A round up of the controversy of the year: 2013
Who said Canadian politics is boring? This year has been a news-maker filled with controversy and action. From the battle that wages over the economy to the one being waged in the senate, Canadian political junkies had ample opportunities to gather popcorn or join the discussion over the issues that matter to them.
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The year is wrapping up as it started, with bad economic news. If it isn’t economists alarming about the worst job growth in a decade (outside of a recession), contradicting Conservative claims about the economy, it is uncertainty being instilled by some economists of the country’s leading institutions over what’s in store for 2014. Make no joke, the Conservatives aren’t lying when they tell you they created 1 million jobs since the recession, what they didn’t tell you is the quantity doesn’t fit the demand and the quality isn’t up to par. The budget deficit increased $1.3 billion this year amid austerity measures. In the beginning of the year, the Parliamentary Budget Officer suggested an incline in bureaucrats despite 4% cuts in public services. The trend continued and despite the bloated government, with 14% more bureaucrats than when Prime Minister Stephen Harper took office in 2006, Canadians aren’t getting the services they used to but are still paying the price for them.
Meanwhile, the Conservatives are known as the “low-tax” option but actively raised tariffs in this spring’s budget, impacting the price of all imported goods from China. Small bands from out of the country will also pay the price, passing the cost to consumers.
The year started off with a series of bombshells that wouldn’t release its grip of the mainstream media. Canadians first learned of Patrick Brazeau’s alleged abuse of his housing allowance. Next, came PEI Senator Mike Duffy. Pamela Wallin was then implicated within her own financial misuse scandals. And so was Mac Harb. While Brazeau made the initial headlines, Duffy stole the spotlight that today sits awkwardly in Stephen Harper’s own office. To try to summarize the scandal would take a while – there are a lot of details. Conservatives praised Duffy when he returned his over-expenditures but when CTV news broke the reality of a $90,000 cheque from former Chief of Staff Nigel Wright, narratives turned quickly. An honorable man soon became a disgrace who then became the Harper government’s worst nightmare. Releasing statements, documents and a paper-trail, the RCMP got involved and are combing their way into the PMO which reluctantly is hiding from the public. Harper’s contradictory tale of events doesn’t help the matter, and in a government branded off his name, any and every mistake stops at his feet – especially when it’s something he campaigned on vigorously in 2006. The questions Harper once asked of former Prime Minister Paul Martin during the sponsorship scandal can now be applied to him and that is actively tarnishing the Conservative brand of responsible and accountable government.
What started as a $90,172 claim of inappropriate expenses seen as an outrage as part of abusive senate behavior quickly escalated to a scandal with many more questions than answers. Get up to date with the full timeline.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau
With 80.1% of the party’s internal votes from members and supporters, Justin Trudeau became the new leader of the Liberal Party. Since 2006, the Liberals have changed hands a good number of times. Until Stephane Dion lead the party to their 2008 defeat, Bill Graham served as interim. When Stephane Dion stepped down as leader of the party, Michael Ignatieff took over and lost the 2011 election. Until April 14, Bob Rae served as the Liberal Party’s interim leader in their quest to rebuild.
Trudeau’s first day on the job was met with a series of Conservative smear campaigns which surprisingly backfired. The Conservative attack machine has lost its steam and every attack to date against Trudeau has resulted in either a bump in the polls or increased funds for the Liberals.
There is still another two years until Canadians are summoned back to the polls and a lot can change. Last year, the Liberals were thought to be a write-off and today they appear poised to form a strong minority government at least.
Trudeau has also received endorsements from former Canadian Prime Ministers – notably Progressive Conservative Brian Mulroney.
Canada Post to end home delivery
Canadians aren’t taking the news well: Canada Post will end its home delivery service due to a (not yet alarming) downward trend of mail use and a deficit. All the while, CEO Deepak Chopra said his decision came with seniors ‘asking him’ for ‘exercise and fresh air’ as they would need to walk to community mailboxes to get their mail – and many can’t and won’t use a computer. The comments sparked outrage that exploded when the media learned of the mismanagement occurring within Canada Post, including an executive structure with 22 vice-presidents, an administrative staff costing $10 million and a CEO salary of $500,000 and 33% bonus while he lays off 8,000 postmen. His lack of creativity and sense of entitlement have crippled Canada Post which ran surpluses in the past and could easily adopt the model many American companies in the field currently use for the future of mail – parcels and the fruit of online shopping.
CETA Free Trade Agreement a Go
The Conservatives have achieved their coveted and promised free trade agreement with Europe. While it was a triumph for the government, the headlines remained saturated with the ongoing senate-PMO scandal as the Conservative government that won on accountability was struck down by its own failed actions to cover up an affair much larger than initially thought. The agreement will vastly open European markets to Canadian exports, removing 99% of tariffs between the two countries, as a result, Canadians could benefit from lower prices on a variety of goods ranging from food to cars if the retailers and European manufacturers don’t swallow the equivalent of the tariff elimination. The agreement would mean more Canadian meats would enter European markets and the Conservative government said it would support dairy products as European cheese enters our market. There would also be competition in the pharmaceutical markets and telecommunications will get up to speed with Europe’s standards.
As a result, the agreement is estimated to make 30,000 jobs in Ontario and numerous more across the country and would also lead to new revenues for the federal government.
The Conservatives should celebrate their trade deal and the new funds it will pump into the Canadian economy.
Big Brother keeps creeping in
Former Conservative MP Peter Penasue was sent packing in a spring by-election that started the test of Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s momentum. However, while the Liberals swept the Atlantic riding, Harper was left with a black-mark to his reputation. Despite knowing Penasue accepted 28 illegal donations in the 2011 election, Harper campaigned for him – rather than doing the right thing and replacing him with a better Conservative representative.
