12/29/2011 08:37 EST | Updated 12/29/2011 12:38 EST

Budget Canada: 2012 To Be Dominated By Tories' Spending Plans And NDP Leadership Race


After a vote that dramatically changed the federal political landscape and elections in half of the country’s provinces, 2012 promises to be a quieter year than 2011. But there are still a few things to keep an eye on over the next 12 months.

The first two will set the stage for how the rest of 2012 will play out. Jim Flaherty’s budget, likely to be presented in February or March, will give Canadians an idea of how far the Conservative austerity plan will go. If a bid to slash the deficit yields a harsher than expected budget, the fallout from reduced funding to cherished programs and cuts to the public service could be enormous.

While opposing the Conservative cuts will be high on the NDP's agenda, choosing a new leader will be of the utmost importance.

On March 24, the New Democrats will choose their next chief and Canada’s next Leader of the Official Opposition. If the Conservatives take an axe to the public service will this help candidates such as Brian Topp and Peggy Nash, two contenders with a background in organized labour? Or if the New Democrats continue to slide in Quebec, will Thomas Mulcair be given the reins in order to stop the haemorrhage of support in the francophone province?

Choosing the NDP’s next leader will not only be an important event for 2012, it will also play a large role in determining the fate of the New Democrats in the run up to the next federal election. It may also influence the Liberal leadership race that should come to a close at the beginning of 2013. Look for the potential Liberal leadership candidates to begin jostling for position as the year comes to a close.

Elections in two major provinces are also expected to be held in 2012. The first is likely to be in Alberta, where Alison Redford of the Progressive Conservatives will be searching for her first mandate after being named the new Tory leader in October. The Wildrose Party under Danielle Smith is poised to become the Official Opposition while the provincial New Democrats look set to overtake the Liberals. Though a continuation of the Progressive Conservatives’ 40-year reign is a good bet, with three of the four major parties being led by rookie leaders the campaign could hold a few surprises.

The next election in Quebec may not be held until 2013, but rumour has it that Jean Charest might attempt to catch François Legault and his Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) off-balance by sending Quebecers to the polls before the CAQ can make itself fully prepared for a campaign. Based on the latest public opinion surveys, it may be Charest’s only hope against the popular CAQ. The fate of the Parti Québécois is also in the balance, as Pauline Marois is struggling to keep her party’s head above water.

With a new leader of the NDP, the potential for major change in Quebec and the unveiling of the Conservative government’s plan for the next few years, it all adds up to an interesting 2012 political calendar.

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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