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2012 in Review

Who says Canadian politics is boring? Despite being in the first majority government since 2004, politics was easy as government shenanigan continued and controversy ruled The Canadian Political Scene. This post will round up 2012 into one bite-sized image with the big scandals and the party progress reports.




Harper's Scandals and Controversies

The Police State

The Conservatives believe in small government right? Ironic, they believe in big brother too...

Bill C-52: Warrant-less Access to Your Internet Activities

This was the year for the Harper government to reveal their plans to create a police state. They passed Bill C-52 which gives police the right to monitor anyone's online activities and to act without needing to obtain a warrant. 

Bill C-30: Child Pornographers!

Like a scene out of George Orwell's 1984, Harper's government has championed the big brother and copyright laws as his government introduced Bill C30 to mirror the US version of SOPA.

The defense for this bill was the famous "child pornographers" remark as Public Safety Minister Vic Toews introduced the bill to be tough on online crime while being allowed to intrude on people's lives without a warrant.

Bill C-30 also broke Section 8 of the Canadian constitution, created in 1982 by Prime Minister Pierre-Elliot Trudeau.

Anonymous Fights Back

A group of online hackers served to be the main opposition to Harper's new police state, threatening and releasing details on his Toews. However, this wasn't the first strike, the first actually came from a Liberal staffer who created Vikileaks and showed us the first glimpse of Toews' relationship with his minor baby sitter.

Acting on the court case that the Liberal staffer exposed, Anonymous released it to the public after numerous threats of retaliation. On one of them, Anonymous stated that “A government that doesn't allow its people any secrets are not allowed any secrets of its own.”

The clock stopped ticking and Anonymous, as promised, dropped a bombshell on Vic Toews exposing not only the court deal but what seems to have been an interesting relationship with his babysitter who at the time was a minor. 

Pension Reforms

From the refuge of Switzerland, Harper announced that he would increase the age of retirement from 65 to 67 making everyone in the new generation work longer and sending low-income to-be seniors into a tail spin. This not only, rightfully, outraged Canadians, it shed a light on Harper's pension and his MP's pensions. As a summary, no private sector or public sector worker could ever dream of having a boss that pays $23.30 for every $1 input they make... it appears though, that MPs as employees to taxpayers have had fun giving themselves generous pensions on our backs and the Conservatives have not surprisingly had a hard time to overcome this outrageous perk. Clearly, pension reforms were unnecessary.

In April, Jim Flaherty announced that MP pensions would be reformed after those of the general public to meet the new retirement age.

Employment Insurance Reforms

The Conservatives passed legislation that states that people who fall on the system need to first move to the other end of the country to find a job. This comes after they decided to tax employment insurance premiums which effectively shrinks the pool of available jobs and job creation.

Robocall - Voter Suppression

Here comes an interesting question: Did the Conservatives actually win the 2011 election? Based on the electoral process, of course they did! If opposition claims of voter suppression are true, that is a different story. Robocall took a good chunk of 2012 and started early. It also has brought about many questions and uncertainties that has caused a major rift to the reputation of Elections Canada.

In the Ontario riding of Guelph, when a voter received an automated message that said that there was a change in the place of the election booth. It turns out, this person wasn't the only one and hundreds of ridings became affected like wild fire as people started to realize that they too had been effected by robocalls that either misguided them to the polls or mimicked the Liberal Party and harassed voters for money. The call, meanwhile, was traced to a burner phone that used the 450 area code in Joliette, Quebec.

The initial link that was known was with the automated message company Racknine which dealt the Conservatives' electoral contract. After denying any involvement and claiming he didn't know what was going on, CEO Matt Meier was found with links to Harper himself, a collection of photos exposed by an NDP staffer. Racknine was later raided by the RCMP.

The ridings started to pour in, starting with 29, then 34, then  It only took 29 for Liberal Interim leader Bob Rae to ask the Speaker to discuss the situation and later ask to have a public inquiry on the matter, noting that dirty tricks are equivalent to "stuffing the ballot box." Turns out that Rae wasn't the only one as Canadians hit the streets and demanded an inquiry themselves. Some of these ridings were also close races which ended with a difference as low as 18 votes between candidates.

The Conservatives defied logic and shot themselves in the feet. For a party that claimed it was innocent, a public inquiry would clear their name but instead, they sent MP Dean Del Mastro to the media to blame the Liberals every chance they got. After that tactic backfired, Del Mastro backtracked and said the calls could have been mistakes. Del Mastro would eventually be questioned about his campaign expenses and thus found himself in hot water. He has since disappeared from the spotlight and when the House of Commons committee looking into the affair was supposed to call him to testify, the NDP, who were in charge of the committee, pulled the plug and let him go. The NDP were fast to pounce on the Liberals in 2005, but strangely, they weren't so keen on pouncing on the Conservatives in 2012.

