Top five federal politics stories of the decade

Ten years is a long time in Ottawa


Before Christmas the Bill Good Show at CKNW in Vancouver asked me to pick the top five political stories of the decade now drawing to a close. Like all best-of-the-aughts lists, mine is highly debatable. But what the heck—this sort of pastime goes down well with shortbread.

So here’s my list. I offer it in chronological order, rather than order of importance, since one story sometimes seems to lead to the next, almost as if an intelligible narrative to the arbitrary ten-year span is struggling to take shape:

1. August 21, 2002 Jean Chretien announces he will not seek a fourth mandate as Prime Minister, setting in motion the transition to Paul Martin’s leadership of the Liberal party. The overused phrase “end of an era” actually fits.

2. October 16, 2003: Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay announce their agreement in principle to unite the Progressive Conservative and Canadian Alliance parties, setting the stage for the new Conservative Party of Canada.

3. Feb. 10 2004: Auditor General Sheila Fraser’s report on Liberal mismanagement (to say the least) in spending of hundreds of millions in Quebec between 1997 and 2001 begins the sponsorship scandal. Martin would never recover. Stories 1 and 2 take on new meaning.

4. June/July 2006: Between 500 and 1,000 Canadian combat troops join U.S.-led coalition forces in Operation Mountain Thrust,  the start of large-scale fighting against Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan. It’s war, although Canada’s political and military leaders take their time conceding that sobering fact.

5. January 23, 2006: Canadian voters hand Stephen Harper a minority victory in the federal election. The Conservatives win 124 out of 308 seat, up from 99 MPs in 2004. So much for one-party democracy and “Gritlock.” Harper goes on to surprise many with his ability to run a prolonged minority government..

Each of these stories resonated for years. The Liberals have not found stable, convincing leadership since Chrétien departed. The united right continues to dominate national politics. The impact of the sponsorship scandal—especially on Quebec’s electoral map and inside the Liberal party in the province—hasn’t yet washed out of the political system. And the harsh realities of Afghanistan still overshadow all other aspects of foreign and defence policy.

I had trouble leaving two stories off my list. Firstly, Chrétien’s March 17, 2003, announcement that Canada would not join George W. Bush’s “coalition of the willing” in an Iraq invasion, unless there was UN backing. Secondly, the Nov. 27, 2008, start of secret negotiations toward the ill-fated “coalition” they would form, with Bloc support, in an attempt to vote down the Conservatives in the House and form a government.

It would be interesting to draft a list of the top negative stories of the past ten years. For instance, successive federal governments did not come to grips with climate change. Successive governments did not reform Ottawa’s woefully outmoded access to information rules. And the continued disgrace of our unelected, unaccountable, insupportable Senate was not ended.


Top five federal politics stories of the decade

  1. Mr Geddes, not everyone in Canada considers our Senate to be 'disgrace, unaccountable and insupportable".
    It's quite annoying and disconcerting to have the media push their own ideas unto the public, trying to pass it off as an accepted truth that we shall all adhere too.

    • The senate is irrelevant. It is pork barrel politics at its lowest. It has been used by what ever party to thank bag men, sycophantic members of the press, and party faithful. It should be abolished yesterday .

      • Hogwash, give your head a shake. Elected yes

    • OK let's rephrase that. Everyone in Canada with respect for democracy considers the Senate to be a "disgrace, unaccountable and insupportable"

      • Wrong again. I'm not saying the Senate can't stand some tweaking (specifically who gets a seat) but the clowns elected to Parliament certainly show a sober second thought is needed.

    • I suspect even defenders of the status quo will suddenly discover Senate reform once Harper finishes stacking the Senate to his likeing.

  2. I strongly agree with Evalina. Also, June/July 2006. I seem to remember summer coming after January, and you did say you were doing it chronologically. Are you sure that was the date? Because, if true, how is it all the Liberal's fault re: the detainees transferred to Afghanis.

    • Jenn, you're starting to develop a one-track mind. Not a good thing.

      Also it is indicative that Liberal partisans can't recall when Canada's largest militiary offensive since the Korean War occured, even though it happened just 3 short years ago. They're instead totally fixated on a long-resolved problem of the transfer of Taliban prisoners to the Afghan Security forces.

      • Jarrid, you may be right about me. However, I speak for myself, and while I've always wanted to be considered "them" ("them" is powerful, look at all the things "they" do) I am not indicative of anybody else.

    • If you're going to go on the attack over anti-senate media bias then at least be consistent in attacking other media bias.

      "successive federal governments did not come to grips with climate change"

      Isn't that a pretty clear example of the media pushing its own ideas on the public when at least half of us realize there has been no statistically significant warming since 1995.

      • "Realize" and "believe" are actually two different words, and they don't replace each other very accurately.

