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Didn't see Bloc collapse coming, and other regrets

Politics, given the federal election and a series of provincial ones, necessarily dominated commentary in 2011. Alas, some very weak or completely wrong analyses marred the year in this space.

When Ed Stelmach announced he was quitting as premier, it seemed that "Alberta's politics began cracking … and will keep on cracking until there's a fundamental realignment of parties … one on the conservative right, the other in the centre." The centrist party, it was predicted, would emerge from the fledgling Alberta Party and bring together moderate Conservatives, Liberals and independents. Wrong. Alison Redford became Conservative leader, the most moderate of the candidates. So her party lives to fight another day. Maybe the Conservative dynasty will continue after all.

Early in the federal election, it was said that the Bloc Québécois was in a "win-win position, the only question being how much." What a groaner. That other observers failed to see the Bloc's imminent collapse doesn't excuse misreading the Quebec scene. Francophones, after preferring the Bloc in six consecutive federal elections, turned against the party en masse, wiping out most of its MPs and the leader, Gilles Duceppe. You get paid in this business to see this sort of thing coming, but a peril of the job is to assume too often that the past is prologue.

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This misreading led logically to another error: the assumption that, if the Bloc dominated the federal scene and the unpopularity of the provincial Liberal government led to a victory by the Parti Québécois, then the challenge for the new prime minister would be to deal with the "return of Quebec separatism."

The exact reverse happened. The Bloc all but disappeared, and the PQ entered a period of internal disarray sparked by a growing indifference of francophone Quebeckers to secession. Instead of having to deal with the "return" of that problem, the Prime Minister has the clearest horizon on that issue of any prime minister in half a century.

The decline and fall of the federal Liberal Party produced Bob Rae as interim leader. That development led to the observation that "any intention to stay longer, including through the next election, would split the caucus and national executive where the desire exists for someone younger." Mr. Rae has been impressive as interim leader; lacking anyone remotely as good, the party might properly conclude that he should carry on through the next election.

After the Conservatives' majority victory, it was argued that so many factors favoured the Conservatives that they were in "Tory heaven" with a clear playing field ahead: domination in Parliament, a huge fundraising lead, new seats in Conservative Canada. Foolishly neglected was the role that courts could play in spoiling that playing field.

The Supreme Court battered the government's opposition to the supervised injection site in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Then, last week, the judges unanimously opposed the government's plan to create a national securities regulator – a very unfortunate decision from the perspective of a modern, competitive economy but one that will have to stand.

A column on tax expenditures suggested that too many of them tilted in favour of the wealthy. Subsequent data made public by the Finance Department suggested that, although some tax expenditures did tilt that way, many tilted toward low- and moderate-income people. Altering one's view on the basis of hard evidence is no bad thing, although out of favour in contemporary Ottawa.

Another column, praising Richard Gwyn's superb biography of Sir John A. Macdonald, lamented the misdirection of today's CBC. The column should have reported, in fairness, that the CBC had produced a one-hour documentary on Macdonald that was first-rate. That kind of programming is in such short supply that it was easily missed. Sorry.

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The NATO air attacks on Libya invoked a lot of skepticism in this corner. It was argued that Canada and the other NATO countries didn't know much about Libya, had no postconflict strategies, and were wandering into a tribal minefield. Those premonitions might yet prove correct, but, for now, they're certainly wrong.

And, yes, there were other miscues and regrets, but time pushes us toward next year rather than a continuation of remorse.

Happy New Year.

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About the Author
National affairs columnist

Jeffrey Simpson, The Globe and Mail's national affairs columnist, has won all three of Canada's leading literary prizes -- the Governor-General's award for non-fiction book writing, the National Magazine Award for political writing, and the National Newspaper Award for column writing (twice). He has also won the Hyman Solomon Award for excellence in public policy journalism. More

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