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What We Learned About Canadian Politics in 2014

Canada had a busy year.

by Justin Ling
Dec 23 2014, 8:20pm

Photo via the Government of Canada.

The final full year of the Harper majority government didn't fail to disappoint.

Gunshots in Parliament, fighter jets in Iraq, police in your inbox, sexual assault in Parliament, Jim Flaherty in memoriam, sex workers in the shadows, and everybody in pre-election mode.

Ottawa hasn't been this chaotic since Stephane Dion, Jack Layton, and Gilles Duceppe almost overturned the government.

It's been a long, and icy, three years since Stephen Harper won his majority government and embarked on an aggressive campaign to remake the federal government in his likeness. And in nine months, he'll have a crack at trying to do it again.

He's got a lot to brag about in the past year. The economy is in good shape, there hasn't been any huge scandals, and the prime minister is, apparently, more likeable than ever.

Then again, not all has been rosy. Here's what we learned.

Nathan Cirillo, officer killed by Michael Zehaf-Bibeau. Photo via Nathan Cirillo's Facebook page.

CANADA HANDLES TERROR ATTACKS PRETTY WELL
The country got pretty forcibly rattled in October as a pair of lone wolves, converts to radical Islam and seemingly inspired by ISIS, killed two Canadian Forces members.

And even though the latter of the two, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, managed to burst through the front doors of Parliament and come within a few hundred feet of the prime minister, the country pulled itself together pretty well afterwards.

Despite repeated warnings that the attacks would inspire some draconian Patriot Act-style laws, the Harper government hasn't overreacted. While it introduced one bill (that was already being planned) to give Canada's spy agency more powers, and it's planning a second bill to beef up powers already introduced in 2012, Ottawa doesn't appear to be sabre-rattling over the attacks.

VICE asked Justice Minister Peter MacKay in October what those new changes would look like, and whether it included new preventative detention measures. While he wouldn't comment specifically, he did say that they're tinkering with existing legislation and "we're doing so in a reasonable, not reactionary way."

So, stay tuned for that.

Supreme Court of Canada. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

IT WAS REALLY EASY FOR THE GOVERNMENT TO SPY ON YOU. AND IT STILL KIND OF IS
In April, we learned that police made at least 1.2 million requests to obtain Canadians' data, based only on wink-and-nod agreements with cellphone and internet companies. Then we learned that it wasn't just police making the requests, and the requests weren't just for basic "subscriber data," like the government kept promising us. Instead, they were for passwords, GPS coordinates, and details on internet usage. It was all up for grabs under a loophole in Canada's privacy legislation that let any ol' copper call up a cellphone company and request, well, just about anything.

So the government moved to kick that door right down when they introduced new cyberbullying legislation that, on top of criminalizing dirtbags who pass around people's naked pictures without consent, gives legal immunity to anyone who coughs up users' personal data to police. It would have expanded the number of government agents who can do so—to include mayors. Yes, mayors.

Luckily, the Supreme Court stepped in to say: Hey. Woah. You can't do that.

What's still in the bill, however, are powers that would let police hack into your cellphone. Piling on, the fact that the Supreme Court ruled that police can physically search your cellphone once they cuff you.

On the other hand, the Court also ruled that police need an additional warrant to search your laptop, even if they have a warrant for your house. On the other, other hand, we found out the extent to which our spy agencies were cooperating with the NSA—it's "a lot," as it turns out. While two Ontario courts put the kibosh on the NSA/CSIS friend pact, the government tabled legislation to legalize their cooperation and let our spies ignore other countries' laws.

So it's been a real mixed bag on the privacy front.

Photo via Canadian Forces CF-18 Demo Team Facebook page.

STEPHEN HARPER FINALLY GOT TO BOMB IRAQ
Stephen Harper finally fulfilled all those prophecies from 2004 that, if he were to become prime minister, Canadian bombs would rain on Iraq.

But this time around, Harper appears to have right on his side. As the threat of ISIS began looming large Canada quickly ponied up a fleet of aircraft—including two planes designed to scope out prospective attack sites to prevent collateral damage—to bomb ISIS positions and to take out equipment.

And while the yellow bellies in the other parties shied away from getting involved in taking out a group of well-organized radicals who've engaged in outright genocide, the Conservatives' military mission appears to have the backing of most of the country.

Indeed, we also learned that Canada is pretty dang good at military operations. After being an integral part of the mission to oust Qaddafi, Canada has done a fair share of the heavy lifting this time around, too. As of the end of 2014, Canadian CF-18s—which had been lambasted as out-of-date and archaic—had flown around 150 sorties, hitting targets on nine of those occasions. Not bad at all.

