Lisa LaFlamme: Top 10 News Stories of 2015
Published Wednesday, December 23, 2015 12:45PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, December 24, 2015 10:31PM EST
Editorial meetings are never dull. I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by a pack of whip smart news hounds as we hash out the night’s lead story and what should or shouldn’t make it into the nightly newscast. Now imagine that same team debating what stories should make the top 10 of 2015. We sift through all the events we share with you night after night and whittle them down to 10.
It’s a daunting, but invigorating, task. Stretching it to a top 20 list would make life so much easier. (I know, I say that every year!)
Despite an exceptionally busy 2015, there was no debate over number one.
The 78 day election campaign, one of the longest in Canadian history ended the way hardly anyone predicted in August, so the Liberal majority was a no-brainer for top spot.
Make sure to bookmark this page because starting tonight we’ll be adding videos from our national reporters relating to each night’s countdown story, from number 10 and counting down to number 1 on New Year’s Day.
Along with the historic election, the stories range from a long-awaited national inquiry into the murder and disappearance of over a thousand indigenous women, to the troubling spread of a terror organization.
At least one story though, brought particular joy to a lot of Canadians, including the bandwagon jumpers like myself.
Let’s begin with number 10:
BLUE JAYS PLAYOFF RUN
Who knew a team from Toronto could bring the country together in such an exciting way? In our hockey-obsessed nation where much of the population loves to hate the Leafs, where rivalries make for fierce divisions between and even within provinces, seeing footage from our affiliates from St. John’s to Vancouver of fans proudly wearing Jays colours was pretty amazing. Rare to see people right across the country rooting for Toronto!
While the American League Championship Series and the exciting buildup to it happened smack in the middle of a federal election campaign, the team hardly took a backseat when it came to the public’s attention. In fact, fans were appealing for federal party leaders to please stop coming to games because the team lost whenever any of them attended. The leaders, if you forget, listened. Remember these tweets?
Election night coverage competed with a big Jays game so throughout our marathon show, elections producer Rosa Hwang was giving me score updates in my ear. The Liberals did better than the Jays.
They fell short of reaching the World Series, but their impressive run after blockbuster deals in July brought bona fide superstars to the city, sparking the team and attracting wave after wave of new fans, was thrilling. Since then the Jays have lost beloved general manager Alex Anthopoulous and inimitable pitcher David Price, but the power core of the offence is intact. Let’s hope some of the magic spills into 2016.
ABORIGINALS SEEKING JUSTICE
“We need nothing less than a total renewal of the relationship between Canada and indigenous peoples.”
There were two empty chairs on the stage Dec. 15 at the unveiling of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the history of Canada’s residential school system. The chairs honoured and symbolized those who couldn’t be there – boys and girls who never came home from residential schools.
That day, the commission formally wrapped up its six-year exhaustive process documenting the tragedy and suffering in Canada's residential schools system, where for over the course of a century, 150,000 indigenous children were taken from their families and subjected to unimaginable abuse, so many of them left broken.
The quote below the photo, by the way, is from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who with tears in his eyes also promised his government will go beyond the 94 "calls to action" cited in the commission’s report.
A week before, the Liberal government also launched the first phase of a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women. It’s something the families of the victims and aboriginal leaders have wanted for years, with calls for a national inquiry growing louder since a 2014 RCMP review found that 1,181 indigenous women had been murdered or gone missing since 1980.
The Liberals also promised to address investment in education funding and lifting the two per cent funding cap for First Nations programs. We will stay on this story through 2016 to follow the promise.
Commission Chair Justice Murray Sinclair warned that change “will not be immediate. It will take generations,” but for residential school survivors like Eugene Arcand it’s a start, and a chance to finally heal.
"It gave us a chance ... a chance to become children again," said Arcand.
The results were, quite simply, a shocker. On May 5, the Progressive Conservative dynasty of almost 44 years came to a dramatic end, and the NDP led by Rachel Notley won in a landslide.
