So the year is at its end, so before we ring in 2008 I thought I would chime in with what I thought were the biggest political stories in Canada this year. These are NOT in any particular order they are just the 10 that ranked highest for me. So here goes….
1) The inability of the Conservatives to increase their popularity: After multiple cabinet shuffles, a huge spending budget, huge public relations exercises to to make the government look “Green”, restoring Liberal tax cuts, slashing the GST, record spending on polling with our tax dollars, and numerous other attempts to increase their popularity, the Conservatives at year end appear to be worse off than they were on Election Day. They’ve had control of the agenda for almost two years, the Liberals were in the middle for a leadership race for a year and have had some internal struggles since, yet Harper hasn’t been able to take advantage. This is one of the huge stories of 2007. What will it take? Why can’t Harper gain any new support?
2) The UN Climate Change Conference in Bali: Canada has never fared so badly on the world stage: We were tied for the lead in fossil of the day of awards (and had the most first place finishes), we won the fossil of year award, and has Harper pasted in ads right alongside fellow obstructers Japan and the USA, Baird skipped most meetings and scheduled and Canada was essentially condemned by the head of the UNPCC. Never has Canada been so isolated in its stance on a major issue. When the final declaration was agreed upon even the USA signed on before Canada did (who only did so once Baird realized that Canada and Russia were the only hold-outs). It was simply an absolute disgrace for Canada on the world stage on an issue that is slowly becoming the most important for Canadians. Dion was smart to go to Bali and meet with many dignitaries and show that Canadians don’t actually support the approach Baird brought to Bali and I was impressed by how much blogging he did (http://www.liberal.ca/baliblog) while he was there (unfortunately the media didn’t give much coverage to his blog though).
3) The Afghanistan detainee scandal: Another disgrace for Canada on the world stage. This issue clearly showed the incompetence of the Conservative government (whose stories changed from day to day when this issue broke and ultimately led to Gordon O’Connor being shown the door) and their complete and total disregard for human rights. There are now confirmed reports of torture and all the Conservatives can say in response is to call their critics Taliban lovers. Never mind the fact that Canada has signed the Convention Against Torture that completely condemns torture of prisoners and may possibly be complicit breaking international law. It’s a disgrace plain and simple and Harper and Co should really be taking it more seriously because Canada’s reputation is at stake and if our soldiers get captured at some point we don’t want to give the Taliban license to torture (this is the same argument used by ultra Liberal John McCain by the way). It’s issues like this that show the true colours of this government and I think play a role in why they can’t get themselves anywhere beyond 2006 numbers in the polls for long.
4) The Elizabeth May-Dion deal: Praised and panned by different sides, but I think the fact that the Greens still sit at about 10-12% in most polls and that they got 8% in the Ontario election (with a leader no one had heard of) shows that the environment remains a key issue for many voters and come election time it will be very important to have Elizabeth May campaigning on the idea that Stephane Dion needs to be our Prime Minister. At the least a lot of parked Green votes have a good chance to go Liberal rather than NDP because of this deal and other potential Green candidates have flipped to the Liberals as a result. While it’s nice to run candidates in all 308 ridings, I think this deal will be an easy net win for the Liberals in the long-run.
5) The Quebec by-elections (Sept 17): I think the reaction to them was overblown in both the media and the Liberal party, but they still had an impact. They gave the Conservatives and NDP something to crow about with wins in Roberval and Outremont and sent some very short-sighted Liberals into a huge panic. I think those by-elections also contributed to Dion shaking up his office and bringing in some really good people who will help in the long run. They’ve also contributed to Layton’s ego and his deluded perceptions that he will actually be head of the official opposition (“surely we’ll budge from 15-17% in the polls sometime!”). Also the good side they were a blow to the Bloc. I still think there was huge over-reaction, as the Liberal vote stayed about the same as where it was in 2006 in those ridings, but it was an undeniable first defeat for Dion and I think he’s learned a lot from it and that’s why I think in part the Liberals are in much better shape now from an organizational standpoint as well as in the polls from where they were then.
6) The Ontario election: This was definitely fun to blog about at the time. Stephen Harper clearly wanted Dalton McGuinty out (why else would he attend a PC fundraiser and introduce John Tory as the next Premier of Ontario?), but instead Dalton cleaned house. The media had thought McGuinty would win a minority at best and might even lose to the “charismatic genius” of John Tory. Boy were they wrong. This election brought funding of religious schools in Ontario to the forefront and showed quite clearly that this was not a direction we wanted to go down in Ontario and John Tory clearly hung himself on this issue and had an even worse showing than Ernie Eves! The man even lost his own seat! He sure was the political master the media made him out to be. He focused the entire campaign on himself (everyone was a “John Tory candidate”) and in the end people didn’t like the John Tory they saw. McGuinty by contrast focused on all the right issues and framed himself well as the defender of the public interest versus John Tory as a defender of private interests. Dalton deserved another majority and I was glad to see he got it. In the end it shows that Ontario is still solidly Liberal and almost all of those Provincial Liberals who got elected will be out campaigning for the Dion led Liberals when the next federal election comes.
