2018 Was the Year Canadian Politics Really Leaned Into the Stupid

Justin Trudeau, Andrew Scheer and Doug Ford had one thing in common this year: they all spent time participating in bad faith politics.

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Dec 28 2018, 4:55pm

Just a couple of guys shaking hands. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Alright folks. We’re nearly clued up with this garbage year and not a moment too soon. If you had “separatism is crushed in Quebec but reappears in Alberta” on your bingo card, please come forward to collect your prize. This year in Canada was a gongshow and by March 2019 we will probably remember it as a silver age of peace, order, and good government. Adjust your butts accordingly.

2018 was dominated by Ontario losing its goddamn mind, pipeline politics, carbon tax crackups, a ginned-up border crisis, an eminently shippable figure skating couple, and the Justin Trudeau government constantly scrambling to cope with the unending stream of chaos coming from the White House. Recreational marijuana was finally legalized, leading every newspaper in Canada to hire a thousand cannabis industry reporters and fire everyone else (an achievement for which Paul Godfrey will be recognized by becoming a tax-deductible charity.) Weed went extinct in Ontario this year, along with basic labour protections and half of Toronto’s city council for some reason. The prime minister misplaced his mojo somewhere in India last February, but CPC leader Andrew Scheer was kind enough to go over and get it for him later the summer. Also, there was a World Cup? Time flies when you have less than 12 years to avert catastrophic climate change.

There is more—the Humboldt Broncos bus crash, the Colten Boushie verdict, the Western oil price differential, Toronto’s bad year for mass murder—but I don’t want to make anyone relive more of the year’s traumatic moments. So instead, let’s take a look at some of the heaviest baggage from this year that we’re lugging with us into the next: our country’s bullshit politics.

The Canadian political landscape changed drastically this year. The federal Liberals lost their most powerful provincial allies in Ontario and Quebec, where Liberal incumbents were turfed by their right-wing opponents. It has been argued that Francois Legault and the Coalition d’Avenir Quebec represents the ‘normalization’ of the province’s politics; i.e. Quebec is no longer a socio-cultural ‘solitude’ obsessed with obscure debates about sovereignty but is now just a province full of federalist voters apoplectic about taxes and immigration just like the rest of North America. This might be the case; I’ll defer to the Quebecois experts. But if 2018 is the year Quebec got ‘normal’, it is also the year that Ontario went nuts.

Ontario set the bar high for madness this year. 2018 opened with Tory leader Patrick Brown suddenly resigningthen un-resigning, then re-resigning—over allegations of sexual assault. (The accusations so thoroughly destroyed Brown’s reputation that he became the mayor of Brampton in October.) This triggered a surprise leadership election, and because right-wing politics in North America currently is in thrall to big bellowing businessmen, Doug Ford managed to pull out a stunning victory. Everyone in Ontario decided in 2015 that they were going to vote PC in the next election regardless of who the leader was or the existence of the NDP, and not even the Wynne Liberals’ foolproof plan of committing seppuku could stop the big blue wave.

Contrary to the country’s punditry brain trust, Premier Ford has not really been fine. “For The People” is basically a grift where Ontario cabinet ministers run interference for their federal cousins against Trudeau while slashing services indiscriminately so that old family friends can get sweet government hookups. But it’s a very popular grift, and the whole country seems ready to eat it up. Kudos to Douglas Ford on becoming the country’s de facto conservative thought leader. Jason Kenney wishes he had one eighth of the oafish charm.

Speaking of Alberta: somebody bring these people some benzos. No matter what problems are going on elsewhere in the country, Alberta is always the province screaming the loudest. For a place that spends so much time moaning about the eastern welfare leeches, there is probably no other jurisdiction in the country more entitled to its entitlements. Despite the fact that the federal Liberals bought a fucking pipeline and dropped a further $1.6 billion bailing out the oil industry, half the rigs in the province are out blockading highways and demanding that the prime minister hang for treason. Everyone hates Big Government until they want preferential treatment for their own pet industry. For my friends out in God’s country, I have some bad news for you: the oil price differential has more to do with the radical unprofitability of unrefined bitumen than pipeline transport capacity, and you should start weaning yourselves down now before another half decade passes and energy markets decide this climate change business is serious.