Led by Jim Prentice, the PCs -- the party of “King” Ralph Klein and Peter Lougheed that’s won every provincial election since 1971 -- lost so badly they didn’t even make official opposition, placing third behind the Wildrose. It was also one of the worst losses that any provincial government in Canada has ever suffered. To refresh your memory, the results: the NDP took 53 seats out of 87. The Wildrose had 21 and the PCs were reduced to 9 (they were at 61 before).
Prentice immediately stepped down as party leader and resigned his seat.
This was an election where the polls pretty much nailed it. Since April the NDP had been leading in most of them and with a pretty comfortable lead that made political observers think Notley might actually pull it off. But it’s safe to say most of them didn’t think the she could do it in such resounding fashion.
Since then, the polls show support for the NDP has dropped, the honeymoon period is over as the plummeting price of oil hangs over the province. The party was criticized for running a $6.1-billion deficit and delaying its provincial budget. And last week Notley was on the defensive over her election promise to raise Alberta’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. There were rumours of a delay after an internal memo said the increase could result in “significant job loss.”
Looking forward to 2016, Notley touted her government’s handling of environmental issues, with plans to phase out coal and invest in green technologies. She has said climate change policy, along with economic security and health care are among the top issues her government plans to address.
It was a year of diplomatic triumphs for the U.S., with Barack Obama scoring big wins when it came to two historic enemies of America: Iran and Cuba.
On July 13, negotiators reached a deal to limit Tehran’s nuclear program, ultimately its ability to make an atom bomb, in exchange for lifting decades of economic sanctions against Iran. Leading up to that day took years of delicate diplomacy and a final three-week negotiating marathon in Vienna between Iran and six world powers -- the U.S., Russia, China, U.K., France and Germany.
"This is a historic moment," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said after the deal was done. "We are reaching an agreement that is not perfect for anybody, but it is what we could accomplish, and it is an important achievement for all of us. Today could have been the end of hope on this issue. But now we are starting a new chapter of hope."
The terms still allow Iran to enrich uranium, to the dismay of critics -- including Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. House Speaker John Boehner -- who wanted an outright dismantling of the country’s nuclear program. But Iran can only enrich to no more than 3.67 per cent, far lower than the uranium needed to make a weapon, but enough for civilian purposes such as a power plant. And under the deal, if Iran doesn’t meet its obligations there is a “snap back” provision, and sanctions can be put in place once again.
Just a week after the Iran deal was done, the U.S. and Cuba restored diplomatic relations – with assistance from Canada. The relationship severed during the Cold War was healed over a period of 18 months when U.S. and Cuban officials met in secret locations in Ottawa and Toronto.
A small cadre of Canadian officials helped facilitate the meetings, although then Prime Minister Stephen Harper noted Canada had no role in directing or mediating the negotiations.
"During the Cuban missile crisis we were facing the possibility of nuclear war," Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor to U.S. President Jimmy Carter, told CTV’s Joy Malbon in Washington. He added that “80 million people would have been dead” had such a war broke out.
Here's Joy Malbon's web-exclusive, extended video of her interview with Dr. Brzezinski.
The Canadian economy is number 6 on our list. Economists are warning that with resource prices plummeting over the last few months, the outlook for 2016 isn’t very 'happy'.
In mid-2014, oil hit a high of US$108 a barrel. Then the descent began, and it’s now languishing below US$40 a barrel after spending much of 2015 under US$50. The result was disastrous for Canada with at least 40,000 jobs lost this year with big revenue shortfalls in oil-producing provinces – coupled with a sharp drop in the Loonie.
Alberta was hit the hardest, its once booming economy in freefall because oil companies simply couldn’t make money at the lower price of oil. Financial experts say it appears certain the province’s outlook for the fourth quarter will show a contraction.
You may recall in July the Bank of Canada shocked markets by cutting its key lending rate -- for the second time this year -- to 0.50 per cent over concerns about the direction of the economy. “Canada's economy is undergoing a significant and complex adjustment," the bank said at the time, noting there was a modest recession in the first half of the year as the economy contracted.
