Power & Politics' top five political moves and misses of 2018

As 2018 winds to a close, it's time to take a look back at the year's biggest political events and errors, both at home and abroad.

Count down the year's most significant political moments with Vassy Kapelos

U.S. President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto attend the CUSMA signing ceremony before the G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina November 30, 2018. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

As 2018 winds to a close, it's time to take a look back at the year's biggest political events and errors, both at home and abroad.

The Power Panel — Postmedia journalist Jen Gerson, Supriya Dwivedi of Global Radio News, former Conservative cabinet minister Stockwell Day and Brad Lavigne of Counsel Public Affairs — helped host Vassy Kapelos count down the unforgettable political moments that defined 2018.

The biggest political blunders of 2018

5. Adrienne Clarkson's post-GG spending

Adrienne Clarkson retired as Canada's governor general 13 years ago, but earlier this year it came to light that from 1999 to 2005, she billed taxpayers for more than $1 million in expenses after leaving the viceregal job.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was forced to address the issue, saying Canada's governors general deserve continued financial support once they retire but need to be more transparent and accountable for their expenses.

"These are people who've stepped up and offered tremendous service to this country, but Canadians expect a certain level of transparency and accountability, and we're going to make sure we're moving forward in a thoughtful way," Trudeau said.

4. The NDP's struggles

The NDP's struggles. 4:00

It's been a challenging year for the New Democrats, marred by weak fundraising and a lacklustre performance in the polls. Nine veteran NDP MPs announced they won't be running in 2019's federal election, and leader Jagmeet Singh is still working on winning a seat in Parliament. Will the party's fortunes pick up in 2019?

That will depend, in part, on how much money they can raise for the next election. In 2017 the party's balance sheet showed that it finished the year deeper in the red than it had been for the last 16 years.

The annual financial return, filed with Elections Canada, shows the party finished the year with assets of $6.2 million and liabilities totalling $9.3 million, leaving the party with negative net assets of $3.1 million.

3. Trump's border separation policy

President Trump's border separation policy. 3:27

U.S. President Donald Trump's zero-tolerance policy on illegal immigration at the border led to migrant children being separated from their parents.

The move sparked global outrage. Trudeau added his voice to those denouncing the detention policy in June. 

"What's going on in the United States is wrong," Trudeau said. "I can't imagine what the families living through this are enduring. Obviously, this is not the way we do things in Canada."

2. Unparliamentary behaviour

Unparliamentary conduct. 3:52

Coming in at number two is behaviour that just didn't meet the bar of required conduct for a parliamentarian — or anyone else, for that matter. Cases in point: Tony Clement, Erin Weir, Trudeau's groping allegations, Kent Hehr.

Perhaps the most scandalous behaviour involved Conservative MP Clement, who admitted in November to sending sexually explicit images and videos of himself to someone he said he believed was a consenting woman — but who turned out to be a blackmailer targeting him for financial extortion.

Clement was forced to step down as his party's justice critic, was removed from the multi-party national security and intelligence committee and eventually stepped down from the Conservative caucus altogether.

But Clement was far from the only federal politician facing questions this year. Prime Minister Trudeau had to explain allegations that he groped a young woman nearly 20 years ago at a music festival.

Liberal MP Kent Hehr was forced to step down from cabinet, but not from the party, after sexual harassment allegations emerged against him. Weir was removed from caucus in May after an independent investigation commissioned by the party upheld several complaints of harassment and sexual harassment against him.

1. Trudeau's trip to India

The Prime Minister's trip to India. 6:10

This was the Trudeau government's signature pratfall on the world stage, marked by over-the-top wardrobe choices, questions about whether any work was getting done and, of course, the major security failure that allowed a convicted would-be assassin, Jaspal Atwal, to score an invite to a party with the prime minister.

In a year-end interview with Rosemary Barton, host of CBC's The National, Trudeau admitted that he learned from the trip and would not wear the colourful Indian traditional clothing should he return to the country.

