Nothing is more self-defeating than predictions. The looking glass is cloudy at best, and that darn Internet provides constant access to everyone's clunkers.
But it's fun to try and no one gets hurt, so here are my fearless predictions for 2011.
1. Federal election returns a Harper majority
My head says that there won't be a federal election in 2011: everyone seems pretty happy sticking it out for another year.
But my gut keeps telling me that the Conservatives will force an election. There are plenty of reasons to go now. The 2012 Alberta election will tear the federal party between Progressive Conservative and Wild Rose Alliance-supporters. A slow economy hasn't stuck to the federal Conservatives, but that is always just a matter of time. The Liberals will spending 2011 getting their act together and will be a more dangerous force in 2012. Better to strike now while a majority is within reach than risk waiting for another year.
If they do go to the polls, the Liberals will likely hold their own, but the NDP has a number of new incumbents who are vulnerable to a focused Conservative attack in places like Northern Ontario and British Columbia. Stephen Harper will be able to add a handful of Liberals seats to a tranche of NDP seats to put himself over the top to a majority.
2. The return of health care
A series of provincial elections this year and next will return the spotlight to the granddaddy of provincial issues: health care. The monster that eats each province's treasury will continue to grow, accelerating to well over 50 per cent of the budget in most jurisdictions with no sign of stopping.
The major political question will be where the money comes from, not how to stop spending. As a result, expect a knock-down, drag-out fight between the provinces and the federal government over the renewal of the Paul Martin "fix for a generation" health deal in 2004.
The major public policy question will be when health care spending becomes so out of control that it collapses government's ability to do anything else. As a result, expect increased experimentation with private service delivery in a number of jurisdictions.
3. Gas hits $1.50 a litre by Labour Day
One of the major drags on both the United States and Canadian economy will be energy prices, particularly in vehicle fuels. Gasoline prices will skyrocket as international demand increases and supply remains flat. Look for major fleet owners to begin switching to natural gas or biofuels as a hedge against rising gasoline prices. And get ready for consumers to go bananas over one of the most visible elements of the household budget. This will be the major populist political issue of the summer.
Coincidentally, the electric car will begin to come on offer in major markets this year. Cars like the Scion and Volt will find ready markets of consumers sick of rising gas prices. One of the bigger public policy questions fleshing up is how to help people power up at work and commercial spaces, while charging it back to their own accounts. Expect lots of discussion about " smart grids" as 2011 grinds on.
4. Republican field rotates front-runners monthly
Though 2011 is not an election year in most of the United States, the news will be filled with stories about Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. These four politicians will each have at least of month of the year wearing the "front-runner for the Republican nomination" mantle, some of them twice and in non-consecutive months. As news cycles speed up and journalism becomes more partisan and aggressive, coverage of the nomination battle will be fierce and unrelenting. We will have to wait until 2012 to find out who actually wins, but there will be a half dozen "conventional wisdom" certainties between now and then.