The experts say the bank’s goal, was to weaken the Canadian dollar thereby making Canadian exporters more competitive. But that boost never happened, and monthly job numbers didn’t improve. Canada was, in fact, the first G7 country to slash rates in the face of plummeting oil prices.
With the new Liberal government elected on a promise of deficit spending to kickstart the economy, federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau has a lot on his plate in the New Year. In a speech in Toronto on Dec. 14, he said the new Liberal government will form an economic advisory council with experts from both the private and public sectors, with the goal of figuring out how to steer Canada out of the economic muck, and help it rebound after the steep slide in commodity prices and failure in other sectors to pick up the slack.
CLIMATE CHANGE / ENVIRONMENT
2015 certainly had its share of wild weather events, from deadly mudslides that buried buildings in China and killed dozens, to devastating floods in Chennai, India caused by the heaviest rainfall the city experienced in a century.
There are plenty of images and videos we will show you of this extreme weather when our #5 countdown story airs on CTV National News on Dec. 27. But take a look at this map below and you’ll see what experts are calling the biggest weather-related story of the year:
The map shows the temperature of the Earth in November -- the warmest November on record by a huge margin, according to NASA measurements. The global average temperature for November was 1.05 degrees Celsius warmer than the average temperature from 1951 to 1980. Not only that, the World Meteorological Organization announced -- just days before the international climate talks in Paris – that 2015 may go down as the warmest year on record.
On top of that, the past five years are shaping up to be the hottest five-year period on record.
The World Meteorological Organization report says it’s thanks to the “twin forces of human-induced climate change and a strong El Nino this year.” Out-of-control wildfires in Indonesia didn’t help any, releasing an immense amount of carbon into the atmosphere.
In Canada, hot temperatures and low rainfall led to drought in the west, prompting officials to declare an agricultural disaster in August. And in B.C., in one of the worst fire seasons of the past decade, more than 300,000 hectares of forest burned in wildfires caused by the dry conditions and lightning.
World leaders tackled the troubling pattern at this year’s climate talks in Paris, where Canada played an active role. An agreement was reached to restrict greenhouse gas emissions and curb global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels.
“History will remember this day,” UN Secretary General Ban-Ki moon said in Paris on Dec. 12. In Washington, President Barack Obama said the agreement offers “the best chance to save the one planet we have.”
As for how this will all affect Canada, there’s been concern the targets would lead to substantial losses in investment and jobs, especially in the energy sector. While Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said she’s confident her province can contribute – even thrive -- under the targets, Conservative environment critic Ed Fast warns that tens of thousands of jobs are already being lost in the energy sector, and that Canada must take “realistic” measure to meet our climate change commitment while ensuring the economy grows.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, meanwhile, has said his government will meet with the provinces and territories in the first few months of 2016 to develop an emissions plan.
As I write this it's about 12 degrees Celsius just days before Christmas - global warming or just a strange weather pattern? All I know is that we're likely to have a green Christmas this year!
WAR ON ISIS
Over the past two years, ISIS has rapidly extended its reach beyond its base in northern Iraq and eastern Syria, becoming more than just a terror organization as it spread its tentacles across the globe. In the words of former CIA deputy director Michael Morell, ISIS is at once “a terrorist group, a state, and a revolutionary political movement.” He added: “We have not faced an adversary like this before.”
The U.S.-led coalition dropped thousands of bombs on ISIS targets this past year, and in November, President Barack Obama declared the coalition had the group on its heels, that ISIS was on the “defensive” and that they will “lose.” There has been little to back that up. A few weeks ago an intelligence report commissioned by the White House found that ISIS’s numbers could, in fact, rise -- unless they lose territory in Iraq and Syria. ISIS is estimated to have lost tens of thousands of fighters and supporters -- but still, they seem to replenish their ranks, manage to capture more towns and cities and have declared wilayats – or official provinces – in countries including Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
Meanwhile, terrorist groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria are pledging allegiance to ISIS.
