Year Ahead

The Year Ahead: Politics in 2024

Immigration, LGBTQ+ rights and language laws will raise provincial hackles, while Justin Trudeau’s long-time leadership might be on shaky ground. Meanwhile, the next Oval Office occupant will have a ripple effect on Canada’s relationship with its closest neighbour.
Emily Landau

1. Justin Trudeau will face new challengers—both within his party and beyond

Many political insiders are predicting a federal election in 2024. But after nine years in power and three election wins, the bloom is off the rose for Justin Trudeau, who’s staring down generation-high interest rates, a dire housing crisis and his lowest approval ratings ever. A recent Angus Reid poll suggests most Canadians, including almost half of Liberal respondents, think he should step down before the next election; potential successors include Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly and former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney, who’s already floated the idea of a leadership run. Meanwhile, Trudeau’s Conservative counterpart, Pierre Poilievre, will keep picking up popularity as he promises to lower the cost of living and calls for an end to carbon taxes. The CPC also stands to benefit from a redrawn federal electoral map, set to take effect in April.

2. The Liberals will prepare for a Trump victory in the U.S.

MSNBC is prepping its electoral map, the New York Times is dusting off its prediction needle and all eyes are on America as the Democrats prepare to square off against an as-yet-unknown Republican adversary. Should Donald Trump or another ultra-conservative prospect win in November, Canada might expect an influx of political refugees, increased economic and diplomatic isolationism and a rise in far-right movements on home soil. Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly has said the Trudeau government is readying a game plan for every scenario.

3. Danielle Smith will try to create an Alberta pension plan

Smith won the Alberta premiership last spring on a platform powered by anti-federalist sentiment. One of her top promises was that Alberta would pull out of the Canadian Pension Plan and create its own, with lower contributions and higher returns. Support is growing for the idea, and Smith plans to hold a referendum next year. A report commissioned by the province suggests that if it defects, it’s entitled to 53 per cent of the CPP’s $375 billion in assets—a figure disputed by the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, which estimates the province would get 16 per cent, and economist Trevor Tombe, who puts the number between 20 and 25 per cent.

4. LGBTQ+ rights will be an election issue

In 2023, both New Brunswick and Saskatchewan tabled legislation requiring schools to receive parental consent before allowing students to use their preferred name or gender identity at school. These moves are part of a burgeoning movement called “parental rights,” which has received considerable pushback from students, parents and educators who claim that kids should be free to make identity choices without their parents’ involvement. Both provinces have elections scheduled for October, and the issue will no doubt be a litmus test for voters’ enthusiasm for—or abhorrence of—social conservatism.

5. The Greenbelt will haunt Doug Ford

Ontario’s premier spent much of 2023 touting the Greenbelt expansion, an ambitious plan that would allow urban development on a ribbon of the province’s pristine farmland. After months of outcry from farmers and conservationists, allegations that he favoured certain developers and a damning report from Ontario’s auditor general, Ford walked back the deal. But he’s not off the hook yet: the RCMP has launched a probe into the deal and allegations of corruption. (Ford has denied any criminal activity took place and promised to co-operate with the investigation.) In a symbolic gesture of regret, his government is introducing laws to ensure any further Greenbelt changes will occur via the legislature rather than regulations.

6. New policies will detect Pretendians

Last year, several notable Canadians were accused of feigning or fudging their Indigenous identity—alleged Pretendians included former judge Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond, ex–Memorial University president Vianne Timmons and folk music icon Buffy Sainte-Marie. To deter future fakers, a number of universities are implementing Indigenous identity verification systems for future hires, with requirements such as signed affidavits, government ID and references from family and Elders. This year, that practice will likely extend to school boards (the Toronto District School Board says it’s developing new procedures for verification) and the private sector (the Saskatchewan NDP is pushing for a policy requiring employers to independently confirm Indigenous identity claims).

7. Pharmacare could splinter a fragile political alliance

In 2022, the federal NDP and Liberals entered into a shaky coalition: in exchange for the NDP’s support, the Liberals agreed to push for affordable housing and a universal pharmacare program. A year and a half later, the Libs hadn’t come through on the pharmacare promise, and the NDP was threatening to pull its support unless the party made good. By the end of 2023, the parties had confirmed that the legislation will be tabled by March. A new report suggests that a single-payer drug plan will cost the government $11 billion in its first year, but create net savings of up to $1.4 billion for the economy, since the feds will be able to negotiate on bulk drug prices.

8. Canada will welcome half a million immigrants

The government plans to welcome 485,000 new permanent residents this year—roughly 1.2 per cent of the current population—and 500,000 in both 2025 and 2026. The goal is to boost the economy, fill labour shortages and compensate for Canada’s lagging fertility rate. The problem, critics say, is that Canada doesn’t have the housing, public resources or resettlement services to absorb that many newcomers in such a short period of time. But Immigration Minister Marc Miller insists that the influx of new Canadians is essential to solve deeply entrenched problems like the housing crisis: the government’s intention is to bring in the kinds of skilled workers who can build new housing stock.

9. Quebec will court Francophone newcomers

Under the Canada-Quebec Accord, established in 1991, Quebec sets its own immigration targets. This year, that means 60,000 new international students and economic migrants—but, as part of Premier François Legault’s aggressive francophone-first policy, all temporary foreign workers will have to pass a French-language exam before they’re admitted. This is in keeping with the government’s goal of having 89 per cent of the Quebec workforce qualify as French-language speakers (a huge bump from the 2023 goal of 66 per cent). The move has been controversial in Quebec, where business owners say the new requirements will add more barriers to hiring.

10. The federal government will pay for its past

Last summer, a federal judge approved the largest class-action settlement in Canadian history: a whopping $23.4 billion to compensate some 300,000 Indigenous children and families who were victims of Canada’s discriminatory child welfare system. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled that, going back to 1991, the claimants in the case were adversely affected by racist government policies and, in some cases, denied services altogether in areas like health care and education. Each claimant is entitled to $40,000 plus interest, and payments will start rolling out this year. On top of that, the government has also agreed to set aside an additional $20 billion for long-term child welfare reform.

This article is part of the Year Ahead 2024, which is Maclean’s annual look at everything that’s coming your way next year. You can buy the print version right here.