To borrow a Rocksidean phrase, it's been another busy year, and since I'm an internet journalist with a seasonal dearth of creativity, it's that time of the year for lists. Again, Guelph Politico will count down the stories of the year in two lists, the National/International stories and the Local/Provincial Stories. Going first is the Top 10 on all matters of federal and global importance, with wars and rumours of wars, pestilence and politicking, and political quakes in Alberta and Quebec all making the cut. To widdle this year 2014 down to just 10 big things was a bit of a chore, but I'll leave it you, the reader, to decide if its reflective of your experience.
10) The Gradual Liberalization of America
It doesn't show in who they vote for in order to represent them, but if one there was another message from the 2014 midterm elections in the United States, aside from the total victory of the Republicans, it was the success of many left wing ballot measures, especially in states that are blood red Red States. Marijuana was legalized in two more states, Alaska and Oregon, and the District of Columbia, and medical marijuana was approved in Florida. Alaska was also one of the states that approved minimum wage increases along with Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Illinois also endorsed the mandatory coverage of prescription contraception by health insurance companies, and to raise income tax on those making more than $1 million to help public schools in the state. North Dakota and Colorado voted against a personhood amendment to the criminal code and a "right to life" amendment in the state constitution, respectively, both would have seriously restricted women's right to access abortion services in those states. All this suggests that people in the United States are more liberal than their choice in government representatives would have you believe. In the meantime though, President Barack Obama has moved forward with immigration reform, climate change, and the thawing diplomatic relations with Cuba. Things will get a whole lot harder for American progressives in 2015, but demographics in the long term are much more favorable for those on the left than those on the right.
9) The Roller Coaster of Alberta Politics
Alison Redford should have been a Conservative hero after her 2012 win over the Wildrose Party affirmed that the Progressive Conservative dynasty would continue for, at least, another term; snatching victory of the jaws of upstart defeat as it were. But the power, I guess you can say, went to Redford's head because not long after winning her first provincial election she started spending like a drunken sailor. The exposure of a $45,000 trip to the funeral of Nelson Mandela was the first domino to fall, which prompted a closer look at the travel expenses of the Premier and the discovery that the extravagance didn't end with trips to the funerals of foreign leaders. Nope. Redford was paying her own chief of staff more than the Prime Minister of Canada was paying his, making up people so that she could fly on government planes on her own, and building her own "Skypalace" in the penthouse of a Calgary office building with tax money. In the end, Redford's own caucus revolted and she had to go. Enter Jim Prentice, former Federal cabinet minister, who was apparently change that Danielle Smith and several other members of the Wildrose caucus could believe in, saying, "Under Premier Prentice’s strong leadership, I believe we can work together to lead Alberta with a renewed focus on the values and principles that we share." The result is the strongest PC bench in Alberta since the days of Ralph Klein, and the complete undermining of the strongest opposition the PCs have faced in forever. Despite Alberta's problems, is seems as though the Progressive Conservatives are set for another four or five decades.
8) The Fight Over Ukraine
What began as a fervent, but relatively peaceful, protest against President Viktor Yanukovych and his move to create closer ties between the Ukraine and Russia rather than the European Union, became violent in January when the government passed sweeping anti-protest laws. It was only about a month later that the pressure got too much and Yanukovych was removed from office by the parliament in an effort to calm things down. No such luck. The pro-Russian eastern and southern Ukraine took offense, and soon the Crimean area of Ukraine was announcing its own referendum to establish ties to Russia and sever them from the rest of the Ukraine. The overwhelming endorsement in Crimea to return to Russia prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to send military support, including, reportedly, a Buk missile launched which is suspected to have brought down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in July (one of two incidents in a bad year for Malaysian Airlines). Although world attention has moved back to the Middle East and ISIS, the situation in the Ukraine is still ongoing with over 2,500 people dead, almost 1 million people displaced and unlikely to return home, and economic turmoil in Russia as western leaders keep pushing new sanctions hoping the falling ruble will prompt Putin to see reason. So far, there's been no sign of success...
7) Harper V. The Supreme Court of Canada
There was a Globe & Mail editorial this past summer that said the Supreme Court of Canada was the real opposition to Stephen Harper, and they proved it again in 2014, except this time, with a bit more spite and outrage coming from the PM. In 2014 alone, the SCOC ruled that the government had to give clear sentencing provisions, that it was unconstitutional to restrict parole rights to some offenders, put the kibosh on senate reform, shot down the nomination of Marc Nadon and heard a case that looks likely to open the door to doctor assisted death and end of life care. Of course, constant defeats at the hands of an unelected body is bound to get to you eventually, so when Harper said that Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin's attempt to warn him about the ineligibility of Nadon was "inappropriate," everyone from first year law students to the International Commission of Jurists fell on him. If Harper's time as PM has been a long-term mission to change the face of Canada, then the Supreme Court is the one tenant that refuses to leave the building even though the wrecking ball is right outside, ready to roll.
6) Failure on the Veterans File
The Conservatives played defense almost all year long, but really no cabinet minister was more besieged more often than Julian Fantino. The Veterans Affairs Minister kept tripping over himself as the demands of his files got hotter and hotter as a significant number of returned soldiers committed suicide and the government was facing criticism for closing several veterans affairs office across the country. And then there's Julian Fantino, the face of government for veterans and veterans' issues. He arrived late with a meeting with a veterans group before getting shirty with their outrage in a confrontation that was captured in a viral video. Another video captured Fantino as we walked away, speeding down a hall, as a frustrated wife of a veteran tried to get his attention. But aside from Fantino's foibles, there was also the matter of over $1 billion in funds budgeted for VA that was returned to the treasury, and the disastrous roll out of new funds to help veterans which no one realized would take 35 years to be fulfilled in total. The weird part of it all is Fantino's tin ear to criticism, and his total and complete lack of political acumen despite at one time being the head of two major police forces. As an immigrant born in Italy in 1942, there's no doubt of Fantino's love and reverence for vets, so long as they're of a certain age. But it's the veterans of peacekeeping missions and the War in Afghanistan that need his help now, and unless he has a Scrooge-like revelation, Fantino may be the one that needs help in 2015.
