Omicron scrambles political forecast for 2022

Normally at this time of year, political analysts are trying to predict what will happen in the next few months. But now the Omicron variant is scrambling the waters.

“It’s a year that ends as it started, in the sense that we were in uncertainty in January. We are still in uncertainty, ”recently summed up in an interview Stéphanie Chouinard, assistant professor of political science at the Royal Military College in Kingston.

Once again, Ottawa is forced to expand its assistance programs for individuals and businesses in difficulty because of the pandemic. And once again, Canadians will be massively vaccinated in a race against time against a new variant.

The difference this time around, says Mme Chouinard is that the federal government now has enough vaccines to administer third doses to all eligible people. The provinces and territories can no longer complain about the lack of supplies to explain the rhythm of the vaccinations.

And while the political game had returned to a more “normal” mode in recent months with the holding of elections and then in-person sessions in the Commons, it is clear that politicians will be back via their screens after the holidays. .

“We can see that the new variant changes everything. So the House of Commons will perhaps return to virtual, more or less, and will perhaps be concerned about the COVID pandemic instead of going there with its bills, ”predicts Geneviève Tellier, full professor of the School of Political Studies at the University of Ottawa.

Already, in her economic update, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland has set aside $ 4.5 billion to deal with Omicron and has not ruled out setting aside more. help, depending on the progression of the variant. Mme Freeland also presented his statement virtually, since two members of his team had contracted COVID-19.

The trend continued within Justin Trudeau’s team who, with the approach of the holidays, preferred to make their announcements strictly virtual to set an example.

“We have the impression that we are coming back to where we were last January, when we have come a long way in the meantime,” says Mme Tellier. It’s like groundhog day, ”says Chouinard.

The politician to watch

Almost unrecognized a few months ago, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole still survived his party’s defeat in the last election. Political science experts will be watching his political future closely in the coming months, as Mr O’Toole continues his attempt to refocus the Conservative Party.

“This is a year in which we feel a Conservative leader who wants more to take control of his party and make changes. […] We can see that this is not done without difficulties, ”notes Eric Montigny, professor in the political science department at Laval University. “At the same time, if he wants to get more voters, it’s a must,” he adds.

Erin O’Toole’s troops have already caused a surprise in early December by proposing the unanimous adoption of a bill banning conversion therapy. However, the Conservatives were sixty to have voted against six months earlier.

“It was, from his personal point of view, a show of force. We know that, among his caucus, there are certain elements that are more strongly to the right from a moral point of view. It allowed him to demonstrate that he has control over his caucus. There is perhaps a little opportunism in the sense that the motion which was presented made it possible to avoid a recorded vote ”, underlines Chouinard.

“I think he’s starting to manage well, control his party, give it a direction he wants and get it somewhere. And so, the threat is significant for the Liberals. What happened in the conversion therapy law, I think that’s a strong signal to the Liberals to say, “Now you have a strong, quality opponent. No longer count on a divided right ””, maintains Mme Tellier.

The issue to watch

Inflation and the rise in the cost of living in general were already making headlines in 2021 and will undoubtedly continue to generate a lot of ink in 2022. Experts already predict that the federal government will have to improve its message to do so. understand that these issues are at the top of his list of concerns.

“We know that the tools in the Ottawa toolbox are quite limited in terms of controlling inflation […], but beyond the fact that there are few tools to tackle this issue, we have not really heard the message that Ottawa is worried about the impact of inflation on the population ”, points out Mme Chouinard.

The word “inflation” appeared once in the Speech from the Throne and 60 times in this fall’s economic update. On all possible occasions, the federal government reiterates that this is a global phenomenon resulting from the reopening of the economy.

“There have been a few small mentions here and there, but it hits the wallets of all Canadians and at the moment it feels like the government has not really taken note of the magnitude of the problem for Canadians. », Mentions Mme Chouinard. “Is the government going to have a strategy? It seems not, from what we have seen with the economic update ”, adds Mme Tellier.

It remains to be seen in 2022 what the Bank of Canada will do, which has been given the mandate to maintain a target annual inflation rate of 2% while taking employment into account. Will it continue to keep interest rates very low? “It could come to shake things up, even if it is a decision which is not in the hands of the government”, supports Mme Chouinard.

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