The Current

Climate change, Indigenous issues, national unity top the Canadian political stories to watch in 2020

The Current interim host Laura Lynch spoke to three veteran political analysts to get a sense of what trends and issues are likely to dominate the political landscape in 2020.

Three veteran political analysts break down the stories that will be top of mind next year

From left: Niigaan Sinclair, Susan Delacourt and Chris Hall. (University of Manitoba / Adam Scotti / CBC)

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It's been a big, tumultuous year in Canadian politics — from the SNC Lavalin affair to Justin Trudeau's black and brownface scandal to suggestions of a "Wexit" for prairie provinces.

And all that turmoil means we're likely gearing up to see some more big political shifts in the new year.

The Current's interim host Laura Lynch spoke to three veteran political analysts to get a sense of what trends and issues are likely to dominate the political landscape in 2020.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, centre, was one of hundreds of thousands of demonstrators at a climate strike march in Montreal on Sept. 27, 2019. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Climate change

Climate change will be "the big issue we face in 2020," said Chris Hall, CBC's National Affairs Editor and host of CBC Radio's The House.

Hall pointed to examples like the Montreal climate march in September — which brought an estimated 500,000 people into the streets — as an example of how fed up many Canadians are with what they see as a lack of action on climate change. Organizers said it was the largest protest in the city's history.

Hall also said that climate policy "will be a huge issue" in the federal Conservative Party's leadership race.

Under outgoing leader Andrew Scheer, the Conservatives "didn't have an effective climate policy" leading up to the 2019 election, Hall said.

"People didn't believe that it would address the real concerns that people are seeing with the weather and with drought and the like."

Pipe for the Trans Mountain pipeline is unloaded in Edson, Alta. on Tuesday, June 18, 2019. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Pipelines

On the flipside of the climate conversation is the debate around the building of oil and gas pipelines, most notably the controversial Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project, according to Winnipeg Free Press columnist Niigaan Sinclair.

For many voters in Alberta and Saskatchewan, he noted, "the only issue that people are interested in is whether the [Trans Mountain] pipeline is going to be built [and] when it's going to be built."

Sinclair said that pipelines remain "an ongoing divisive issue" in 2020, pointing to continued opposition from Indigenous groups to the Trans Mountain expansion and other projects like the Coastal GasLink liquified natural gas pipeline in northern B.C. 

A new role for Indigenous politicians

Sinclair, who is Anishinaabe, also said that he'll be keeping an eye on a number of Indigenous MPs who are likely to be critical of the Trudeau government.

"There is a burgeoning Indigenous political dissatisfaction with the government that's going to continue to bubble up, and bubble up, and bubble up," he said.

26-year-old Mumilaaq Qaqqaq was elected as the MP for Nunavut in the 2019 federal election. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

In particular, he'll be watching newly-elected NDP MPs Mumilaaq Qaqqaq from Nunavut and Leah Gazan from Winnipeg — and one of the prime minister's most famous critics, independent MP Jody Wilson-Raybould.

Sinclair said that some Indigenous MPs may decide to work together regardless of party affiliation to advance issues that matter to Indigenous communities in Canada.

"I think Jody Wilson-Raybould will be in that group," he said.

Provincial power

Sinclair said that the divisions between western provinces and Ottawa were going to be one of the toughest hurdles Justin Trudeau's Liberal government will be facing in the year ahead.  

"Out here in the prairies, there is a general dissatisfaction, and almost … a visceral anger, when the prime minister's name is mentioned," he said.

Several sitting provincial premiers, including Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, and Ontario Premier Doug Ford have been openly critical of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's policies. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Hall said pipelines, pharmacare, and universal coverage for dentistry were all hot-button issues "around which cooperation with the provinces are absolutely critical."

"The big lesson coming out of the federal election for Justin Trudeau is his need … to be able to show that he can work with the premiers to address [their concerns]," he said.

Hall added that he'll be looking to see if Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland can help heal some of those regional divisions in her new role as minister of intergovernmental affairs.

"Can Chrystia Freeland achieve the kind of success with the provinces [in this new role] as she did with trade?" he asked.

Questions of unity

That leads to the question that's top of mind for Susan Delacourt, the Toronto Star's Ottawa bureau chief: "What, besides basketball, is going to unite the country?"

"It's an age-old question of national unity, but there are some new twists on it," she said.

"It's going to be an issue in conservative leadership, it's going to be an issue for Justin Trudeau, and it's going to be something that we have to reckon with, too."


Written by Allie Jaynes. Produced by Idella Sturino, Jennifer Chen and Rachel Levy-McLaughlin.

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