Canadian Politics in 2016

A look at our nation after an unstable year in global politics

By: Gregory McGrath-Goudie, Orillia Bureau Chief

2016 has been as turbulent in the world of politics as it has been surprising. From Great Britain’s Brexit decision in June to the election of Donald Trump as the President of the United States in November, the Western world has witnessed a deliberate shift from an economic and cultural model rooted in global integration and multiculturalism. Meanwhile, Canada has been able to move forward seemingly unaffected—our border has remained as open as it’s ever been, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has made progress on many of its big promises. Concerning everything from human rights to economic performance, here is a look at how Canada stands after a rather exceptional year in global politics.

One of Trudeau’s election promises in 2015 was to strengthen the middle class, and his government’s wide-ranging actions this past year demonstrate that he intends to keep his word. A reduced income tax has been implemented for Canadians who earn between $45,282 and $90,563, down to 20.5% in 2016 from a 22% tax in 2015. On top of this, CBC reports that improvements to Canada’s child benefit within the federal government’s 2016 budget will bring 300,000 children out of poverty. Other areas of improvement include the government’s decisions to reinstate the long-form census and allow federal scientists to communicate freely with the press. $53.8 million has been set aside in the 2016 and 2017 budgets to conduct a long overdue inquiry on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. The federal government’s infrastructure budget, which is to invest $11.9 billion over the next two years, includes a $2.3 billion investment in social infrastructure (such as affordable housing, or shelters for victims of violence). To finish everything off, Canada has welcomed nearly 36,000 Syrian refugees since November 2015, with nearly 20,000 resettlement applications still in progress. While our government has succeeded in re-investing in its middle class and embracing a multicultural image, there have been a few disappointments in Canadian politics since January.

News that will disappoint many is Ottawa’s November 29th decision to approve the construction of two oil pipelines. The move seems incongruous with the government’s pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. Nevertheless, Trudeau is convinced that this decision was ethical. In an article by CBC, he asserts that transporting oil via pipeline is a more environmentally conscious choice than rail tanker cars, which is the alternative: “[Oil tanker cars are] less economic, and more dangerous for communities, and [are] higher in terms of greenhouse gas emissions than modern pipelines would be.” He adds that the pipeline approval is “a major win for Canadian workers, for Canadian families and the Canadian economy, now and into the future.

Another controversial move by Trudeau’s government in 2016 was the approval of Pacific NorthWest LNG, a proposed natural gas export terminal on the coast of Northern British Columbia. Located on a key nursery site for pacific salmon, concerns have been expressed by environmentalists, scientists, and Indigenous groups. Although the project’s construction is contingent upon meeting 190 legally binding, scientifically-based conditions, the decision to approve the project despite ongoing concerns from neighbouring Indigenous communities fails to reflect the positive steps recently taken between the federal government and Indigenous communities.

On top of environmental concerns, the $29.4 billion deficit projected in the 2016/2017 budget is well above the Liberal election promise to run deficits no higher than $10 billion annually.

However, despite our government’s shortcomings, the Canadian political climate is relatively unscathed by the resurgence of nationalism (and all of its cultural and economic implications) seen in Europe and the United States. Perhaps it is due to a national history of reconciling cultural differences (Hi, Quebec), or the economic prosperity that the oilfield has afforded us for the last decade, but Canada has yet to endure a national outburst on the scale of electing a Donald Trump or severing economic and cultural ties with an entire continent, like Brexit proposes. Canadian politicians are working to strengthen the middle class in response to these events. In an article by The Star, Finance Minister Bill Morneau concedes that the government “needs to deal with middle-class anxieties”. Perhaps the Canadian government’s reformed income tax brackets and child care benefit, along with their hasty approval of several controversial energy projects, are indicative of a national attempt to keep populist political tactics at bay. In any case, Canada has managed to remain stable, although the government made several controversial decisions throughout the year.

Heading into 2017, Canadians might not have much to be excited about in international politics, but we can rest easy knowing that Canada made it through 2016 without any seriously adverse effects from what happened elsewhere.