          • Also distinct from each other: "a link to a right-wing blog with a section called Climategate" versus "a link to convincing evidence that my previous statement is supported science, not predetermined opinion".

          • Also distinct, ad hominem attack instead of looking at the math …

      • "Realize" and "believe" are actually two different words, and they don't replace each other very accurately.

      • I agree with you Jesse, it would have been much better if he'd written, "successive federal governments did not ome to grips with polluting gas emission reductions." Then, there'd have been no problem.

        • Except the term "polluting gas" is incredibly subjective.

          I believe real air pollution, things like sulpher particles and particulate from pulp and paper mills is actually being reduced. Same with car exhaust. Things are a lot better now than they were 20 years ago.

          Now if you consider C02 to be pollution then sure but as I said, completely subjective matter.

          • Even ignoring the greenhouse effect of CO2, it has other polluting properties. It is causing acidification of the ocean, doing significant harm to certain species and ecosystems – and that's just one aspect. Even if you give every benefit of the doubt to the effects of CO2, it is still a pollutant (a minor one, perhaps), with virtually no degree of subjectivity.

          • Sorry Craig but I haven't seen a study that shows carbonic acid has done any harm to the ocean yet.

            I did see a study that showed in a couple of decades it might cause the shells of various crustaceans (sp?) to harden, as an adaptation to their new environment, where as environmentalists had feared their shells would have simply been dissolved. Score one for clams!

            Any substance in too high a degree is a pollutant.

            But we're not anywhere near that point yet. So I maintain that its a subjective point at this time, based on speculative science that may or may not be correct.

          • Yes, any substance in too high a degree is a pollutant, and the question is whether or not we're going to hit that too high of a degree. While temperature forecasts are in doubt, emissions forecasts aren't in much debate and ocean acidification is a simple chemical process that is also relatively well understood.

            The effects of that level of acidification have been studied – sure, they're not happening now, but with a reasonable expectation that they will in the future, it becomes a valid point. Just about any substance at a low enough concentration will not cause damage either – but we're flirting with the threshold here.

            If I toss one candy wrapper on your lawn, it's not going to do much damage, if any, to the grass. Yet, it's still litter. The quantity of the effect doesn't change it's designation.

          • "The quantity of the effect doesn't change it's designation."

            Didn't we just arrive at the exact OPPOSITE conclusion, based on the reality that any substance in too high a concentration is a pollutant ? And where we draw the cut off between what we subjectively consider pollution is often based on how large the quantity of the effect actually is ?

            For example, if I were delivering soil and it had a small amount of uranium in it you probably wouldn't know or care (a lot of soil does in certain regions in Canada).

            Now if I delivered soil and it was brought over from a nuke site you most definetly would care.

            To suggest that every substance is that single piec e of candy wrapper because enough of it would upset us is to suggest then that virtually EVERYTHING is a pollutant – essentially making the term meaningless.

            Sorry but everytime I exhale i'm not polluting the atmosphere !

  3. This post does provide food for thought and you're quite Geddes to point out the interrelatedness of the political events you listed.

    Hard to disagree with any of your picks but I'd drop the Afghan story and replace it with the Coalition one which you listed as a runner up. Time will tell if the Afghan issue will outlive the Coalition story I suppose, so you may right in the end.

    I think the problem in gaging the Coalition story is its relative newness, as it is barely a year old. But if the Libeals and the NDP do eventually unite or enter into a formal coalition in the future, the December 1st Coalition Agreement will be seen as the moment the idea gelled and took root.

    • Oops, I meant to say – "you're quite RIGHT Geddes"

  4. As to your assessment of the current poltical conjuncture, as we start a new decade, the fact that "[t]he Liberals have not found stable, convincing leadership since Chrétien departed" does indeed loom large.

    Michael Ignatieff isn't getting any younger, he'll be 63 in a few months, and it's not out of the realm of possibility that he'll be pushing 65 by the time Canadians next go to the polls. More importantly, his transition from academia to politics hasn't really worked out too well.

    Is 38-year-old Justin Trudeau the answer? Let's be serious.

    Maybe the NDP can find someone to head the future LIberal/NDP coalition of the next decade.

    • Chretien was and still is a dishonest bully, (sponsorship scandal) only the 2nd PM to go to court for thieft. Millions of our dollars disapeared the covered up by Martin. A double wammy.

  5. "It would be interesting to draft a list of the top negative stories of the past ten years."

    I agree with your top 5 list but have different ideas about negative stories.

    I wish Feds would reform RCMP but from what I read Feds are scared of mounties, which is appalling, and I also wish someone would have done something about human rights commissions.

  6. You (conveniently?) forgot the RCMP interference in the 2005 election. We'll never know and it looks doubtful that Harper would have really won if it didn't happen.

    • And there's little green men under your bed! Watch out!!