In December U.S., French, British and Canadian jets crowded the skies over Syria and we learned just last week that Canadian soldiers and fighter jets helped to repel an attack by hundreds of ISIS militants in northern Iraq on Dec. 17. And notably, two of Canada’s six CF18s – which the Liberals have promised to pull out of the airwar – were reportedly key in helping friendly forces in Iraq re-estalish their front-line defence.
As we head into 2016 we still don’t know Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s replacement plan for the CF18s. More trainers on the ground could prove a lot more dangerous for Canadian Forces considering the unpredictability of this enemy.
TERROR ATTACKS ON SOFT TARGETS
The targets were the vulnerable, the unprotected. A concert hall, Parisenne cafes, a hotel in Mali, a Russian passenger plane, a holiday party in San Bernadino: just a few of the soft targets where terrorists unleashed their campaigns of death and destruction in 2015.
The November attacks in Paris that left 130 dead, and a country in a state of emergency, were even more numbing considering the year began in that city with an attack on the offices of French satirical paper Charlie Hebdo. Two gunmen, brothers, who identified themselves as belonging to al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen killed 11 people and injured 11 others on Jan. 7.
We did the national news from Paris in the days following the November attacks. It's a city I know well from my days as an au pair but everything was different that week - and still is today. It's tough to define the mood there but the French are the personification of resistance and I know they will bounce back from the horrors of 2015 and be stronger.
If you look back at this year, the number of soft targets attacked by Islamic State -- or those claiming affiliation -- it’s stunning. In March, more than 130 people died in suicide bombings at mosques in Sana’a, Yemen – the deadliest attack in the country’s history. In June, 37 people were killed at a resort in Sousse, Tunisia at the hands of gunmen, many of the victims were British tourists. And just one day before the recent Paris attacks, in Beirut, Lebanon, 43 people died when suicide bombers targeted a busy street.
French President Francoise Hollande called for a “union of all who can fight this terrorist army in a single coalition,” stepping up security in the country while declaring war against ISIS.
Other world leaders pledged to deepen their involvement in what is turning into a global campaign against the Islamic State’s growing threat.
British PM David Cameron warned ISIS is evolving, and there’s a greater ambition for mass casualty attacks. After a vote in their parliament British fighter jets have now joined the bombing raids over Syria.
Since January, 2015, the civilian death toll -- outside Iraq and Syria – is now well over 1,000.
Look at these numbers from 2015 alone:
- 981,360: refugees that have claimed asylum so far this year in Europe. (Source: EU statistics agency Eurostat)
- 920,000: refugees that arrived in the EU by sea alone, between January and November. (Source: International Organization for Migration)
- 315,000: asylum applications by refugees just in Germany, which received the highest number of applications in the EU. (Source: EU statistics agency Eurostat)
- 2,800: refugees reported to have died in the Mediterranean trying to cross from Libya to Italy. (Source: International Organization for Migration)
The numbers are staggering, but the stories they tell are far from whole as we’ve just begun to hear the accounts of people who have finally started to arrive in Canada. It’s a process that started smack in the middle of a federal election campaign, when the photo of the lifeless body of 3-year old Aylan Kurdi on a Turkish beach put the issue into sharp focus.
Kurdi’s death became a symbol of the refugee crisis, turning it into a key election issue and prompting a promise by the Liberals to bring 25,000 refugees to Canada by the end of the year.
After the Paris attacks, the Liberal government readjusted that deadline to address security concerns of Canadians. Now 10,000 Syrian refugees are expected to arrive in Canada by New Year’s Day, another 15,000 will arrive in January and February. At least 10,000 more will arrive later in 2016. That’s a minimum of 35,000 Syrian refugees arriving in Canada by the end of the year.
Over the last month it’s been overwhelming to watch so many Canadians, the unsung heroes, who have volunteered hundreds of hours to help the refugees settle in. At a clothing donation centre in Toronto a friend of mine was helping one Syrian family find winter clothes. She told me about 10 year old Mohammed. He was digging through a big box of winter hats when he found one with a Batman motif. He put it on and actually ‘high-fived’ the mirror. Mohammed didn’t speak English but at that moment, everybody understood.