The scandal evolved and with it did the dynamics, not only were there misleading robocalls, election lists were inadequate and suspicious.

By March, CBC's investigation confirmed over 700 cases of irregularities and the list continued to grow from that point on.

In April, more screenshots were released that linked the Conservative campaign to the Republican Party in the United States raising even more questions about what happened in 2011. Meanwhile, an employee of Racknine swore in an affidavit that misleading calls were taking place and they were orders.

In May, the court battle began over Etobicoke Center where Conservative MP Ted Opitz beat his Liberal rival by only 26 votes. The courts ruled in the favor of the Liberal but the Conservatives appealed going to the Supreme Court of Canada where the Conservatives won, closing the door on any possibility of a by-election in Etobicoke.

Questionable Spending Habits of Conservative MPs

Bev Oda resigned a few months after the initial story broke about how she charged tax payers to upgrade her hotel which served $16 orange juice. During times of deficits, austerity and economic uncertainty, where is there any excuse to waste taxpayer's money like that? Oda may be out of politics, but this kind of abuse will live on for a long time yet.

The F-35 Fighter Jet Contract

The Conservatives campaigned on spending $16 billion for new F-35 fighter jets and as the entire portfolio fell apart, a number of things came to light.



The Economy

The 2008 recession has left an impact on the Canadian economy and nothing says this more than talking about it and feeling it four years later. The good news is that the economy is in a state of recovery. The bad news is that the 13 years of paying down debt and reaching surpluses under the Liberals with their austerity program have been wiped off and Canada presently sits in about the same shape that it was left in 1992 by Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservatives.

Harper's 2012 budget came out with the idea of a return to balanced budgets by 2016 and sought about getting there by a series of cuts, phasing out the penny and creating a new rounding scheme, and reforming employment insurance.

The cuts would sooner become controversial as it became known that cuts to the Canada Food Inspection Agency in April were of the proper magnitude to put people in danger. Funny enough, by the end of 2012, hamburger meat was recalled in the biggest recall ever due to a lack of inspection of bacteria that left the plant with the meat. The worst part about the recall is that it took several weeks for the CFIA to make it after American food inspectors first notified them that meat crossing the border was contaminated and thus rejected further entry. 

Meanwhile, it is still important to look at this government's trail of waste and misuse of public funds. And ask why the Afghan army should be getting Canadian money when we don't have that money? Why highly paid bureaucrats cashed in on bonuses and pay raises worth over $6 billion within the past fiscal year?

Perhaps, the most striking thing you should take from the economy is how much the Conservatives actually spend and how they try to hide it. While their budget estimated a return to balanced budgets by 2016, new numbers state that their math is off by quite a bit and as a result, our deficits have been much deeper than anticipated... Considering their reckless spending and increases in the size of government, it is no question why the deficits are much larger than predicted. Now, for the best part, the year may have started with Canada being where it was when Mulroney left office in the early 1990s, at this point in time, the Conservatives mounted themselves a new record for debt reaching $600 billion - the highest in this country's history. Now is that a sign of steady economic stewardship or what?

The Size of Government

Stephen Harper once touted his belief for small and anti-interventionist government as part of the Reform party, however, after taking power in 2006, the size and influence of the government over people's lives has increased dramatically. On numerous occasions  the Conservatives tried to reopen the abortion debate, however, knowing the kind of political storm it would cause, each of the motions were defeated. But for a government that is supposedly in favor of small government, what place does it have in the uterus of a woman?

But, let's not forget that the abortion issue wasn't the only explosive topic, the next one ties straight in with the economy, adding further expenditures in a time of uncertainty and record deficits and debt. This year, the Conservatives have been putting a lot of energy toward stacking the senate and the PMO unnecessarily and Harper single-handedly made the biggest expansions of any Prime Minister in history. Ironically, Stephen Harper complained about the senate for this very reason in his past.

When Air Canada workers threatened to strike, the Conservatives decided to pass back to work legislation, rather than let the arbitration process and free market do its work.

Crime

The Conservatives passed their coveted crime bill that offloaded the costs of new prisons to the provinces and took laws that failed in the United States. Much of the measures were rejected in the last sitting of Parliament which was a minority government. Quebec's Justice Minister rejected the law and vowed to lessen its impact on the province.

After the abolition of the gun registry, gun crimes increased in Canada, particularly in Toronto. However, it was the American school shooting in Conneticuit recently that pushed politicians into speaking. The Conservatives remained quiet, the NDP said they would revive the gun registry, and Liberal leadership candidates Marc Garneau and Justin Trudeau agreed to leave the registry in the ground but Garneau announced that he would toughen laws and ban assult rifiles like the ones that were used in Newtown massacre.

