Having given you the first part of this series for the decade of the 2010’s, it’s now time to give you the rest of the list. You can check out numbers 10 to 6 of the 2010’s here. But without any further delay, here at the Top 5 people and moments in politics in the 2010’s, according to this site:
- 5. The Rise of “Populism”: As a country, Canada can seem to be relatively insulated from a lot of World trends out there. But in this increasingly smaller World, more and more connected through social media and the Internet, that’s increasingly becoming less and less of the case. One of the best examples of that is the rise of right-wing populism worldwide. Yes, we saw a general rejection of that in the 2019 Federal election with the defeat of Maxime Bernier’s PPC, but we can’t deny the impact of the sentiment that Bernier and other populist leaders has put out there. It has shifted the discourse of some Conservative parties when it comes to issues like immigration and LGBTQ+ rights, with online groups using those social media tools to push their views out there. We’ve seen example after example of right-wing parties ending up in the same events with far-right extremists, the prime example being last winters “United We Roll” rally in Ottawa. We’ve seen these extremist groups trying to latch themselves onto right-wing causes, making for situations that frankly, mainstream Conservative parties have yet figured out how to deal with. A big potential test of that dynamic will come in the upcoming Conservative leadership race, if someone goes down that rabbit hole. And in the foreground of all of this, giving these groups tacit cover are international leaders like American President Donald Trump; who would have dreamed uttering those words in the last decade? While Donald Trump didn’t start all of this, he surely has given this movement the political equivalent of high grade jet fuel, allowing these groups to point to the leader of the Free World as someone who backs them. Being the mousy neighbour to the elephant that is the United States, it’s hard not to be effect when the pachyderm starts stumbling around the house incoherently, breaking the furniture while screaming at the lightbulbs and toilets. Given that environment, we’ve dealt with that relatively well so far. But as the US goes into a Presidential Election this year, along with all the tensions that go with that, it’s possible that we haven’t seen the worst of this yet. Again, who would have dreamt about talking about the re-election campaign of Donald Trump going into the 2010’s? Exactly, which is why the populism that helped to bring this about is surely a big thing about this decade.
- 4. Rachel Notley and the end of an Alberta dynasty: Coming into the 2010’s as a New Democrat, there were many things that were viewed as extremely improbable. Having only won a single seat in Quebec, the idea of winning 59 of them in 2011 would have been in that category. Another thing that seemed improbably was the fall of the PC dynasty in Alberta. They had ruled the province for over 40 years in a row, with the likes of Peter Lougheed and King Ralph Klien. Alberta has always been known for it’s Conservative bent, so it was hard to picture the PC’s losing, especially to a non-Conservative party. And that was the environment that Rachel Notley came into as she won the Alberta NDP leadership in 2014. The daughter of former leader Grant Notley, a legend in his own right, Rachel was the MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona and inherited a fourth-party caucus of 4 MLA’s, barely enough to cover a tarp at the Edmonton Folks Festival. But then came 2015 and the general election called by PC Premier Jim Prentice. The government was unpopular, and so were the Opposition Wildrose Party. The Liberals were seen as unorganized and on the down swing and the NDP were, well, the NDP in Alberta. Rachel Notley was well-liked going into the campaign, something that the low-resource party built around. But really, like any moment like this, the timing was everything. As the campaign went along, the PCs and Wildrose didn’t perform well, while the NDP rose and rose and rose in the polls. Notley performed well in the debates and the “math is hard” moment happened, which swung a lot of support behind the NDP. Then in the last days of the campaign, some corporate leaders put together a press conference that I don’t think the NDP itself could have scripted better for them. In the end, Notley’s NDP romped to a 54 seat majority government, winning seats in all parts of Alberta. For four years in tough times, Notley guided the province with dignity and strong leadership, leadership that is looking all the better now after six months of Jason Kenney’s leadership in Alberta. In the process, Notley not only showed that the NDP can win anywhere, she took up the mantle of a large part of the NDP in the fight about where the party should go. The fact that there are many people who identify as “Notley New Democrats” at the end of the 2010’s speaks to that fact. And despite losing government in 2019, she’s not going anywhere. She’s already said she will stay around to try to win government again in 2023, something that is far from being improbable as it was when she first became leader in 2014. We enter the 2020’s with one of the biggest leaders in the NDP movement being a leader from Alberta, which speaks to her impact in the 2010’s.
