The eight biggest Canadian political stories of 2018
OTTAWA – For Parliament Hill watchers and federal politics junkies, 2018 was news-heavy year. From the tense and dramatic negotiations that culminated in a major new trade pact to the federal government's purchase of a cross-provincial pipeline; as well as several stunning scandals, defections, and departures, 2018 had no shortage of headline-grabbing happenings.
In order of occurrence, here are the eight biggest stories in federal politics in 2018.
#MeToo hits Parliament Hill
Like most examples on this list, this news story wasn’t a one-day story, the issue evolved and expanded in several ways over the course of the year, but it first hit in January as several stories emerged about past allegedly inappropriate behaviour of members of Parliament, both male and female, from the four main federal parties. This conversation prompted political and parliamentary pledges to do better and, so far, has led to changes to the MP-to-MP code of conduct, the Senate harassment policy, enhanced training for staff on the Hill, new rules within the respective political parties, new protections for federal workers, and a bit more sunshine being poured onto the secretive Board that pays MP’s legal fees.
PM Trudeau's troubled India trip
The prime minister headed to India in mid-February for a nine-day state visit with a delegation of ministers, parliamentarians and other dignitaries and officials. The Prime Minister’s Office said the visit “was focused on strengthening the historic ties between our two countries, and promoting economic opportunities that will create good jobs for Canadians.” However, the trip quickly became an ongoing political embarrassment that made headlines for weeks. Traditional Indian wardrobes aside, among the stories that emerged: The unwelcome appearance of attempted murderer Jaspal Atwal, that was floated to be the doings of a sabotage-inclined faction of the Indian government; and the $17,000 price tag to fly Vancouver-based celebrity chef Vikram Vij to help prepare a pair of Indian-inspired meals. Earlier this month the top-secret National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians issued its report on the trip, finding that the RCMP should have done more to flag Atwal's presence and that guest list vetting needs to be improved.
Feds buy $4.5B Trans Mountain pipeline, expansion
In an effort to “de-risk” the problem-plagued Alberta-to-British Columbia pipeline project, the federal government announced in May that it would be spending $4.5 billion to buy the existing line from Kinder Morgan. Finance Minister Bill Morneau also announced that the government would be taking on the remaining construction of the addition, estimated at an additional $7.4 billion. This purchase was said to be done to assure the project goes ahead, despite B.C.’s opposition. The decision was met with strong criticism from all sides of the political spectrum, and from environmental and Indigenous groups that continue to vow the pipeline will not be built. Amid low oil prices and the lacking capacity to move it to market, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley cut provincial oil production.
Maxime Bernier leaves Tories, forms new party
In August, longtime Conservative and one-time leadership contender Maxime Bernier announced he would be leaving that caucus to form his own federal party. The announcement came on the eve of the party’s convention in Halifax, and consistently butting heads with Leader Andrew Scheer. In September, Bernier unveiled the People’s Party of Canada, with the promise of putting “Canadian people first.” He’s since filed his papers for official party recognition with Elections Canada, and is working on building up electoral district associations across the country with the intention of running Candidates in all 338 ridings in 2019.
Canada makes a deal: Farewell NAFTA, hello CUSMA
After nearly 14 months of negotiations, Canada announced late on the last day of September that it had reached a new trilateral trade agreement with the United States and Mexico. The new deal, called the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement, or CUSMA for short—not USMCA as Canada decided at the signing—will replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, once the deal is ratified. It came with some concessions, including expanded U.S. access to the Canadian dairy market; but also included some wins, such as the Chapter 19 dispute resolution mechanism remaining intact. Sticking points remain, with the steel and aluminum tariffs still in place, and the deal still needing to make it through the legislative approval process in all three countries’ respective legislatures.
Marijuana is legalized, amid highs and lows
While the joint really started rolling down the Hill in June when the bill to legalize recreational marijuana Canada-wide passed Parliament, it came to a head on Oct. 17, when the law came into force. As of midnight that day it became legal for adults in Canada to legally possess, grow, and use small amounts of recreational cannabis, making Canada the world's largest country with legal pot sales. If you didn't know it was the day Canada lifted the prohibition on pot, the scene on Parliament Hill wouldn’t have been a strong indication, the momentous occasion was marked by just a small group of people that gathered around the centennial flame lighting celebratory joints. The new regime is still facing growing pains, with the story across the country in the months following largely being one of supply shortages.
Conservatives' collective pushback on the carbon tax
This is an ongoing story, but it came to a head this fall, with the federal government unveiling how it plans to put money back in the pockets of people in the provinces who are led by premiers who have rejected Ottawa’s carbon tax plan. It was at this point that the number of premiers and potential premiers who are saying "no" to the "made-in-Ottawa" plan had grown, with New Brunswick’s Blaine Higgs and Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister throwing their voices behind the push taken on by Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, Alberta UCP Leader and premier-hopeful Jason Kenney, and federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. This gaggle of guys has vowed to block the plan in the name of taxpayers, while Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has chalked it up to lacking real climate change plans of their own.
MPs admit personal troubles, leave caucuses, vow to work independently
Last, and certainly not least, are the stories of Tony Clement and Raj Grewal. Both now count themselves among a small contingent of Independent MPs in the House of Commons. In Clement's case, the longtime MP and former Conservative cabinet minister admitted in November to multiple instances of inappropriate exchanges that "led to acts of infidelity," including two that resulted in OPP and RCMP probes into potential blackmail attempts. The story started to unfold after the married father first revealed that he had sent sexually explicit images and a video of himself to someone who he thought was a consenting female, but allegedly turned out to be an extortionist. Clement has vowed to get help, denying this behaviour ever impacted his work. In Grewal's case, the rookie Liberal MP left, or was removed from the caucus depending who you ask, after saying he was resigning to deal with a gambling addiction that led him to incur millions in debt, which he says he's paid back. His decision to stay on as an MP prompted considerable questions for the government, including about what the PMO knew and when they knew it. In an 11-minute video posted on his Facebook page following numerous stories about his financial troubles, Grewal said he will be making a "final decision" about his political future before Parliament resumes in late January, 2019.