Marijuana Policy

While the Conservatives remain the tough on Marijuana party, a comparison of stances reveal that the Conservatives are divided and contradictory, the Liberals are now in favor of legalization and the NDP are in favor of decriminalization.

Canada Day

Instead of celebrating the 30th birthday of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Harper chose to spend millions to re-enact the War of 1812 and blatantly ignored the charter that made Canada the envy of the world. It added with the narrative that was created with Bill C30... the Conservatives don't care about people's freedom.

The Environment

The environment took a big hit this year with plans to build a pipeline in Alberta to connect to the west coast which would pass through rivers and forests in BC and cause quite a disaster if the pipe leaked. Existing oil infrastructure has already leaked this year and its effects have been a mess to clean up.

The environment wasn't the only target of the government, scientists with Environment Canada were censored and Environment Minister Peter Kent called the censorship an "established practice."

The Omnibus budget implementation bills featured a number of changes to environmental laws, removing the protection of the majority of Canada's lakes and rivers. It has also provisioned the theft of land from the Aboriginal people prompting the IdleNoMore movement which has gone international and has lead to Aboriginal chief Theresa Spence's unprecedented hunger strike that PM Harper has since ignored.

National Security


But then, add the sale of Canada's Nexen to China's state-owned CNOOC after China has repeatedly been hacking away at Canada's databases, and add the contract that gives China purchasing rights in Canada and a monopoly over justice and a free pass over Canadian laws and we have a recipe for trouble. Now, on top of that, note that China is a communist nation that doesn't care about the laws of western capitalist democracies and is notorious for taking over companies, firing its staff and replacing them with Chinese officials. Nope, this isn't even close to a purchase in the private sector...

Party Progress Report

Let's take a look at the noteworthy events and advice that the parties leave 2012 with.

The NDP


The NDP had their leadership campaign this spring which crowned Thomas Mulcair as the new leader of the Official Opposition. The party has since maintained their poll standings and has definitely matured. Before their race, I advised them to become more centrist and be more mature and it seems that Mulcair has done that, however, tax policy remains a nail-biting issue and the NDP has long been the radical left-wing tax and spend party so here's hoping they get the message that Canadians aren't radicals - once they get that, they've got a shoe in. It looks, though, as if they are getting that message and Mulcair's steady leadership has been to the NDP what Harper's leadership has been to the Conservatives.

The NDP have had a good year in by-elections keeping all of them and winning a landslide in former leader Jack Layton's old riding.

The NDP are commonly seen as the "good guys" in Canadian politics but they defended Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro when the spotlight shined on him during the robocall scandal and it turns out that the NDP was ordered to repay $344K in money that they received from 2006 onward from unions as contributions from unions and contributions from corporations are considered the same under election law.

The Liberals

The Liberals came out of the 2011 with a humiliating defeat however starting at their January convention, they have started to regain ground both in the polls and on the political scene. This convention, hosting a surprising 3,200 people (more than the other parties combined) introduced the bold new directions they would take in preparation to 2015 and some new policy initiatives including the legalization and taxation of marijuana and electoral reform. 

In June, the Liberals announced their leadership contest which is now underway. The next leader of the party will be chosen in April 2013 and unlike other parties and unlike in history, anyone who signs up to be a Liberal supporter for free can vote for the next leader.

Things continued to improve for the Liberals as star candidate Justin Trudeau stepped into the leadership race. One poll suggested that the momentum behind him could allow him to form a majority government. Other polls suggest he may win a minority government or form the Official Opposition if he ties the Conservatives with popular vote. Meanwhile, the other candidates still have work to do and anything can happen between now and April.

On another bright note for the Liberals, they nearly snatched the Conservative stronghold of Calgary-Centre in recent by-elections.

Meanwhile, Liberal strategists need to sit down and rethink their strategy because if they are going to fight with the NDP over the progressive and left-wing votes, then they are not going to cause a dent on the Conservatives who will continue to have the majority that they need to govern.

The Conservatives

The Conservatives have come under a lot of fire this year, but that didn't stop their war tank. They targeted Bob Rae for his record in Ontario. They have also managed to attack the NDP claiming that Mulcair was in favor of a carbon tax that ironically, the Conservatives announced they were in the process of implementing one in 2008.

Overall, their strategists have been easy to follow, but hard to beat.

Despite nearly losing Calgary-Centre to the Liberals, the Conservatives won their by-elections and have secured their seats.

The Greens

The Greens have their first MP in the House of Commons and she won the award for Parliamentarian of the Year. However, on a more important note, the Greens emerged real players in recent by-elections. In BC and in Alberta, the Greens placed second or third (respectively) with very strong turnouts. The Greens may not have increased their seat count, but they have definitely shown that they can be real players on the federal scene. We shall see if this lasts in 2013 and up toward 2015.

This has been 2012 in review, for all future updates coming up in 2013, follow The Canadian Political Scene on its various social networks.