7) The Quebec election: What happens in Quebec always is of concern to the rest of Canada so there were many eyes on this one earlier this year. Jean Charest looked like he had returned from the dead and might be able to pull off another majority, but he didn’t live up to his legend of being the master campaigner and managed to pretty much kill much of the credibility behind the fiscal imbalance claims coming out of Quebec by turning Harper’s “fiscal imbalance fix” into massive tax cuts (thus making other Canadians pay to try to win Charest the election). It didn’t go over well. Unfortunately, this election also saw the rise of Mario Dumont and his somewhat bigoted stance on reasonable accommodation. Thankfully though it also saw the crushing defeat of the separatists. In the end now there is little to no threat of separation on the rise because of this election, as the new PQ leader basically pledged to not hold a referendum. So that’s good news for Canada. Also I’m glad to see the Dumont bandwagon has seemingly come to pass and he is now back in 3rd place. Good riddance because his attitude towards immigrants is something we really need a lot of less of in Canada. Anyways this election helped to change the landscape a little at the federal level as with the separatist threat gone for the foreseeable future it takes away a trump card Dion might have had from his days as unity minister when he took the fight to the separatists in a big way. Some people called it a win for Harper, but it seemed that Charest was really Harper’s boy and he didn’t win his majority so Harper did get the complete victory he sought to buy with his budget. Even so, Harper seems to be banking on Dumont a little more these days based on his meeting with him a few weeks ago, but he may yet regret that as 2008 may see Dumont go back to his 2007 poll numbers when nobody serious thought he could be Premier.
8) Canada’s backsliding on human rights: Ok so this somewhat overlaps with the detainee scandal, but this is an issue that hasn’t received enough coverage I feel form the media but yet I think was a huge story of 2007. Canada up until now was seen as a world leader on human rights and there have been several troubling new directions this government has taken us in that greatly threatening that reputation:
- Cozying up to Columbia (which has a terrible human rights record) on free trade
- Praising Barrick Gold (a mining company which has been cited for treating its workers extremely poorly and for multiple human rights abuses) while ignoring all the allegations against them and the complete lack of interest in enforcing standards for Canadian mining companies operating abroad
- Withdrawing Canadian support for the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous people
- The shocking lack of concern for the possible torture of prisoners handed over by Canadian soldiers (whom if actually tortured might make Canada complicit in breaking international law)
- Being the ONLY western country in the world that supports Guantanamo Bay and that has refused to lobby to have its citizens stand trial (even Harper’s ideological soulmate John Howard lobbied to bring his citizens home to stand trial and those people have now served their time in prison).
- Essentially endorsing the use of the death penalty by refusing to appeal for clemency for Canadians facing the death penalty in the U.S. and withdrawing Canadian sponsorship for a motion at the UN to impose a moratorium on the death penalty.
Amnesty International even put out a report a few weeks ago noting that Canada has gone from leader to laggard on human rights. Meanwhile Peter Van Loan has the nerve to say this Government is “second to none” in the world on human rights? That’s one of the biggest flat out lies I’ve ever heard from this government. I hope this becomes a real issue in the next federal election, because it really should.
9) The scandal-plagued RCMP: From the pension scandal, Air India fumblings, continuing fall-out over the O’Conner report on Maher Arar (I know that was the fall of 2006, but close enough), the appalling handling of the taser scandal and so many more embarrassing stories, this year has not been kind the Mounties. It is increasingly clear they definitely need a substantial overhaul and hopefully that starts to happen in 2008.
10) Mulroney-Schreiber: This story I think will still be an important one is 2008, but Harper’s handling of it is as much of a story as Mulroney’s bizarre explanations for his behavior. First Harper was so full of bravado that he wouldn’t call and inquiry or do anything about this issue and slowly, as allegations came out, he folded like a deck of cards. The whole thing completely knocked Harper off his game and he went from confident to scattered and unable to control the agenda.
There remain serious issues here though with Harper’s handling of this as his office had been sent multiple letters spelling out serious allegations about Mulroney. Why did he only start listening to idea of an inquiry when these very same allegations showed up in the Globe and Mail? Harper has been advised closely by Mulroney for a few years now so I do think there’s a real chance that he may been have covering for him until he no longer could. Either way this story has been bad news for Harper and as he so thoroughly embraced Mulroney in the past few years, so he should still have to wear anything that sticks to Mulroney.
Mulroney’s appearance before the House ethics committee itself was a joke: with his claims of safety deposit boxes everywhere, that he would have liked a cheque instead of cash (if that’s the case wouldn’t that cheque had to have been deposited at a bank? Well then why not put the cash in a bank?), that all that money from Shreiber was all for expenses (but he has no receipts to back that up) and for some odd reason he wanted to claim it all as income so he could pay more taxes, that all the people he lobbied internationally happen to be dead and that he doesn’t think Schreiber had anything to do with bringing down Joe Clark (which ultimately led to Mulroney coming to power) all don’t pass the smell test so there really is a need to hold a full public inquiry to look at all this. In the end this touches on the integrity of the PM’s office and will be something to watch in the New Year, though a lot will depend on the terms of reference that David Johnson recommends on January 11th.
The isotopes fiasco was also big news, but we don't yet know all the details around it and just how incompetent the government really was in handling it. For now though the isotopes are hopefully being delivered to where they needed (except Newfoundland), but the situation/shortage I think could have been prevented, but maybe we'll know more in the new year.
So there you have it. Feel free to chime in on what issues you think should have made my list….
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