Scandals based on Entitlement
Despite a mandate of fiscal restraint, Prime Minister Stephen Harper decided to spend $50,000 on a new paint job for his prime ministerial plane. While the $50,000 is a mere blip in the scheme of Canadian finances, it is a matter of principle that should apply. When cutting services Canadian taxpayers paid for, why should they have to pay $50,000 for your plane when that $50,000 can be used elsewhere?
Tony Clement and Laurie Hawn got their own set of gold-embossed business card while looking for areas to cut. They both cleared up the mishap by reimbursing taxpayers excusing themselves as having “ordered in error.” Neither would say when the “error” was discovered. The cards broke rules made by the Treasury Board made in 1994 when the Liberals performed their own sweep of austerity. The rules specify the Canada coat of arms be printed in black and the only color permitted would be a small red Canadian flag above the Canada watermark.
A Lack of Discipline?
This spring saw a revolt from a dozen of the more radical Conservative backbenchers who were angry their caucus leader muzzled their attempts to reopen the abortion debate. By the end of the squabble, former Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber became an independent MP engaging against the Conservative government in Question Period.
NDP raises eyebrows
The NDP have came out swinging about several of the Conservatives’ proposals concerning energy. Speeches made by leader Thomas Mulcair concerning their disapproval of the Conservative government was made in the United States while the Conservatives were trying to pitch Canadian oil and caused controversy for it.
“The root cause of terrorism is terrorists”
Pipeline politics and the environment
The military remains bogged down by record amounts of costly bureaucracy and botched equipment procurement. The fiscal mismanagement in the department is to blame for many of the decisions that is leaving current and former generals with a sour taste and a strong sense of objection. The military is perceived to be a Conservative strong-suit but the quest for budget cuts and the places to enact them are definitely causing major problems that need not be.
The Liberals have had a great year, rebounding from the fate some pundits had placed for them last year. The Liberals still have a lot of work to do, including hammering out and properly marketing what it stands for, what its policies are and what a Liberal government will look like with Trudeau at the helm. It is clear they will have to do this eventually but the campaign is never-ending in today’s political climate and Trudeau’s popularity will need substance at the ballot-box or it could flop. When voters hit the booth they think of their wallets, their quality of living and their families and if the Liberal Party doesn’t clearly address these areas, they will once again see poor results.
Heading into 2014, the party needs to build its image among the electorate in a more refined way that it has thus far, playing off the strengths and charisma Trudeau has to offer. However, there are two things the Liberals really need to do: 1. Take back the title of the economy and remind Canadians of the $13 billion surplus they left behind, the regulations they enforced that prevented a banking sector crash, the fact that they lowered taxes in the process and as a bit of a side-note, that the Conservatives under Brian Mulroney introduced the 7% GST. 2. Their policies should be heavily weighted on the economy – a big red-book with plenty of spending and social promises won’t beat a small blue-book with tax cuts and bare-bones.
The Conservatives have had a terrible year, their few achievements have been overlooked by their big scandal and to wrap up the year, it turns out their economic propaganda is nothing but half-truths. The Conservatives have dealt with the senate scandal badly and it is eating away at their support. The one thing the Conservatives have going for them is neither opposition party has presented a credible plan to replace them and keep a “sturdy hand” on the economy. No matter what the actual performance of the Conservatives is on the economy – as long as the country doesn’t descend into obvious economic chaos – which it likely won’t – the Conservatives can hold onto the economy as their key area. It just so happens they’re perceived as good economic managers and that is a bonus.
Heading into 2014, the party needs to get its house in order and clean up the mess looming internally. A tough-on-crime, accountable government shouldn’t be hiding from its own scandal and hiding behind the words their leader once uttered of the former government in its rough days. Every party can overcome scandal with a clean slate – just look at the Liberals. It is also going to be important for the Conservatives to ensure Canadians benefit from their recovery because when Canadians doubt a recovery and the stats may or may not point to one, there is a problem that will only escalate over time. The drop in the polls is expected, the party will have been in power for 9 years come 2015, but will need fresh ideas, fresh faces and a renewed commitment to principle to get somewhere.
The NDP haven’t had a great year. Their poll numbers set them back to distant third and their results in recent byelections weren’t spectacular. While Thomas Mulcair has done a good job in Question Period, some of the more radical and pointed positions he’s been taking – particularly around energy – have taken a hit to his credibility and have offered the Liberals a chance to shine. Mulcair also needs to look at the tactics his predecessor used because Canadians who are growing tired of the mudslinging in our discourse will see three options: 1. The Party we know that will rip you to pieces if you aren’t one of their own. 2. The Party we don’t recognize that will welcome you with open arms into their discourse and comes with a completely fresh new outlook. 3. The Party we don’t know that will rip the Liberals to pieces just as often as the Conservatives without offering a pragmatic and clear plan. This scenario will depend on what the Liberals do to determine if its PM Harper or PM Trudeau.
Heading into 2014, the party needs to define itself. The NDP is the Official Opposition for the first time in history and many Canadians still have no clue what an NDP government would look like. The NDP also has this idealist reputation which appeals to youth and dreamers but when push comes to shove, they’re the party that seems unready to govern. There is no doubt that as Environment Minister in Jean Charest’s Liberal government in Quebec that Mulcair can employ his experiences to his advantage buit his message and his party’s policies will determine its fate in 2015. Like the Liberals, the NDP needs to put the economy front and centre and start appealing to centrist voters – who are parked in the Conservative Party right now. Albeit, no one would expect a non-left-wing NDP, a pragmatic left-wing NDP would certainly have a better chance than its past platforms. Another thing to note: don’t try to be the Liberals and don’t try to impersonate the Conservatives.
How would you sum up the year?