Canada’s top political stories of 2016

It was another year of big headlines on Parliament Hill. The new Liberal government tried to find its feet, a bromance bloomed and — as usual — more than a few people found themselves in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Here, in no particular order, are the top political moments of 2015. Elbows up!

Bromance with Barack

Whether real or imagined, the friendship between incoming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and outgoing President Barack Obama was the subject of endless chatter in 2016.

A visit to Washington, D.C. in the spring featured the like-minded leaders cuddling babies and posing for photos, and culminated in a glittering state dinner.

The goodwill continued when Obama showed up over the summer to address Parliament, prompting (some said embarrassing) chants of “four more years!” in the House.

There were hugs. There were high-fives. The word “dude-plomacy” was uttered. It all ended too soon.

Mulcair gets rejected. Hard.

If Tom Mulcair thought he was going to get a pass from his party’s membership after a dismal showing in the 2015 federal election, he got a very rough dose of reality at the NDP convention in April.

Pundits speculated that Mulcair would need to clear 70 per cent support in order to stay on as leader. He didn’t even hit 50.

Then, because things just weren’t awkward enough, he confirmed he’ll be staying on until a replacement is chosen sometime in 2017. So far, nobody has officially entered the race.

Elbowgate

By international standards, our House of Commons is downright serene, so a brief moment of contact between the prime minister’s elbow and a fellow MP’s upper body qualified as an all-out ruckus.

Trudeau apologized three times for the elbow-to-the-chest heard around the world. Politicians rose to express their shock and dismay, media went nuts (sorry), and average Canadians just wanted the whole thing to blow over. Eventually, it did.

Assisted death

Canada’s new assisted-dying law was arguably the
most contentious and sensitive piece of legislation handled by the House of Commons this year, but it was the Senate that really threw a wrench in the government’s plans to get the law in place before everyone went home for the summer.

Once the bill was in front of them, the Red Chamber tried passing an amendment to give Canadians who aren’t terminally ill access to doctor-assisted death (which is more in line with a ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada), but the House of Commons rejected that amendment and sent the bill back again.

ChangSha Night Net

Complicating matters was the growing crop of independent senators who were not compelled to vote along party lines. The legislation was widely seen as the first major test of how a truly independent Senate might work.

In the end, the Senate yielded. The more restrictive legislation became law in June, to the relief of some Canadians and the dismay of others.

Expenses

It cost taxpayers $200,000 to move two top Trudeau aides from Toronto to Ottawa, $3,700 to cover limo rides for the health minister, and $6,600 to pay a photographer to follow our environment minister minister around.

Scandals involving government expenses are nothing new in Canada ($16 orange juice, anyone?), but the Liberals set a new record for the sheer number of damaging headlines in August and September.

The prime minister promised, each time, that his government was reviewing how expenses are handled.

Values screening

Kellie Leitch was barely a blip on the political radar when she launched her campaign to become the next leader of the Conservative Party, but all that changed with an email sent to her supporters in the fall. Leitch wanted to know if they thought screening immigrants and refugees for “anti-Canadian values” was a good idea.

What followed was weeks of controversy, debate and speculation about what, exactly, an “anti-Canadian value” might be.

Leitch doubled (and tripled) down, in spite of opposition from within her own party, then added fuel to the fire with praise of president-elect Donald Trump.

Expect the controversies to continue. The Conservatives aren’t set to choose a new leader until next May.

Liz may resign

Elizabeth May has been the face of the federal Green Party and its sole MP for a decade, so when she began talking about stepping down, people took notice.

May found herself in direct conflict with her party’s membership in August when the Greens voted to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel during their convention.

After a week of soul-searching and a meeting with top party brass, she stayed. The party’s support for the BDS movement has since been retracted.

First Nations suicide crisis

The third-world conditions in many First Nations communities across Canada were once again laid bare in April when 11 people tried to take their own lives in a single night in the remote town of Attawapiskat.

Local chief Bruce Shisheesh pleaded for help from Ottawa, highlighting the overcrowded and substandard housing situation plaguing Attawapiskat and many other reserves across Canada.

Eight-year-old Shakira Koostachin plays on a swing in the northern Ontario First Nations reserve in Attawapiskat, Ont.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

“I’m homeless, leading my own community,” Shisheesh told Global News.

“I sleep on a couch, how would you feel if you were leading Attawapiskat and you didn’t have a home or a place to sleep?”

The government responded with emergency aid and a visit from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett. In June, Shisheesh and youth from the community met personally with the prime minister.

Phoenix payroll meltdown

The Liberals inherited a disaster-in-the-making with the roll-out of the Phoenix payroll system in February. The new program, which handles the paycheques of around 300,000 federal public servants, came with a steep learning curve and an already deep backlog of files waiting to be processed.

It promptly flamed out.

For some employees, the money simply dried up, while others failed to receive back-pay or overtime pay. As the crisis deepened and families struggled to pay their mortgages, the government opened new call centres to handle pay files and hired new staff to man the phones. As of December, the backlog still hasn’t been cleared.

Loss of Jim Prentice and Jean Lapierre

Canada’s Parliament lost two former cabinet ministers in 2016, and shockingly they both died in plane crashes. Jean Lapierre, who became a respected Quebec political analyst after leaving federal politics, was killed on March 29 while en route with his family to his father’s funeral in eastern Quebec.

Then, in October, former Alberta premier and federal minister Jim Prentice died in a similar crash at the opposite end of the country, in British Columbia. He had also been travelling with family.

Both deaths shook the federal political scene, with tributes to the two men pouring in from across the country.

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