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