From court battles to an election, what to expect in Canadian politics in 2015
Parliament Hill in Ottawa is shown on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013. ( Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Michelle Zilio, CTVNews.ca
Published Sunday, January 4, 2015 11:11AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, February 3, 2015 9:44PM EST
It’s going to be a busy year ahead in Canadian politics, with a federal election scheduled in the fall and a number of parliamentary scandals continuing to unravel.
It’s anyone's guess what next year holds, but here are a number of Canadian political stories that are guaranteed to develop in 2015.
A final decision is expected on TransCanada's $8-billion Keystone XL pipeline in 2015. In December, Republican Senator Mitch McConnell said a Keystone bill will be the first item of business in the Senate in the new year. The Republicans will also take control of Congress in January, after a midterm election victory late last year.
A Keystone bill would force U.S. President Barack Obama to make a decision on the project, unless he vetoes it. And Obama has said that he is not afraid to use that veto pen come January.
The Conservative government has long been in favour of the Keystone project. The 1,900-kilometre pipeline would carry crude form Alberta's oilsands through the U.S. to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines to transport oil to Texas refineries.
Federal budget - probably a balanced one
The Conservative government will table its annual federal budget early on in the year -- likely February or March. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government have been touting an anticipated balanced budget for years now.
However, it's unclear what kind of surplus the government will be looking at. Finance Minister Joe Oliver recently pegged the surplus at $1.9 billion -- $4.5 billion less than originally expected, due in part to the government’s proposed tax cuts for families. Canada hasn't had a federal surplus since 2007.
Canadians are tentatively scheduled to go to the polls on Oct. 19, 2015. Despite swirling rumours in Ottawa that the prime minister may drop the writ in the spring, Harper has said he's not planning to call an early election.
And the result of the 2015 election will be a whole other story itself. Will Harper stay in power? If so, will it be a majority or a minority government? Will the NDP and Liberals consider a coalition if the Conservatives form a majority? Political watchers and pundits will be asking these questions and many more as the country creeps toward the election.
At this point, it is looking like Harper intends to lead the Conservatives again. However, that could depend on a number of political scandals expected to drag into 2015.
Mike Duffy trial
The highly-anticipated trial of suspended Sen. Mike Duffy will begin April 7. That means any damaging details will come out before the scheduled federal election.
The former Conservative senator and journalist faces 31 charges, including breach of trust, fraud and bribery in connection with a $90,000 cheque Duffy received from Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright. The controversial cheque was personally written by Wright and meant to help Duffy reimburse the Senate for his ineligible expense claims.
The court has scheduled 41 days for the case: April 7 to May 12, and June 1 to 19. While Harper is doubtful he will be called to testify, Duffy’s lawyer Donald Bayne has not ruled out the possibility. Wright may also be called to the stand.
Possibly right ahead of the Duffy trial, the auditor general is expected to table a major expense audit examining the spending of every senator. Auditor General Michael Ferguson told reporters late last year that his office intends to complete the audit by the end of March.
The Senate has been plagued by scandal since allegations of misspending by four senators -- former Conservatives Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau, and former Liberal Senator Mac Harb. All except Wallin -- who is still under an RCMP investigation -- face charges.
The combination of the report and the Duffy trial could make for a difficult first half of the year for members of the Red Chamber.
Other court appearances
Brazeau and Harb will head to court in the summer of 2015 for their fraud trials, on June 1 and Aug. 10 respectively. Both trials will be held in Ottawa.
And the Tory-linked scandals don’t stop there.
Former Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro, who resigned from the House of Commons in November, will be sentenced Jan. 27. Del Mastro was found guilty on all counts of exceeding spending limits during the 2008 federal election campaign. Del Mastro also previously said he plans to file a motion to re-open his defence, citing "fresh evidence" that was not disclosed by Elections Canada in time for his trial.
Former Conservative staffer Michael Sona awaits an appeal of his conviction and sentence, while the Crown also waits for an appeal of his nine-month sentence. In November, Sona was convicted of election fraud in connection with the 2011 robocalls scandal. He is currently out on bail pending his appeal.
Finally, former Harper senior adviser Bruce Carson will stand trial for influence peddling charges on Sept. 8.
The government is expected to table new legislation that would give security agencies and police new powers. While Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney has repeatedly said the bill is coming, he hasn’t provided an exact date or details. Talk of the new legislation comes more than a month after two separate incidents in Ottawa and St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., that left two Canadian soldiers dead. The Conservative government described both incidents as acts of terrorism.
The Harper government will also seek a legislative thumbs up for its income-splitting plan, which would allow families with children under 18 to divide their incomes in order to reduce their taxes. While the House of Commons passed a motion late last year adopting the tax-cut proposal, formal legislation has not been tabled. Income splitting is one element of the Harper government’s “Family Tax Cut,” and has been highly criticized for favouring richer Canadian households.
NDP leadership vote in Manitoba
The Manitoba NDP will elect a new leader March 8 at the party’s annual convention. The vote comes after some NDP caucus members called on their leader, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, to resign last year. Selinger has been under fire for public disapproval of his decision to increase the provincial sales tax. Selinger will fight to stay on as leader and premier. To date, two of his cabinet ministers -- Steve Ashton and Theresa Oswald -- have resigned to run against him in the leadership bid.
Supreme court decisions
The Supreme Court of Canada is expected to make a number of noteworthy decisions next year. Here are three Canadians will be watching closely.
The Court is expected to decide whether terminally ill Canadians who are mentally-aware have the right to have a medically-assisted death. The appeal, known formally as Carter v. Canada, was launched in 2011 by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and two women, Kay Carter and Gloria Taylor, who have since died.
The top court will also hear two Crown appeals of cases where the Conservative government’s mandatory minimum sentences for firearms charges were found to be unconstitutional. The mandatory minimums came into force as a part of the Harper government’s 2008 omnibus bill.
And Canadians can expect decisions in three union-related cases. In the first case, the Mounted Police Association of Ontario is asking the Supreme Court for the right to form an independent union. Another case, Robert Meredith et. al. v. Attorney General of Canada, challenges the RCMP’s wage increase limits as outlined in the government’s Expenditure Restraint Act. Finally, the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour has asked the Court to decide whether changes to the province’s labour laws are constitutional. The Federation argues that the changes encroach on freedom of association and freedom of expression, including restrictions on those who can strike.
Scheduled provincial elections
In addition to the federal election, a number of provinces, territories, and local governments are scheduled to go to the polls in 2015:
- Prince Edward Island: Provincial election - Oct. 5.
- Northwest Territories: Territorial election - Oct. 5; Hamlets election - Dec. 14; Cities, towns and villages election - Oct. 19.
- Manitoba: Provincial election - Oct. 6.
- Yukon: Municipal election - Oct. 15.
- Nunavut: Cities, towns and villages election - Oct. 19; Hamlets election - Dec. 14.
- Saskatchewan: Provincial election - Nov. 2.