Then again, this is the way all political issues are handled in Canada these days: outrage, hyperbole, hysteria. Consider immigration, another hot-button issue in 2018. To hear many politicians and pundits tell it, Canada was overrun this past summer by a horde of law-hating illegal immigrants who spend their days laughing at the troops and/or ritualistically slaughtering goats in hotel hallways. Having realized that a healthy 35-40% of the population will stroke out at the mention of foreigners, the federal Tories, their provincial cousins, their sycophants at the Sun and ex-CPC crank Max Bernier have all joined forces to make discussions of migration aggressively poisonous. For all the unhinged talk about the UN Migration Compact, few seem interested in noting that international agreements all operate on the honour system and is in no way binding on Canadian law. If the General Assembly hasn’t so much as rapped Canada’s knuckles for ignoring the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, they’re probably not going to do much about our border policies. But that would be a reasonable observation instead of thinly veiled hand-wringing about white genocide, and Reason is not how we handle our problems here near the end of the second decade of the 21st century.

Incidentally, it’s very cool that white nationalist talking points are a firm part of Canadian politics now, and not at all troubling that race-baiting Youtube troll Faith Goldy came distant third in Toronto’s mayoral election. It’s a good thing the Tories aren’t also going full-tilt on painting the entire media apparatus as un-Canadian swindlers in the back pockets of (((Globalists))), or else we’d really be in trouble.

But the Tories are really just playing the same game as the Liberals: ratchet the rhetoric up to 11 and imply anyone who disagrees hates Canada. The party spent most of this year warning us against “divisiveness” while sometimes seemingly going out of its way to make the atmosphere as tense as possible. They brought in a ‘values test’ for the summer jobs program that would require applicants to endorse abortion rights, and when religious groups (and the Opposition) complained, the feds insisted it was largely because they were backwards troglodytes who don’t support the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Even if you are preaching to the choir, the argument also loses some of its rhetorical force when the government later quietly acquiesces to doing the thing they earlier wrote off as morally disgusting. Does this mean the federal Liberals now also want to shred the Charter, or is everyone ready to admit the whole thing was an overreach?

Anyway, it’s good that our politics are now dominated by two bad faith partisan organizations claiming to represent the Real Canada who speak to the country through two or more increasingly incommensurable media universes at a moment when public trust in all these institutions are eroding. There is also the NDP, which is mainly playing catch-up to the other two parties while Jagmeet Singh stands up on stilts outside the windows of the House of Commons. Here’s hoping Singh gets a seat in the new year so his ideological indecision about where the party should go will at least make it into Hansard.

(Try not to dwell too much on the symbolism of Parliament closing Centre Block for a decade of renovations at the end of 2018.)

The real key to Canadian politics, though, is the stuff that doesn’t happen in Canada. As a middling power strapped to America’s economic underbelly, much of the federal government’s job is reacting to (or anticipating) the larger structural forces that regularly roil through the world economy. For all the concerns about migration and sovereignty, no one seems to care much that trade agreements and the demands of global capitalism impose much firmer constraints on what can and cannot be done politically. Case in point is the new NAFTA—or USMCA, or MUSCA, or CUSMA, whatever. It includes a clause effectively giving the US a veto over Canadian trade deals with non-USMCA states, which does not bode well considering Trump’s imperial eagerness to use our justice system as a pawn in his trade war with China.

Similarly, the single biggest variables in the next year of Canadian politics, beyond all the nonsense described above, will be the price of oil and the “business cycle,” the quaint name economists have for capitalism’s apparently irresistible tendency towards crisis every decade or so. We are supposedly on our way down from a boom period, meaning anticipated slower growth in the year ahead. This is before you factor in any future economic shocks, like Britain crashing out of the European Union this March, ongoing (or new) US tariffs, atomic holocaust on the Korean peninsula, Facebook’s algorithms achieving sentience as a global hivemind, or the Rapture.

It’s probably too late to bank on getting raptured away into the loving arms of Jesus before the end of December. Let’s keep that hope pinned to the top of the calendar in 2019. I have a feeling we’re going to need an exit strategy.

Follow Drew Brown on Twitter.