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.

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