The Atwal incident, however, obscured the glare from the prime minister's gold sherwani entirely. Trudeau's national security and intelligence adviser, Daniel Jean, contacted the media and gave an off-the-record briefing suggesting that rogue political elements in India may have orchestrated Atwal's invitation to embarrass Trudeau and make him seem sympathetic to Sikh extremism.

The government got a bit of reprieve when a national security and intelligence committee report on the trip revealed that the RCMP knew Atwal was making his way to India to attend events with Trudeau, but failed to failed to "validate that information."

Biggest political moves of 2018

5. Doug Ford and the notwithstanding clause

Doug Ford's threat to use the notwithstanding clause. 5:47

Ontario Premier Doug Ford's threat to invoke the notwithstanding clause in September meant that the political trump card suddenly got a lot more attention from Canadians.

Ford made the threat to use the clause to override the Charter of Rights and Freedoms after an Ontario Superior Court judge ruled that his provincial government's legislation to cut the number of Toronto city councillors was unconstitutional. 

The Ontario premier did not have to make good on his threat because the Ontario Court of Appeal stayed the earlier decision, paving the way for city council to be cut from 47 to 25 members.

4. John Horgan vs. TMX

B.C. Premier John Horgan vs. the TMX Trans Mountain pipeline. 2:15

Doug Ford wasn't the only premier making sure his voice was heard in 2018. 

B.C. Premier John Horgan's fight against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion put him at odds with his fellow NDP premier — and next-door neighbour — Alberta's Rachel Notley.

The move allowed Horgan to establish himself publicly as a protector of the environment and a steward of B.C's coast. On its own, that won't stop the eventual construction of the pipeline Trudeau is determined to see through to completion, but it still bolsters Horgan's image as an environmentally-minded political leader.

3. Legalization of marijuana

The legalization of cannabis in Canada. 3:20

Our pick for the number three top political move of the year is the legalization of marijuana on Oct. 17, which made Canada only the second country in the world (after Uruguay) to legalize cannabis for recreational use.

With each of the provinces running the program differently, there have been missteps in the roll-out. Ontario Premier Doug Ford cancelled the previous Liberal government's plan to roll out retail stores, forcing customers to buy from the government's online store — which experienced significant delays delivering products.

Supply shortages across the country made it difficult for Trudeau to argue that the legal market was accomplishing its goal of washing away the illegal marijuana market.

But still, it was a promise made and kept — despite the difficulties along the way — and a win for the federal Liberals. 

2. Premiers vs. the carbon tax

Premiers vs. the national carbon pricing plan. 5:03

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister and Alberta Opposition leader Jason Kenney have formed a united front to take on the federal Liberals' plan to impose a national price on carbon.

They say that, far from being an environmental policy, pricing carbon is little more than a tax grab that will raise the cost of living for commuters, small businesses and farmers, and they want it cancelled. 

Meanwhile, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce is backing carbon pricing. A report by Mark Cameron, a former policy director in the Prime Minister's Office under Stephen Harper, said the Liberals' plan to tax polluters and return that money to Canadians directly would leave households better off financially than they are now.

The federal-provincial conflict over carbon pricing seems to set the stage for a pitched battle as Canadians ready themselves for the federal election coming in the fall.

1. Trump's trade threats and tariffs

Donald Trump's trade threats and tariffs. 2:36

U.S. President Donald Trump's burgeoning trade war is our number one political move of 2018.

Trump and NAFTA dominated headlines this year. His move to scrap the original trade deal, and to slap tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, had a major impact on the Canadian economy and led to some delicate cross-border diplomatic manoeuvre​s.

A new trade deal was signed by all three countries, but the ratification process in the United States promises to be far more complicated than it will be in Canada. Only when the new deal is implemented will we know whether Trump's strategy paid off.

What political moves and misses topped your list for 2018? Let us know in the comments.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.