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Media Bites: Predictions for 2014 -- Prepare to Hear the Word "No"

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In the world of Canadian politics, 2013 was one of those years where interesting things seemed perennially on the brink of happening, but rarely did.

Though everyone spent a great deal of time pondering the polls, we only saw a single election of note  --  British Columbia's  --  and that one was remarkable only in how solidly it broke for the status quo. Two big scandals involving two big men -- Mike Duffy and Rob Ford  --  hogged the headlines for months, but neither head ended up rolling. Contentious new policies on controversial issues brought only warnings of political consequences  --  the electoral repercussions of Premier Marois' infamous "values charter," for instance  --  or simply weren't made in the first place.

2014, in short, will be a year that spends a lot of time providing closure to the unanswered questions of 2013. My guess is there'll be a lot of "no's."

Here are some predictions:

Parliament will not fulfill its court-ordered obligation of writing a workable, compassionate prostitution law

For decades, everyone knew Canada's Victorian-era prostitution rules  --  which criminalize soliciting and "living off the avails," but not the actual purchase of sex  --  were archaic and unsustainable, but since there was little short-term capital to be gained in updating them, no government ever bothered to fix them. Even after the Supreme Court's landmark Bedford ruling, that's still the case today.

Displaying the trademark not-quite-activist-not-quite-deferential attitude her court's been known for, last week Chief Justice McLachlin gave the House of Commons a year --  which is to say, until December 20, 2014  --  to update the country's unreasonable prostitution laws in a fashion that may "regulate against nuisances, but not at the cost of the health, safety and lives of prostitutes"  --  as the court claimed our current, John-friendly legal regime does.

It's hard to imagine any party benefiting politically from backing a new law that meets such criteria. Which makes it all the more likely none will be written.

Justin Trudeau probably figures he's already taken enough lumps from the tough-on-crime crowd for supporting legalized pot; backing legalized hookers too would swing Canada's "centrist option" to the fringe of the anything-goes left. Likewise for the new, pragmatic NDP of Tom Mulcair. The Tory government, meanwhile, can't win either way. Social conservatives are pushing for an unambiguous ban on buying sex, but as the CBC notes, it's likely the courts would find such a law just as constitutionally dubious as the ban on selling. That leaves decriminalization and regulation, but what Conservative prime minister wants that in his legacy?

It's entirely possible nothing will be done. We may recall that several decades ago the Supreme Court asked parliament to write some new abortion laws after declaring the old ones inadequate. They're still waiting.

The Senate will not be reformed

The main reason why the ugliness of the Duffy-Brazeau-Wallin-Harb Senate expense mess hasn't been used by the Harper administration as a pretext for unveiling a sweeping agenda of Senate reform is because said administration made a rather unexpectedly ill-timed decision several months ago to ask the Supreme Court to set some ground rules. The court only began its hearings in November, and the attorneys general of every province (sans sympathetic Alberta and Saskatchewan) have dispatched lawyers to argue against the constitutionality of any process of Senate revision that does not feature a substantial role for their bosses, the premiers.

Though the constitutional questions involved in all this are complicated, it's hard to imagine the Supreme Court  -- this Supreme Court, at least  --  concluding that the federal government has as much unilateral power to change the Senate as it's desperately hoping. Even if the Supremes only rule partially against the feds  --  for instance, by saying parliament can pass a law imposing Senate term limits but not elections  --  the unappetizing task that would have to come next. Getting two-thirds of the provincial governments representing half the Canadian population to come to some kinda consensus regarding the future of a body most can't agree if we should even have or not, will probably be enough to finally halt the molasses-like march of Senate change altogether.

Neither pipeline will be approved

From the point of view of the Canadian economy, the two biggest figures of 2014 will be President Obama and B.C. Premier Christy Clark, both of whom hold the power to either veto or approve this country's two most ambitious pipeline projects. I suspect neither will.

Though much fuss was made of the National Energy Board's recent green-lighting of the Alberta-to-B.C. Northern Gateway pipeline, Premier Clark's government was quick to deny that this actually meant much of anything. Back in May, her administration explicitly refused to support the pipeline in their testimony to the NEB, and following the Board's ruling last week, her environment minister clarified that's still the case today.

To be sure, the B.C. government remains committed to their absurd Kabuki dance of pretending to be open-minded for approval so long as their "five conditions" are met (in addition to the Energy Board's 209). But the open-ended nature of these demands, which centre around getting the pipeline builders to meet unspecific and immeasurable standards of environmental safety and aboriginal consultation (not to mention guaranteeing B.C. its "fare share" of profits) make them fundamentally political, as opposed to scientific or rational.

With the pipe's approval rating mired in the low 40s, there's simply no partisan benefit for this exceedingly status-conscious and politically-correct Premier to gain from being on the unfashionable side of such an unpopular issue. At best, she'll be looking to give the thing a dignified death.

Ditto for the man in the White House. In America, the contentious Keystone XL project  --  the plan to pipe Alberta crude to refineries in Texas  --  is perceived in even more fiery terms than it is here, with liberal critics playing up the pipeline's links to unique bogeymen of the American left, including corporate lobbyists and the Koch brothers. Last week, 21 of Congress' most liberal members signed an open letter denouncing the environmental consequences of Keystone, a group that included Sen. Elizabeth Warren, whom disillusioned progressives are increasingly floating as a further-left challenger to Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democrat presidential nomination.

With Obama already taking a hit from his liberal base on everything from drones to Obamacare to Edward Snowden, expect to see a veto of Keystone as a last-ditch effort to shore up some left-wing street cred before he finally hobbles out of the Oval Office. That, in turn, will spell bad news for our Keystone-boosting PM.

But not until 2015.

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