Straight Talk
MONTE SOLBERG - Brace for approaching political storms

Credits: Reuters

MONTE SOLBERG | QMI AGENCY

In politics, the landscape is always shifting, which is one reason we still follow politics as much as it annoys us. Change makes it interesting. The issues morph, personalities emerge and then fade away and, often enough, powerful new forces come along and buckle the earth.

The public reacts to all of this, which changes things even more. That's the wild environment that governments work in as they develop, legislate, communicate and implement new policies.

The challenge for politicians on both sides of the aisle is to figure which of the new dynamics are important enough to react to, as opposed to those that are just passing through. So what are the big dynamics for 2013? I say they are the economy and the environment, with the different parties being affected in different ways.

For instance, there are signs the opposition parties are drifting right on the economy.

In year-end interviews, "Tom" Mulcair tried hard to put capitalist lipstick and free trade rouge on an NDP that wouldn't even normally shave its armpits for a big date with Canadian voters. So far it's been mostly talk, but after 50 years the NDP may finally understand that "not being absurd" on the economy is a test they must pass to be considered for government.

Justin Trudeau, the likely Liberal leadership winner, thinks Canada needs to be more open to investment from state-owned enterprise, which aligns him with libertarians on the fringes of the economic right. It doesn't matter much because the bar for the Liberals will be much lower, especially for Liberals with a toothy smile.

They just need some responsible and credible policies on the economy and lots of Ritalin to keep Justin on track. It won't be fun for him to talk about boring old numbers when there are perfectly good platitudes to be uttered, but he'll occasionally need to say "GDP" to keep the critics at bay.

So far, the Conservatives continue to own the brand as competent managers of the economy and they continue to cultivate their image as moderately right of centre, though flexible. Then it's all tarted-up with a dollop of nationalism. At least that's how they approach the issues the public cares about.

On the process issues which the public mostly ignores, Stephen Harper takes delight in steamrolling the opposition and any criticism from the chattering classes, which leaves them not just crushed but also incensed. In other words, everybody is happy. As Patty Loveless once sang, "You can feel bad if it makes you feel better."

But one dynamic that has already caused grief for the Conservatives is the environment. I'm not talking climate change specifically, just a general concern for land, air and water.

Even in Conservative strongholds like B.C., Conservative MPs are nervous over pipeline issues as they relate to the environment. That's because their constituents are nervous.

In 2013 the Conservatives should tap their conservation-minded base to develop policies at their party convention. They need to show conservation and development can go hand in hand.

The landscape has shifted and the Conservatives need to change with it.

Happy New Year!

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