Year of political change

If our fixed election date holds, we’re a year from a trip to the federal polls. It’s a good time to remember what changes a single year can bring. Here are five storylines that can upend any federal prognostications over the next 12 months.

If our fixed election date holds, we’re a year from a trip to the federal polls.

It’s a good time to remember what changes a single year can bring.

Here are five storylines that can upend any federal prognostications over the next 12 months.

The economy

If he was heading to the polls today, Stephen Harper would have a surplus estimated at $56 billion over the next five years burning a hole in his pocket.

Unemployment is at its lowest level in almost six years, inflation is manageable, Canadians look at the values of their homes and feel wealthy.

Harper has already announced an enhanced tax credit for parents with children in sports programs and a cut to employment insurance premiums. He has also promised an adult fitness tax credit and will double the annual contribution limit for tax-free savings accounts.

He will campaign on the jobs flowing from trade deals, even if they are inflated estimates from a deal yet to be ratified. But a promised income-splitting program doesn’t look like a winner because of its expense and the fact that the tiny minority of Canadians who would benefit already largely vote Conservative.

A burst real estate bubble could end the sense of economic comfort and turn the issue to household debt. Plunging oil prices have blown a hole in many portfolios and may hamper the government’s ability to deliver on its economic vision.

The job numbers are illusory. Much of the growth is in part-time and self-employed work and youth unemployment remains stubbornly high.

Downturns from China to Germany are out of Harper’s control but will have an impact here.

If the fundamentals of the economy remain strong, other issues can become white noise. But without that sense of economic security, a campaign can drive into a ditch in a hurry.

World events

A year ago, neither Ebola nor the Islamic State was on our radar.

Ukraine was still a month away from street demonstrations protesting President Viktor Yanukovych’s embrace of Russia over the European Union, Vladimir Putin’s adventurism had not yet begun and there was a wobbly stability in the Middle East.

Foreign policy doesn’t win many domestic votes, but appearing statesmanlike on the world stage does, a card only Harper can play.

A year from now, we could be dealing with anything from upheaval in Hong Kong to a health epidemic which has spread to South Asia or to something no one can yet see.

Justin Trudeau’s

uncertain journey

After a honeymoon period that lasted longer than some marriages, gravity is pulling the Liberal leader back into political re-entry.

He has had 18 months to grow into his job but has so far ceded much of the policy field to Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair, has been the victim of too many self-imposed wounds and doesn’t look ready for prime time. Trudeau is being squeezed by the two more experienced leaders and reports that the Conservative attacks on the Liberal leader have backfired could prove premature the closer we get to voting day. He is also going to face much tougher scrutiny from a more skeptical press gallery. Balanced babies and fawning profiles won’t put him over the top.

Can he get his tongue and brain in sync?

The (subtle) rebranding

of Mulcair

The opposition leader is still perceived (to the point he is perceived at all) as too much of an old-style Harper politician, but brings substance to the race and the party strategy of rolling out policy a year before a vote could be a boon to NDP fortunes.

Mulcair has a year to find a sweet spot between a style-driven Trudeau and the stolid, vanilla and mean-spirited Harper style.

Trudeau is giving him room to grow.

Will Canadians give him a good, hard look?

A referendum on Harper

If the opposition leaders can successfully make Harper the campaign issue, the dynamics will radically change.

Either could win by not being Harper, and either would look fresh and progressive when up against a man who, after a combative 10-year hold on power, asks for another four.

If a collective Canadian yearning for change takes hold, then tax breaks, a strong economy or good grades on the world stage won’t matter.

And that is without even considering other wild cards — the Mike Duffy trial, a major environmental mishap, a terror attack on this country, a setback in the allied effort against the Islamic State, an Ebola outbreak here, a promise by Harper to step aside if he is re-elected, coalition talk or more First Nations protests.

A year is a long time.

Tim Harper is a syndicated Toronto Star national affairs writer. He can be reached at

Just Posted

Women’s marches underway in Canadian cities, a year after Trump inauguration

Women are gathering in dozens of communities across the country today to… Continue reading

Red Deer councillor balks at city getting stuck with more funding responsibilities

Volunteer Central seeks municipal funding after being cut off by government

Olds chicken barn burns to the ground, no livestock harmed

More than 100,000 chickens were saved as fire crews prevent the blaze from spreading

Bear video meant to promote conservation: zoo owner

Discovery Wildlife Park says it will look at other ways to promote its conservation message

WATCH: Setters Place grand opening in Red Deer

Red Deer’s Setters Place officially opened to the public Saturday afternoon.… Continue reading

In photos: Get ready for Western Canadian Championships

Haywood NorAm Western Canadian Championships and Peavey Mart Alberta Cup 5/6 start… Continue reading

WATCH: Red Deer city council debates cost-savings versus quality of life

Majority of councillors decide certain services are worth preserving

Got milk? Highway reopened near Millet

A southbound truck hauling milk and cartons collided with a bridge

Stettler’s newest residents overcame fear, bloodshed to come here

Daniel Kwizera, Diane Mukasine and kids now permanent residents

Giddy up: Red Deer to host Canadian Finals Rodeo in 2018

The CFR is expected to bring $20-30 million annually to Red Deer and region

Ice dancers Virtue and Moir to carry flag at Pyeongchang Olympics

Not since Kurt Browning at the 1994 Lillehammer Games has a figure… Continue reading

Beer Canada calls on feds to axe increasing beer tax as consumption trends down

OTTAWA — A trade association for Canada’s beer industry wants the federal… Continue reading

Most Read

Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month