Oh, and we also learned that, since Vladimir Putin is sort of a dick, Canada is looking to put some muscle behind NATO. Ottawa chipped in four CF-18s; two frigates; a handful of helicopters; and hundreds of personnel to patrol Europe's borders and train the forces of our Eastern European allies in the face of Russian jets, helicopters, and ships constantly trying to probe NATO's defences.

Liberal MP Massimo Pacetti. Photo via Massimo Pacetti's official Facebook page.

SEXUAL ASSAULT IS A REALLY FRIGGING BIG PROBLEM IN PARLIAMENT
Spurred by the news of Jian Ghomeshi's alleged attacks on women, two New Democrat MPs stepped forward to lodge their own complaints against two Liberal MPs.

Newfoundland MP Scott Andrews allegedly forced a female MP against a wall, grinded her, then called her a "cockteaser" when she fought him off and ordered him to leave.

The other female MP, meanwhile, says Montreal MP Massimo Pacetti had sex with her, without her consent. She didn't want to come forward, as she told the Huffington Post, because going public means "they will destroy your reputation, they will dig all sorts of things out to cast doubt on your credibility and you'll immediately have no political career."

Well, she was right.

As the story unfolded, (Liberal) sources came out of the woodwork to say that the woman gave Pacetti a condom—though without noting whether it was before he started having sex with her, or while it was happening—and that it may have all been a misunderstanding.

Meanwhile, Calgary Herald editor Licia Corbella wrote a column calling the women's allegations absurd, writing: "What, pray tell, did this woman, who asked that her name not be used, expect Pacetti to do with the condom she gave him? Blow it up like a balloon and play air volleyball?"

We learned that coming forward about sexual assault can cause backlash (or at least, those of us who haven't already experienced it learned that).

However, the allegations spurred a former intern, a former cabinet minister, and a former staffer to join the chorus of those who have detailed the level of sexual harassment, against both men and women, that exists on the Hill.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

COPS WILL STILL BE HARASSING SEX WORKERS IN 2015
If you thought that last year's Christmas gift from the Supreme Court to sex workers was going to last, then you probably had a pretty dreary year.

While the red robe-sporting judges on the top court struck down all the obviously-unconstitutional laws criminalizing sex work last December, it quickly became clear that the Conservatives weren't going to let ladies and gentlemen of the night run free on Canada's streets.

They introduced legislation to bring the so-called Nordic model to Canada—purchasing sex work will be illegal, operating a business offering sexual services will be illegal, and managing sex workers will be illegal.

Oh, and the government is planning on going after alt-weeklies and websites that advertise sexual services.

Now that the new laws are in effect, sex workers are dreading the ramped-up effort to clamp down on the sex trade.

An RCMP report on murdered and missing aboriginal women indicated quite clearly that indigenous sex workers have long been most at-risk for violence. The government has refused. Stephen Harper added: "Um it, it isn't really high on our radar, to be honest."

Instead, it appears as though moral crusaders like Manitoba MP Joy Smith are calling the shots. (Watch for her in the new year as she will likely try to create a national porn firewall.)

Photo via Stephen Harper's official Facebook page.

STEPHEN HARPER STILL HAS A BIT OF FIGHT LEFT IN HIM
After a rocky few years of scandal, Stephen Harper got back on the horse this year, as job numbers picked up and the budget got back on track towards being balanced (well, sort of), Harper's numbers started picking up. A national terrorist attack and a bombing campaign probably helped spur that a bit.

You're probably feeling especially affectionate towards the prime minister right now if you've got kids. Depending on how old your offspring are, and how much your partner makes, you're looking at new tax breaks from somewhere between a few hundred bucks to nearly $4,000. That sort of thing is the legacy of the late Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who died suddenly in April.

Thanks to all that, language around Parliament Hill has begun to shift away from the idea that Justin Trudeau and his Liberals are cruising to victory, and towards the idea that Stephen Harper might just pull off another win—that would put him in a very small club of Prime Ministers who have won four consecutive mandates.

That said, the next election would almost certainly be Harper's last, regardless of how it turns out. That means, sometime in 2015, we're going to see a federal election and a dogfight to replace Harper.

So keep an eye on names like Jason Kenney and Lisa Raitt in the next year—both of whom are said to be getting their ducks in a row to become the next leader of the Conservative Party.

Mark October 19 on your calendar, kids. Because we're heading to the polls.

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