It Will Be a Good Year for Canada - our 150th

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

December 29, 2016



2016 was an annus horribilis, what with stars (Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Glen Frey, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds) dropping like flies, the terrorist acts across Europe, American black lives which didn’t seem to matter, and the murderous Russian destruction of Aleppo.


To our everlasting shame – we let this happen.

It was also a bad year for prognosticators and pollsters of all stripes, what with Brexit and Trump being such unexpected outcomes. The knee jerk response is to blame those making the predictions. Were they reading bad tea leaves or were they just plain incompetents?

But to be fair, we know that polls are more than just descriptive instruments, they can actually influence outcomes – as seems to have been the case in the UK and US this past year. Some people look to a poll before voting, much like farmers do their weather vane before cutting hay. A poll one way or the other may influence their voting decisions. It may encourage folks to go out to just help get someone elected, or it might keep them at home grumbling that one more vote won’t make a difference.

And of those who do make it to the polling stations, some will jump onto a band wagon and some others will register their own little protest – the so-called contagion and strategic voting responses. The independent or rogue voters are typically non-conformist, anti-establishment or anti-elite (todays buzz word), and will support the underdog, maverick, and outsider.

Meanwhile sports-minded folks, who like to cheer for the winning team, almost regardless, will just go with the flow. And nobody should say that voters are either stupid or uninformed, even when they seem to be voting against their own best interests. They may not be able to articulate what each candidate or party really stands for and how that would affect them, but they know what they don’t like regardless how they got that impression. And typically they like change, especially if its back to the future.


Bernie Sanders: what if he had won the Democratic nomination?

So instead of blaming the voters and the pollsters when their dreams go sour, the party leaders should reflect on themselves. They weren’t doing the one thing you have to do to win in politics – listen. Michigan was a case in point – a deja vu. That traditionally democratic state had opted for the outsider Bernie Sanders despite front running Clinton’s lead in the primary polls. Why wouldn’t the party oligarchs have contemplated a repeat when running against the outsider Trump – as did happen?

And thanks to that election south of the border, Canada’s biggest challenge this coming year will be coordinating trade policy with its southern neighbours. Trump’s utterances on NAFTA , climate change and pipelines, if actualized, will present a mixed bag for us, economically and politically. For example, the Keystone XL will be approved but it may not actually move Alberta oil since one of Trump’s goals is energy self-sufficiency and reducing imports.

And if Trump follows though on tearing up the US commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement, our PM will face pressure to back off the carbon tax and possibly other environmental issues. And then there is the future of NATO. But Trump has to contend with his Republican Congress, whose members are currently closer to the other party than they are to their own leader. So expect to see some big league back-peddling – or a war within his own party.

OK - there's four votes. They are old enough to vote aren't they?

Justin Trudeau wowing them in Burlington during a campaign stop.

At least Trudeau is very much in charge here, but how does he meet his promise to change the first-past-the-post electoral system when his own Parliamentary committee has recommended a solution (proportional representation and referendum) which cannot realistically be implemented before E-day 2019?

Anybody wanna bet he’ll defer that decision to whoever wins the next election and implement a preferential ballot as an interim measure – hoping that ‘whoever’ is Trudeau?

And what of that Conservative nomination process? Is Kevin O’Leary really trying to re-create himself as the Canadian Donald Trump? That would be his third persona after posing alternately as a shark and a dragon. And it may be his to lose as the rank and file Tories will be looking for a Mr. Wonderful of their own. And what could be more wonderful than a dragon, as TV viewers anxiously await the restart of Game of Thrones?

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne speaks at the hearings into the gas plant cancellations at Queen's Park in Toronto on December 3, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne speaks at the hearings into the gas plant cancellations at Queen’s Park in Toronto on December 3, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

Ontario’s provincial government is so far down in the polls, and the provincial Liberals so tarnished with that electricity file, that even a minority government may be out of their reach come the 2018 election. So unless the Premier has something up her sleeves to excite the voters, or the provincial PC leader falls on his face again, she might as well pass the torch before the voters do her the favour.

Britain sure looks like it is going to negotiate a hard Brexit which has the same prognosticators, who said it would never happen, pronouncing the death of the great society there. But the EU may not fare any better unless it can get beyond second-guessing its very own existence, and get on with building the Union part of EU, including immigration, fiscal policy and defence. And a little help from Mr. Trump, when it comes to talking NATO, will go a long way towards that end.

Expect to see more tension and some dust-ups between China and the US, especially over the future status of Taiwan. Expect to see Iran tear-up its nuclear deal as the Trump administration renews sanctions, and this time to unabashedly build its bomb. That may mark the beginning of the end for anyone’s hopes for nuclear non-proliferation as Saudi Arabia, Japan, South Korea and even former nuclear power Ukraine jump back into the game.

That isn’t a very promising outlook, unless you like war, but that is how I see it. I also see me continuing with this column and the Burlington Gazette becoming the best read news source in Burlington next year, even if you can’t wrap your fish and chips in it.

And finally I will predict a heck of a year-long celebration, following on our Prime Minister’s wish for a wonderful birthday for this nation of ours, now come of age at 150.

Rivers-direct-into-camera1-173x300Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking. Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington in 1995. He was the founder of the Burlington citizen committee on sustainability at a time when climate warming was a hotly debated subject. Tweet @rayzrivers

Background links:

Polls and their Impacts –  Worst Political Predictions –  Message in Michigan –  Trudeau’s Reputation

Pipelines –  Trudeau’s New Year Resolution –  Physic Predictions –  O’Leary –   More O’Leary

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3 comments to Rivers: It Will Be a Good Year for Canada – our 150th

  • Phillip

    Ray, I’m hoping that 2017 will be a great year for Canada but locally, 2018 will be the year of opportunity here in Ontario and in Burlington as we finally get to “drain the swamp” of two very-out-of-touch governments.

  • Thomas Homes

    You might also feel anxious about US policy reversal on Israel and the probable acceleration of Isis/Taliban/Al-Queda/rogue activity that results. On the bright side, 2018 is only 368 days away.

  • Your example of the Keystone XL issue, and the inherent contradictions in Trump’s proposals – open up Keystone – versus his claimed philosophy – domestic energy independence is but one tiny example of how the world must view its upcoming relationship with a randomly kaleidoscopic U.S. administration. I, for one, hope you do not suffer guilt by association.