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(PoliticsWatch Posted 5:30 p.m., June 27, 2007)

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Canada's PM Stephen Harper exchange NHL ice hockey jerseys on Parliament Hill in Ottawa May 30, 2007. Did Harper jinx the Sens with this upside down photo?
(Photo Courtesy REUTERS/Chris Wattie.)


1. Harper Government Struggles For Control

The biggest theme so far in this year has been efforts by the minority Conservative government to control a Parliament where they are outnumbered by three left-leaning parties. 

One Liberal MP accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper of behaving like a dictator after meetings at the official languages committee were cancelled at the last minute by the Conservative chair. There were other bizarre filibusters and meeting cancellations by Conservatives at the committee level during May. 

Many had dismissed it as simply the silly season on Parliament Hill. That was until someone leaked CanWest News a copy of a 200-page playbook given to Tory committee chairs which provided a road map for how to control committees including disruption tactics if necessary. Conservative Whip Jay Hill defended the book saying it was needed by the government because the three opposition parties were behaving like a coalition government. 

2. Federal-Provincial Tensions

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said this year's federal budget would end the era of federal-provincial bickering. The early results appear to reject that assertion. 

Tensions between the federal government and at least three provincial governments are high after the budget equalization changes and dares by Harper for premiers not happy with them to take the government to court. Already one premier, Saskatchewan's Lorne Calvert, has taken up Harper's offer. 

The budget implementation bill vote turned into a week-long crisis for the government after veteran MP Bill Casey said he was going to vote against it because of changes it made to the Atlantic Accord. Casey's plain-spoken language and sudden hero status in his province forced Nova Scotia Premier Rodney MacDonald to become a critic of the government. Meanwhile, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams continues to do television interviews telling who ever will listen not to vote Conservative. 

3. Afghanistan and International Issues

The government's handling of the Afghanistan issue went off the rails this spring after the Globe and Mail carried a three-part series questioning whether Afghan detainees had been tortured after being transferred from Canadian custody. The government looked shaky, especially Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor who sought shelter from reporters in an elevator after he made a surprise announcement of a new detainee policy. 

Another problem for the government was the department of foreign affairs' handling of an access to information request for human rights reports on Afghanistan. The department had denied the existence of the reports but later released a heavily redacted version of one study. An unedited version of that study leaked to the Globe revealed that foreign affairs had blacked out references to torture in the redacted document. 

This has prompted the opposition and human rights groups to accuse the government of a cover-up and a Commons committee has been investigating how foreign affairs handles its ATIP requests. 

4. The Environment

The large divide between the three opposition parties and the government on Kyoto, helped make the environment one of the top issues in Parliament this year. 

John Baird was brought into environment to lead the spin war against the opposition parties and has been more effective in that regard than his predecessor. Despite that, the government is aware that because of the opposition parties' insistence that Canada keep its Kyoto commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions any legislative measure will either be heavily amended in committee -- like Bill C-30, the Clean Air Act -- or be defeated in the House. 

On the bright side for the government, Harper delivered a sombre but realistic assessment of climate change when he spoke for Canada at the G8. 

5. Dion and the Liberal Leadership Challenge

Liberal leader Stephane Dion had, as talk radio host Charles Adler put it, a "sexless honeymoon" with voters in the first few months after his surprise Liberal leadership victory. 

Dion was pummelled in television attack ads and by columnists for virtually everything, ranging from his English-language skills, his inability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as environment minister, to his dual Canadian-French citizenship. 

For over three months, anything happening in the Liberal party seemed to be spun in a negative light and blamed on Dion. His deal with Green Party leader Elizabeth May was universally panned. The rash of veteran Liberal MPs announcing their retirement plans early was blamed on Dion's leadership. The prime minister seemed to have a field day in question period with Dion, accusing him of being soft on terror and not liking the police. 

At one point in March, the Liberals under their new leader were nine points behind the Conservatives at 26 per cent in the polls and some polls even showed Dion was trailing NDP Leader Jack Layton as best PM in Quebec. 

6. The Spring Election That Never Happened

Attack ads being purchased outside of an election, the Conservatives giving a tour of their war room to reporters and a federal budget that appeared like a pre-election budget all fuelled rampant speculation in Ottawa about a spring federal election. In the end, that election never materialized. 

The most interesting election rumour appeared in a February Globe and Mail story that reported some Conservatives were worried about a hot summer and severe weather making the environment an even bigger issue for voters which would favour Dion. "There are some weather predictions that say we are going to go through the summer from hell here, that it is going to be hotter than Hades," one Tory organizer from Ontario told the Globe. 

But by April, much of the election speculation ended when an SES poll showed despite Dion's dismal start and the big spending budget the Tories were just three points ahead of the Liberals and not at or above the 40 per cent mark needed to secure a majority .

7. Shane Doan Affair

People who don't normally pay close attention to politics were up in arms in May when a relatively low-profile committee of MPs decided to haul Hockey Canada officials in from Russia to question their selection of Shane Doan as Team Canada captain. Doan was viewed by some as a controversial choice because of allegations by an NHL official that he made anti-French remarks during a game in Montreal two years ago. The Doan Affair created a backlash against politicians from all parties, who have all since backtracked on their decision to question Doan's leadership, with the exception of the Bloc. 

8. Stanley Cup Fever Comes to Ottawa 

Politics took a backseat to hockey during the spring when the Ottawa Senators made their first modern-era playoff run to the Stanley Cup final. MPs from all parts of the country rallied behind the Senators, even those from the rival city of Toronto. The prime minister jokingly predicted the Sens would win the seven-game series in three games. 

During this year's final between Ottawa and the Anaheim Ducks, Harper met in his office with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger where they held a friendly exchange of hockey jerseys. During the photo-op, Harper held the Sens jersey upside down for the cameras. Perhaps it was bad luck as the Senators went on to lose the Cup in five games. 

Since becoming prime minister, Harper's record making hockey predictions has been poor. Last year when the playoffs began, Harper, perhaps trying to not alienate too many voters, named all but one of the Canadian teams in the playoffs as a Cup contender. The one team he did not mention was the Edmonton Oilers, who went on to lose the Cup final in seven games. 

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