to achieve balance.
2. Withdrawing Canadian fighter jets from the U.S.-led bombing campaign in Syria and Iraq. Trudeau has promised to end Canadian participation in the air war but says Canada will continue to contribute in some other way to the campaign against Islamic radicals. He’s talked about using Canadian troops to help train local military and police but how many and how close to the front lines the trainers may be has yet to be determined. The government is also talking to NATO allies about other ways Canada could contribute.
Canada’s commitment to the current air mission ends on March 31.
3. Resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015 and another 15,000 by the end of February — two months later than originally promised. Fewer than 4,000 have arrived so far, but the Liberals insist the remainder will come by the government’s self-imposed deadline. The logistics of processing and moving so many people has proved much more complicated and costly than anticipated.
4. Meeting with premiers and territorial leaders by mid-March to hammer out a detailed national climate change strategy. Having agreed to an ambitious 195-country deal to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, Trudeau and the premiers now have to set a specific target for reducing Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions and figure out how to achieve it.
The strategy will involve putting a price on carbon and will require consensus among the premiers, which may be hard to come by. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has already signalled his concern that imposing a price on carbon will unfairly damage the economies of energy producing western provinces, already reeling from the plunge in oil prices.
The previous Conservative government set a target to cut emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. The Trudeau government has said that target is a “floor;” it hopes to set a more ambitious goal.
5. Develop a nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous peoples and work in partnership to improve housing, infrastructure, health care, child welfare, education and community policing, as promised in the campaign. That includes immediately setting up a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, delivering on all 94 of the Truth and Reconciliation commission’s recommendations and ending all boil-water advisories on reserves within five years.
Any one of those promises would be ambitious. Taken together, they’re daunting.
6. Pass a new law that recognizes the right of clearly consenting adults who are enduring intolerable physical or mental suffering to seek medical help in ending their lives. The Supreme Court, which struck down the prohibition on doctor-assisted dying last February, gave the government a year to draft a new law but the Trudeau government is asking for a six-month extension.
The government has struck a special joint parliamentary committee to consult widely and report back with recommendations for a new law by the end of February. Assuming the court grants the extension, the government aims to have a new law in place by the time Parliament breaks in June for the summer.
7. Fill 22 vacancies in the scandal-plagued Senate. The government has announced the creation of an arm’s-length advisory board to recommend non-partisan nominees for appointment to the Senate, a move Trudeau says is aimed at restoring the maligned upper house to its intended role as an independent chamber of sober second thought.
The five-member board is supposed to recommend nominees to fill five vacancies by early next year, with the rest to follow by the end of 2016.
Trudeau has touted the new process as the only practical way to achieve concrete changes in the Senate without getting bogged down in constitutional negotiations. The success of his approach will be judged in large measure by the quality of senators he eventually appoints.
8. Deliver on Trudeau’s promise that the 2015 election will be the last under the first-past-the-post electoral system. He’s pledged to create an all-party committee to consult on alternatives — including ranked ballots, proportional representation, online voting and mandatory voting — and report back within 18 months.
The Liberals maintain that electoral reform should be the product of all-party consensus but, with each party looking out for its own self-interest, that may prove impossible.
Even before special committee is struck, Trudeau is facing opposition accusations that he favours a ranked ballot system because it would theoretically benefit his centrist party most. And he’s under pressure from the Conservatives to commit to holding a referendum on whatever is ultimately proposed, a process that has killed electoral reform initiatives in three provinces and could do the same for any federal proposal.
9. Legalize, regulate and restrict access to marijuana. This will be a complex and controversial file that will require working with the provinces. If Trudeau wants to achieve legalization during his first mandate, the government will have to get down to work quickly in the new year.
10. Repeal parts of the previous Conservative government’s controversial anti-terrorism act and introduce new legislation that better protects rights and freedoms while improving security. Among other things, Trudeau has promised to create an all-party parliamentary committee to oversee national security agencies, narrow the definition of terrorist propaganda and ensure lawful protests and advocacy are not considered terrorism.
Five challenges that lie ahead for the Conservatives in 2016
From figuring out a shadow cabinet to restocking the stationery supplies, the Conservatives took the first few weeks of the new Parliament to shake off the pain of their loss in the fall election and settle into life in Opposition.
Here are five challenges they, and interim leader Rona Ambrose, face in 2016.