It was 10:35 p.m. ET on October 19 when CTV News projected a majority for the Liberals in the 42nd general election. The 43-year-old former high-school teacher and son of Pierre Trudeau swept 184 out of 338 ridings across Canada after a 78-day, hard-fought campaign against Stephen
Harper. Our election map that night showed a wave of Liberal red that spread from Canada’s Atlantic provinces right to the west coast.
With an economy in the doldrums and 10 years of under Stephen Harper’s rule, polls showed Trudeau’s ‘newbie’ status likely fed into a desire among the electorate for change. Our own CTV/Nanos poll in September in fact said 69 per cent were yearning for change, a number unchanged from a similar poll a month earlier. The Liberals also gained at the expense of the NDP, who didn’t differentiate from the Conservatives on the niqab issue or their position on deficits. The Liberals were able to outflank them on the left. It didn’t begin that way for the Liberals, who, early in the game appeared to have little chance against the formidable Tom Mulcair and his surging NDP or the well-organized Conservatives with their deep pockets and wealth of experience. Remember, Harper himself won a majority in 2011 because of his steady approach when it came to the economy, and he was widely credited with steering Canada through the global financial crisis relatively unscathed compared with other G7 nations. His victory that year came at the expense of the Liberals who suffered their worst electoral defeat in history.
But as the campaign wore on, wrenches were pitched into the well-oiled Conservative machine. During an Aug. 6 leaders debate Harper came under fire by Trudeau, Mulcair, and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May over his economic and environmental records. "You have completely become disconnected from the reality that people are facing right across this country," was one of Trudeau’s barbs to Harper.
On Aug. 12, Harper’s former chief of staff Nigel Wright began testimony at the criminal trial of Sen. Mike Duffy, and for weeks the drama in Courtroom 33 played heavily in the election campaign – Harper was unable to stick to his message on the economy and security. He faced question after question about his chief of staff, Ray Novak, after it became know he was on an email chain about Wright’s plan to repay Duffy’s expenses.
Then, on Sept. 3, the photo of the lifeless body of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi on a Turkish beach surfaced and suddenly, dramatically, changed the tone of the campaign, shifting the focus squarely on the refugee crisis. It gave Canadians a clear view on where each party stands, the Conservatives maintaining the need to keep fighting Islamic militants in order to address the root cause of suffering in Syria and Iraq, while promising to bring an additional 10,000 refugees over 4 years (later in the campaign they would speed up that time frame to 10,000 Syrian refugees by 2016); and Trudeau who pledged a Liberal government would resettle 25,000 refugees by the end of the year.
But it was actually Tom Mulcair who had one of the most pointed quotes against Harper in that phase of the campaign: "When I hear the answers from the prime minister, saying, 'Well, more war is the solution,' well, no amount of military action would have saved that child on that (Turkish) beach," he said.
In a long election campaign those weren’t the only issues. Remember the niqab debate in which Mulcair took a formidable hit in Quebec. What about ‘barbaric cultural practices’? Opponents pounced on Conservative candidate Chris Alexander who promised an RCMP tip line for Canadians who witness “barbaric cultural practices,” and for suggesting a Conservative government would ban public servants from wearing the niqab.
As we head into 2016, it’s a vast understatement to say Trudeau and the Liberals have a lot on their plate. From deciding exactly what Canada’s contribution to the fight against ISIS will be; carrying out the promise of bringing in 35,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016; starting the first phase of the inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women; and of course, the biggie - tabling their first Federal Budget in March or April.
2015 has been a remarkable year on so many levels. At times, inescapably sad and at others, overwhelmingly inspiring.
You've been through it all along with us and for that we thank you. I am always deeply grateful for the loyalty of our viewers, the feedback and your trust.
Happy holidays to you and Happy New Year, everyone.
See you in 2016.