Hébert: What to watch during Parliamentary break

Parliament stands adjourned until mid-September but that does not mean the business of politics is on pause. Here are three must-watch political stories of the summer season.

1. This is the week when a 16-year Liberal reign is expected to end in British Columbia. The provincial legislature will vote on an NDP non-confidence motion in Premier Christy Clark’s minority government later this week.

Clark’s defeat would pave the way for the instalment of a minority NDP government, backed – on the basis of a governance pact – by the Green Party. The Greens in this country have never had as direct a hand in the exercise of power. But Andrew Weaver’s party may not get to enjoy its position of influence for all that long.

As the incoming premier, NDP Leader John Horgan would get to present a speech from the throne later this summer. If and when that happens, expect it to sound like an election manifesto. And on that basis, expect it to echo significant sections of Clark’s own throne speech, read just last week in the Victoria legislature. That’s because the Liberal speech borrowed some popular planks of the recent New Democrat platform.

A significant difference between Clark and Horgan is their stance on the planned expansion of the Kinder-Morgan pipeline. The Liberals do not oppose it. The NDP and the Greens are committed to using every provincial power at their disposal to stop the project in its tracks.

With only one seat separating the outgoing Liberals and the incoming Green-backed NDP, it is far from clear that Horgan’s government will survive the summer. If B.C. voters do go back to the polls to sort out which party gets to govern the province, every federal party will be watching for clues as to how pipeline politics may play out in the 2019 federal election.

2. Decision time is almost upon Alberta’s conservatives. On July 22, members of the feuding Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties will have to decide whether they dislike the NDP in power more than they dislike each other. Seventy-five per cent of the Wildrose membership and a simple majority of Tories have to vote in favour of the proposed merger for it to come to pass.

A yes vote could pave the way to an Oct. 28 leadership duel between Brian Jean and Jason Kenney, two former caucus mates within Stephen Harper’s government.

In his days on Parliament Hill, Kenney – as a senior minister – was higher in the federal pecking order than Jean, who never sat in cabinet. But for all that, polls suggest no one should take a Kenney victory for granted.

The stakes are also high for the federal parties. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, who currently leads the only New Democrat government in the country, would face much longer re-election odds against a united Conservative opposition. If she went down to defeat in 2019, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would lose a key ally in his bid to set a national floor price on carbon.

At this stage, the governments of the four most-populous provinces are all on side with Trudeau’s climate-change plan.

But the federal-provincial dynamics would change for the worse for the prime minister if the Conservatives were to come back to power in Albert especially if they take Ontario next year.

3. The federal NDP will spend the summer in the midst of the campaign to select a successor to Thomas Mulcair. Time is of the essence for the five candidates who have about seven weeks to recruit supporters. The cut-off date to sign up to vote for the next NDP leader is Aug. 17.

Meanwhile, though, keep an eye on the Montreal riding of Outremont, the former Liberal fortress Mulcair took over when he entered the federal arena. It is by no means a safe NDP seat.

For the first time in a published interview last week, the outgoing leader did not rule out leaving the federal arena before the 2019 general election. Mulcair told La Presse he had been having conversations with some universities with an eye to moving to academia.

If he were to serve his full term as MP, he would not be taking up a new job for another two years. Twenty-four months is a long time to spend weighing the pros and cons of various teaching positions – and advertising one’s not-so-imminent availability.

Chantal Hébert is a national affairs writer.

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