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Clark & Co face federal waiting game

The federal government's decidedly right-ward shift has some potentially big implications for B.C. and whichever party forms the next government here.

The federal government's decidedly right-ward shift has some potentially big implications for B.C. and whichever party forms the next government here.

It also has the chance of making the political tightrope Premier Christy Clark has been walking when it comes to relations with the Harper government that much trickier to navigate.

Many have long wondered just how right-wing Prime Minister Stephen Harper was and the early indications after the last election are that he has moved his government to a footing that is more to the hard right than anything seen previously.

No doubt emboldened by the fact that he now has a solid majority in the House of Commons, Harper seems prepared to shape policies more along ideological lines than anything else.

For example, his new tough-on-crime legislation appeases those in the party who advocate a much more conservative approach to law enforcement. But it flies in the face of statistics that show the crime rate is actually dropping and some long-held conservative crime-fighting policies (i.e. the failing war on drugs) don't work.

The legislation also means added costs for provincial governments that administer most of the criminal justice system. B.C. is already struggling with a lack of judges and sheriffs (to name just two areas of concern) and putting even more people through the system means more funding will be required. But provincial governments shouldn't look for much help from Ottawa if the Harper government's action in another key policy area - health care - is any indication.

Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty recently announced a new policy regarding future health funding transfers from Ottawa to the provinces.

The impact of the new policy won't be felt much for the next few years. But starting in 2016, the federal share of health care funding will be tied directly to the performance of the country's economy.

This brings me to that political tightrope Clark is walking. While most provincial finance ministers blasted Flaherty for his arbitrary cuts to their funding, B.C. Finance Minister Kevin Falcon was warmly supportive, lauding the fact Flaherty had brought "certainty" to the situation.

It wasn't hard to connect some dots here. The Clark government's survival in the next provincial election is likely directly tied to ensuring it doesn't lose significant support among conservative voters. Therefore, fighting with a federal Conservative government is fraught with peril, which may explain Falcon's positive reaction.

But it will be interesting to see if the Clark government can hold back if Flaherty's next budget contains a lot of aggressive cost-cutting measures, which could have an impact on federal services in B.C.

The Clark government may suffer collateral damage from any significant public outcry over federal spending cuts and of course that may simply compound the problems arising from the next B.C. budget, which isn't expected to be very rosy either.

And who knows what other policies will arise from Harper's right-wing direction? One thing to keep an eye on is the proposed Enbridge pipeline to Kitimat. It appears his government does not view environmental protection as a top priority and that may be another signal the government will push for the pipeline's construction.

But the Tea Party types that no doubt exist among the Conservative faithful may sense that, with a majority now in place, now is the time to push for those policies Harper wouldn't go near when he needed support from New Democrats and Liberals.

We shall have to wait to see how far he goes, and how big an impact his policies have on this province.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.