1) Set the course for leadership. When former leader Stephen Harper stepped down on election night, it triggered the creation of an internal party committee to figure out how to replace him. The rules for that process are expected to be unveiled in January. While some had been lobbying for the leadership vote to take place at the party’s May convention, consensus seems to be that election won’t take place until 2017. But the May get-together is also a chance for the party to update its policy positions, a key milestone for the eventual leadership race.
2) Renew the party. In the Atlantic provinces, urban centres and among new Canadians, the Tories saw their support erode dramatically in the October vote. So, outreach will be key — and that includes fundraising. Fewer star MPs in caucus, a small number of visible minority MPs and no elected representatives in the Atlantic provinces will all provide challenges that need to be overcome. At the same time, a strong showing in Quebec means those new voters can’t be ignored either.
3) Balance party realities with Parliament. Within the Tories’ 99-member caucus are several MPs with designs on leadership. Ambrose, who cannot run, will have to manage internal party jockeying in order to keep her caucus united and focused on their job as Opposition.
4) Keeping a civil tone. Ambrose has committed to bringing creating a more respectful atmosphere to debates in the House of Commons and in her party’s approach to policy. While she’s been called one of the most “civil” parliamentarians in Ottawa, some in her caucus have the opposite reputations and keeping their sharp tongues in check will be one of her jobs.
5) Do more with less. The joke going around the Opposition Leader’s office is that anyone coming in with an idea is going to be handed a card that reads “we are in Opposition. We have no money. If your idea costs money — no.” The Tories now have fewer parliamentary resources for everything from question period preparation to speech writing and they’ll have to get used to operating in that new reality.
Five challenges the NDP will face in the new year
Tom Mulcair says he is committed to leading the NDP despite a devastating election outcome that punted his party back to third party status.
Here are five challenges he faces in the new year.
1. Prepare for leadership review
Mulcair will face an uncomfortable leadership review at the party’s convention in Edmonton in April. Questions are likely to emerge about how much of the party’s showing in October was a direcly result of Mulcair’s leadership. The NDP’s constitution indicates a leadership race must ensue within one year if 50 per cent plus one delegate supports it.
2. Consider his future
While Mulcair has maintained he is in for the long haul as commander-in-chief, he will be 65 the next time Canadians head to the polls. The NDP leader will need to mull what is best for him and his party and if he is the best fit to take on Justin Trudeau in 2019.
3. Work with his existing team
There are now only 44 NDP MPs, which means Mulcair is working with a reduced roster. The New Democrats are keen to hold the Liberals to account on issues including electoral reform and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Mulcair’s likely to draw on experienced team players, such as environment critic Nathan Cullen, as he pushes forward with his party’s agenda.
4. Perform well inside and outside the Commons
Mulcair was praised for his performance in the House in the throes of the Mike Duffy affair. The NDP leader used a prosecutorial approach to go after Stephen Harper in question period, successfully raising eyebrows about what was happening inside the Prime Minister’s Office. Now Harper is gone, Mulcair has a new new prime minister’s feet to hold to the fire while also ensuring he connects with voters outside the Commons.
5. Sell NDP policies
Observers say the NDP struggled to sell its brand during the last election campaign. The party is now calling itself the “progressive opposition” in a bid to distinguish itself and a challenge will be to find a way to show Canadians how the New Democrats differ from the governing Liberals.

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A rather odd (even) formula

As a citizen it is now starting to worry me how governance has become hostage to sensationalism causing knee-jerk reactions and ill-conceived laws. What’s worse, is that to me it appears, no arm of the government seriously wants to talk or engage in finding logical long term solutions to the challenges before us as a nation. The Juvenile Justice Bill just passed by Parliament (which I will be challenging in court if the President gives it his assent ) is one of the worst pieces of legislation. It violates the constitutional guarantees and rights of juveniles. That law makers in the centre allowed themselves to be held hostage speaks very poorly of our democracy.
And if that was not enough we have another ‘quick fix solution’, this time by the Delhi government and even the courts. The banning of diesel vehicle registrations by the courts and the odd-even formula proposed by the Arvind Kejriwal government. No one denies that Delhi is facing a crisis as so far as the environment is concerned. But this environmental degradation did not happen overnight and I dare say none of the headline grabbing ‘answers’ can simply by themselves have much impact.