      • Well, wasn't that a brilliant response – take you a lot of time to think it up?

        RCMP/election issue was a fact. It's the men in red that are a problem

        • They had to do it.

          All of the investigations into LPC corruption were breaking their budget.

          Seriously thou, As I recall the 2006 election was lost with one slip of the tongue…
          "beer and popcorn", had a huge impact.

          Thank you Scott Reid.

  7. The Afghan should be replaced with our decision to not back the invasion of Iraq, which was probably a bigger political deal (or is that a negative story).

    Probably the biggest fallout from adscam and Gomery is that due to calculated opposition reaction (all parties) no government will investigate wrongdoings by the governing party again – and that is upsetting.

  8. "Harper goes on to surprise many with his ability to run a prolonged minority government."
    I thought that was a typo for a second — you could just as easily put in "prorogued minority government."

    • "Prorogue" is just one part of prolonging.

  9. I'm not sure Canada's decision NOT to send troops to Iraq should qualify. Firstly, it was the expected, though not a foredrawn conclusion, outcome. Canada had contributed combat troops to exactly two fighting wars during the post-WWII era, both with UN support. The diplomatic implications of the decision were minimal – Canada-US relations were not noticeably harmed. The soldiers that were not committed to Iraq were committed to Afghanistan anyway (in fact, through various exchange programs, many Canadians did participate in the Iraq war in a number of ways).

    Had Canada sent troops, they would not have noticeably altered the outcome of the war (they would definitely have been small in number, since we would be splitting the troops in Afghanistan currently between two destinations); nor would there be the kind of political fallout some imagine. Tony Blair was re-elected with something like 75% opposition to the war because the main alternate party of government (the UK Tories) had also supported the war and because voters care little about international relations. In Canada the sole impact would have been on the Quebec provincial election. It probably might have cost Charest some seats but not the election (especially if Charest made it clear he opposed the war in Iraq as well). Michael Ignatieff might have gotten a little less flack in the 2006 Liberal leadership race over his position on the war, and might have won instead of Dion. Still, as the past year has shown, there isn't a lot of difference between Dion and Ignatieff.

    About the only clear difference would be that had Canada emphasized Iraq rather than Afghanistan we could start bringing our troops home by now.

  10. The Liberals have not found stable, convincing leadership since Chrétien departed. The united right continues to dominate national politics.
    It continues along the same path, which is why I find this party to be becoming obsolete

  11. Indeed I agree re: the continued disgrace of our unelected, unaccountable, insupportable Senate is disgraceful.
    The annual salary of each senator, as of 2009, is $130,400; members may receive additional salaries in right of other offices they hold (for instance, the Speakership). Ontario & Quebec have 3 times more senators than the other provinces. Why? Because Senators are people who do "favours" by people in high places and are rewarded by seats (most still there from the Liberal era). Requirement? 30 years of age. Remember Senator Thompson who attended rarely. contributed nothing & lived in Mexico? He not only received his salary & perks for 30 years, when finally disgracefully ejected, still received a pension of $48,000 on top!

    Feb. 10 2004: Auditor General Sheila Fraser's report on Liberal mismanagement (to say the least) in spending of hundreds of millions in Quebec between 1997 and 2001 begins the sponsorship scandal. Martin would never recover.
    "The people" even took it to court and spent millions more on lawyers, etc. to what avail? The true culprits (above the law Martin & Chrétien) were never held accountable or charged.

    Thank you, John Geddes for printing the truth.

    • dlb, I do not agree entirely with the Senate as is. However we need the Senate to be elected by the people for the people. In a system that they must have experienced politics and or professional practice for some time. Never all to be elected at the same time.

      I agree with Feb 10 2004 Sheila Fraser report 100% your comments were right on.

  12. A top negative story of the decade, in my opinion, would be Parliament's approval of the Same Sex Marriage bill (with the Liberals and NDP disallowing their MPs to cast a free vote). Aside from the Quebec scandal, it was the other reason for your item 5: "Canadian voters hand Harper the government". Martin's Liberals were systematically suppressing the voice of the silent, family-loving majority, through their loud-mouthed few: NGOs, the Toronto Star, CBC and other 'social engineering' resources. However, since such a stance in defense of traditional marriage is now labelled 'politically incorrect' and 'intolerant', it will take courage on the part of journalists to even acknowledge it. Even Harper could not keep his promise to reopen the issue to a free vote. Nonetheless, the event represents' Canada's breaking away from the rest of humanity's natural understanding of what is marriage is all about.

    Another top negative story would be the awarding of the Order of Canada to the man who pushed for the approval of abortion (no need to give further recognition to his name). It represents a lack of sensitivity to the opinion and values of a large proportion of Canadians who view the matter not in euphemistic terms like "choice", but for what it really is…the termination of defenseless human life.

    These 2 events disgrace Canada.

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