5) Ebola Becomes a Crisis (in Africa)
The nameless/faceless Ebola doctor was Time's Person of the Year, and while it's another sanitized choice on the part of the magazine, a harmless selection that will not cause too much controversy, there's still a very good reason to recognize the heroic work of those people fighting Ebola. It had begun in Guinea this time last year, and as with many developments in Africa, for good or ill, the world didn't notice. But in the summer, when two American aid workers were suddenly struck with the disease, everyone realized that this was a pandemic, and freaked out accordingly. When a man in Dallas was hospitalized with Ebola, the reaction was immediate and over-the-top as Americans across the country kept their kids home from school or looked anxiously for a way to mitigate their exposure; it was all reminiscent of 2011 when some Americans were desperate to get their hands on iodine pills after Fukishima. Meanwhile, as the year ends in Africa, almost 20,000 people have been infected and just over 7,500 people have died. Even though the number of new cases reported has gone down since spikes in total cases in late October/early November, the crisis is far from over, and the Africa countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea will be dealing with the fallout for years.
4) PQ Out as Quebec Remembers Federalism
It wasn't the growing deficit, or the Quebec Charter of Values that sunk the Parti Quebecois and Pauline Marois in this past spring's provincial election in La belle province, it was one guy with the initials PKP who raised his fist in solidarity and said, "I want Quebec to become a country." That's fine, we all want things we can't have, but to make that the crux of your first public statement as a political candidate saw former Quebecor boss Pierre Karl Péladeau make an election issue out of separation, which not even the separatist party wanted to talk about. The Charbonneau Commission hadn't wrapped yet, but Péladeau's fist and the sudden concern about a third referendum made Quebec voters able to ignore the rampant corruption that made them vote out the Liberals just eight months earlier and return them to power with a clear majority. Marois couldn't even keep her own seat, and now it looks like PKP is the heir apparent to the leadership of the PQ. That should go well with the social democratic wing of the party, depending on a guy who was known as a union buster before gaffing so bad in his first press conference. As for Marois, well, now Kim Campbell has someone to look down on...
3) Women Take a Stand Against Violence
It started quite bizarrely enough with an announcement that Jian Ghomeshi was fired from his CBC radio gig, and was followed up an even more bizarre Facebook post where Ghomeshi explicitly outlined how the CBC gave him the old heave-ho because of his sexual proclivities. Then the floodgates opened, and it wasn't just Ghomeshi that got carried away. The Twitter hashtag #beenrapedneverreported took off at almost the same time, giving voice and comfort to women who felt for whatever reason that they couldn't report their assault. In the United States, another celebrity fell under the weight of sexual assault obligations; America's dad Bill Cosby is now not much better than a pariah. Then, to cap off the year, the revelation that a Facebook group of male dental students at Dalhousie University included numerous references to female students the men would like to rape and how they'd like to rape them. All this occurred in and around the 25th anniversary of the attack on L'École Polytechnique in Montreal on December 6, 1989, a stark anniversary that reminds us that in the fight for gender equality there's still a ways to go in some quarters.
2) ISIS Becomes Public Enemy #1
The inevitability of things going wrong in Iraq was more a matter of time than a matter of circumstance, and when ISIS decided to head east from their base in Syria late last year, things in Iraq went from bad to worse. Quickly seizing a huge chunk of northwestern Iraq, killing thousands of civilians in the process and causing members of the Iraqi army to ditch their uniforms and flee at the sight of them, ISIS seemed unstoppable, a blitzkrieg unrivaled since the Germans marched to Paris in 1940. A war weary West hedge their bets on humanitarian aid, until ISIS showed its skill at recruiting fighters from Canada, the U.S. and Europe through social media, and then they started executing foreign prisoners in rather lavishly produced viral videos. Enough was enough, and the United States started pushing for foreign intervention while still recognizing that no one was really up for another adventure in Iraq. Air strikes were the happy middle, and many countries, including Canada, signed up for the opportunity. But while the ISIS advance has been halted, it certainly hasn't been defeated and it shows really no sign of giving up the fight. Really though, the actual power of ISIS seems to be in the way its inspiring "lone wolf" attacks, like the recent hostage taking at a cafe in Martin Place in Sydney, Australia, which brings us to...
1) Attack on Ottawa
It was an ordinary day in the nation's capital, but it didn't stay that way. Reports of a shooting of a sentry on duty at the National War Memorial gave way to a panic as news broke that a gunman, or several gunmen, were loose throughout Parliament Hill. The government and official opposition were locked down in their respective caucus rooms while outside in the Hall of Honour, a gunfight ensued between security, police officers and what turned out to be just one man with a shotgun, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau. At the end of a long day, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo ended up being Bibeau's only casualty, but coming immediately after the death of Warrant officer Patrice Vincent, who was run over and killed by Martin Couture-Rouleau in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec just a few days earlier, people were understandably on edge. To our collective national credit, there was no post-attack freakout, or calls for restrictive or invasive new security measures (although there is a debate as to whether or not to treat the perpetrators as Muslim extremists or mentally unbalanced criminals). The outpouring of grief directed to the soldiers was heartening, as was the detente in partisan sniping on Parliament Hill for however short a time it lasted. In the end though, the attack, though tragic, showed the very best of Canada: the True North strong and free.