Here again the lack of willingness to go into the depth of the problem is appalling. For starters, unregulated construction in and around Delhi is the biggest cause of pollution. No government wants to tackle that. Floor after floor is added to buildings, bringing its own set of issues. The material for construction is dumped near the roads or on pavements, disturbing the smooth flow of traffic and the dust from these sites adds hugely to the pollution levels. For each additional floor added, occupants moving in, will require water, electricity, again causing stress on the already fragile eco-system in Delhi. They will bring with them their vehicles and lack of parking means, these vehicles get parked on roads and pavements. While there are guidelines, the building departments in the government’s are the most lucrative postings, for the money to be made and unless the whip is not cracked how does one expect improvement in Delhi.
Instead, what we have is, governments falling over each other to regularize illegal construction. No government wants to look at the illegal gen-sets in people’s homes shops and offices that throw black fumes. Most of these ‘local’ gen-sets use an inferior engine. Apart from smoke they even cause noise pollution. The courts thought rich people must not be allowed to pollute and I agree with that but on what basis did the courts ban the registration of new diesel vehicles above 2000 cc? What was the logic for 2000 cc and why not say 1500 cc? Did the courts take into account that perhaps a new diesel vehicle above a 2000 cc engine, for example a Range Rover may pollute less than an old Tata Indica diesel roaming on the roads. The courts and government cannot operate in an economic vacuum when they ban entry of trucks over 10 years into Delhi. It is not the age of the truck but the overloading and lack of maintenance that causes it to pollute.
Also, what is the mechanism to stop all the trucks on the borders of Delhi? Has anyone calculated the fuel loss due to the long lines when these trucks will be checked for year of registration? And lastly has anyone calculated the cost to inflation when new trucks are ‘bought’ specially for Delhi? If banning diesel was the solution, Beijing should have no smog, as no diesel vehicles are allowed on the road. Both diesel and petrol have different emissions and emission from a car are greatest when the engine is cold. In winters, a petrol engine takes almost double the time to warm up as compared to diesel cars, so it may not actually be wrong to say that in cold winters in Delhi, the diesel car may actually be better for a short route.
Did both the courts and the government go into any detailed study before imposing the ban? It is much cheaper to improve the quality of the fuel yet isolated decisions taken by the courts or different governments without a complete cohesive plan will mean that we will never get to the root of the problem. To tackle pollution all governments and agencies need to come together and work together. It makes no sense to me that to protect Delhi some types of vehicles are banned but the same “polluting” vehicles are allowed outside the NCR region. Does the court not consider citizens outside the NCR as equal citizens and does the government not realize that emissions and pollution travel through the air and can still reach the capital.
Now to Kejriwal’s ‘odd-even formula’. First, the CM has done nothing to stop the roadblocks in Delhi. As mentioned earlier, people park their vehicles on pavements and roads, slowing traffic down. The Delhi government has no plans to construct parking that Delhi so desperately needs. What’s worse is, the cars and bikes on the roads ensure no help vehicles can reach for hep in case of a disaster like a bomb blast or earthquake.
A look around Delhi will reveal that it’s two-wheelers mostly that are parked on foot paths, forcing pedestrians to walk on the roads. Mr Kejriwal is unable to answer why an exception is made for bikes? Or was it because the owners and promoters of the countries two biggest bike manufactures support him? Are they less polluting than cars? Does a single woman in an old car pollute less than men in a brand new car that is well-maintained ? Why should gender and not pollution be the deciding factor? How does the CM plans to have the police inspect if the boy with the woman is below 12 years? Are we going to stop cars now on roads as if we don’t have enough of that? How does the Chief Minister plan to ensure the police not under him, implement his plan?
Most Delhi ‘jugadus’ already have different number plates, again is the police going to stop cars and cause more traffic bottle necks and snarls? The state government has created no IT backbone to check the registration of cars. In cities where the ‘odd-even’ formula is implemented, the cops have all the technological back up in their devise and all they need to do is punch in the vehicle number and get the complete details. In India, the police still rely on papers of the owner. This can easily be manipulated. If the Kejriwal government was so serious about fighting pollution why did it remove the BRTS? When will new buses be added? Lastly, the CM has not specified what ‘very strict action’ will be taken against rickshaw drivers who extort people? After all apart from this very vague statement the CM has not gone into details on how he plans to tackle his ‘biggest vote bank’ and prevent his largest supporter base from making a quick buck at the expense of hapless citizens. This odd-even formula will come as a boon for them. I’m not against the odd-even formula or even the diesel ban but in the absence of public discourse, facts, IT back up, economic considerations and long term solutions I believe, these knee jerk actions may actually cause more harm than the good they intended.