Canadian Politics In 2012: How The Parties Fared

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The lack of progress by the NDP may be Stephen Harper’s biggest success of 2012. (CP)
The lack of progress by the NDP may be Stephen Harper’s biggest success of 2012. (CP)

The first full year of majority government in Ottawa since 2003 is about to end, and the parties on the Hill are still figuring out the intricacies of the new dynamic in Canadian politics. What failures and successes did the parties have in 2012?

Greens

With their first election win, 2011 was the most important year in the Green Party's history. But 2012 could turn out to have been the year that made more wins possible. Elizabeth May proved her worth in the House of Commons as an MP, with her tireless efforts earning her the Parliamentarian of the Year honour from Maclean's.

Her party also surprised everyone with two very strong byelection performances, taking large portions of the vote in Calgary and Victoria. It sent a warning shot over the bow of the other parties that the Greens are not just a one-hit wonder.

Bloc Québécois

This year has to have been the quietest for the Bloc Québécois since it first stormed the federal scene in 1990. Their poll numbers have hardly moved since their dismal 2011 result, and new leader Daniel Paillé remains a relative unknown, even in Quebec. The Bloc Québécois dodged a bullet with the Parti Québécois' narrow election win in Quebec, as a loss by the sovereigntist party against the unpopular Charest government might have been one humiliation too many.

Liberals

Their leadership race won't really get going until 2013, so the Liberals were always going to be in a holding pattern in 2012. In this they were successful, demonstrating that the party is not going anywhere. They also avoided the internal divisions that a run by Bob Rae for the leadership might have caused.

The leadership race that officially began in the fall looks promising, with candidates presenting interesting ideas and Justin Trudeau giving the party a little star power and the kind of attention it might not have received without him

But despite a decent year for the party, the Liberals have yet to displace the New Democrats as the alternative to the Conservatives. The Liberal debacle in 2011, then, cannot be credited to Jack Layton alone.

New Democrats

2011 was an emotional roller-coaster year for the NDP, but 2012 was the year in which the party cemented its breakthrough. The polls running up to the NDP leadership convention in March suggested that their 2011 success could disappeared with the wrong choice. So far, however, Thomas Mulcair seems to have been the right choice. He single-handedly saved the NDP's sagging numbers in Quebec (a repeat performance there is key to any future NDP win) and has returned the party to roughly where it was on election night.

The New Democrats have provided robust opposition to the Conservative government, with their crop of rookie MPs from Quebec proving to be deeper than expected. After the surprise of 2011, the NDP has made itself out to be a credible alternative. But it has yet to definitively move ahead of the Conservatives in the polls.

Conservatives

The lack of progress by the NDP may be Stephen Harper's biggest success of 2012. It can be difficult for a majority government to retain the favour of the public between elections. Despite drooping numbers, the Tories still remain on top of the pack.

Nevertheless, it was a bad year for the Conservatives. Robocalls, omnibus bills, and the F-35 fiasco have shed negative light on the government. The Tories' reputation on accountability, respect for democracy and fiscal competence has been seriously damaged. While these issues pose no risk to the government now, the problems of 2012 could come back to haunt the party in 2015, along with whatever baggage the Conservatives pick up between now and the next election.

But despite the potential for restlessness on the backbenches or splits between the old Reform and PC wings of the party, Harper has managed to keep his troops united and his Conservatives ahead in the polls. A year in which the wheels have not come off becomes more impressive the longer a party remains in power. For Harper, it's one down and three to go.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.

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