- 3. Justin Trudeau: Coming into the 2010’s, the Liberal Party was limping after another defeat in 2008 and the ascension of Michael Ignatieff to the leadership. They were still feeling the effects from the Gomery Inquiry and were still struggling over all. Despite being one of Canada’s natural government parties, it was a low point. That point became even lower when they were reduced to 34 seats in 2011, with Stephen Harper winning the majority he had been seeking for a decade and Ignatieff even losing his own seat in Etobicoke-Lakeshore. The party was heading into a leadership race and was in dire shape, with many writing the parties political obituaries. It was in that time that Justin Trudeau decided to run for leader, in a race which he won handily, where he was really the only name of note. Trudeau was an MP but really hadn’t done anything of note in his time in Ottawa. Really his biggest asset was his name, which wasn’t nothing in Canadian politics. The Trudeau name evoked a lot of feelings for a lot of people, good and bad. It was about as polarizing as there was out there, but for the Liberals at that time, he was their best option willing to step forward. In the time before the 2015 campaign, he rebuilt the Liberal machine, overhauled their fundraising and set about recruiting candidates. He spent scant time in the House of Commons itself, spending more time on the road getting around the country. As 2015 rolled around, the party was on the rise and looking like it was in good shape to rebound. But early in 2015, Trudeau support for Bill C-51 seemed to pop the balloon that had been their rising fortunes. By the time the 2015 election campaign started in August, the Liberals were well back in third with the NDP at the top. But again we saw how campaigns mattered and an electorate that wanted to remove Stephen Harper’s Conservatives eventually got behind the Liberals at the end as the NDP slipped in the polls. At the end of that night, Justin Trudeau was Prime Minister with a majority government and seats in every province, including a sweep of Atlantic Canada, the most seats in Quebec and MPs in Edmonton and Calgary. It was the popularity of Trudeau himself that brought this result about, and became the cornerstone of the Liberals for their first term. It wasn’t until the start of 2019 that the bloom started to come off that particular rose, but it wasn’t enough to stop Trudeau from getting another government, albeit a minority one. In it all, the good and the bad, the credit and blame for it all belongs to Justin Trudeau. But considering the state of where the Liberals were at the start of this decade, if seems that they are happy to live with the good and the bad. The Liberal Party of Canada continues to be one of Canada’s natural governing parties today because of Justin Trudeau, period. We’ll see if that continues into the 2020’s, but after the near-death experience of the start of this decade, this Trudeau has made a legacy of his own; however you wish to judge it is up to you.
- 2. Jack Layton: When the 2010’s started, Jack Layton had been leader of the NDP for seven years and had three campaigns under his belt. Taking over the helm of the party at a very low point in 2003, he had steadily grown his caucus to 37 seats after the 2008 election. They won the Outremont by-election with Tom Mulcair and held that seat in 2008, giving the NDP the breakthrough in Quebec that it has been seeking ever since it’s creation in 1961. He put the party in good fiscal shape, professionalized the organization and helped to build a fine-tuned electoral machine. Yet despite all that, the NDP were still the fourth party in the House and were not close to forming government. Layton had run his campaigns saying he was running to be Prime Minister, something that some found foolish at the time for an NDP leader. But under Jack, that became the expectation, regardless of how long a shot it was. It was that attitude and approach that permeated through the party, right into the 2011 campaign. That campaign was a watershed moment in Canadian politics for many reasons for all parties, but all of that revolved around one man; Jack Layton. Long having been one of the most popular politicians in the country, most still weren’t willing to vote for him or his party. Finally, in 2011 that changed. It was mid way through the campaign, after a now-legendary appearance on Radio-Canada’s “Toute le Monde en Parle”, that it all changed. Quebec fell in love with “Le Bon Jack”, the party started to rise fast through the polls, sweeping pasted the Liberals and all of a sudden, an NDP government was a possibility. It was a rocket ride that I will never forget being on the ground of. It was historic, amazing and a once in a lifetime moment. In the end, Jack and the NDP fell short of government but still became the official opposition with 103 seats, smashing the party’s previous best performance of 42 seats in 1988. But as we all know, this story didn’t have a happy ending. Shortly after that campaign, we found out that Jack’s cancer had come back and on August 22nd, 2011, we passed away. The outpouring of affection and love for Jack in that time was historic on it’s own, as was his state funeral, one that I’ll be telling my grandchildren about being at in detail someday. But Jack’s effect on the NDP and Canadian politics didn’t end there. Naturally, those who seeked to replace him as leader were compared to him, for better or worse. Part of succeeding Jack became continuing his legacy and finishing his project of electing an NDP government. Going into 2015, the party was on the verge of finishing that job, on top of the polls and poised to win. We know that didn’t happen in the end, and even though the party ended up with it’s second best performance ever, it didn’t feel close to it. Tom Mulcair lost his leadership in historic fashion and Jagmeet Singh eventually became leader, but in the period in between the party saw the foundations of the organization that Jack built deteriorate and start to crumble. By the time that 2019 came around, the party was in a similar state to the one Jack inherited in 2003. As the 2010’s end, the NDP is basically back where it was at the start of the decade; the fourth place party in the House of Commons, with one seat in Quebec and the most popular leader in the country. The difference this time is that the party now has the legacy of Jack Layton to follow, the roadmap that he built and the example he set. Jack not only changed the fate of the NDP, but changed the course of the country. Many of the positions he was attacked for in his time as leader are now common political wisdom and the party that he built has spent the better part of a decade in the conversation about being government. We’ll see if that will continue into the 2020’s but it’s clear that Jack Layton is the individual who left the biggest impact on the Canadian political landscape in this decade.
- 1. The Legacy of “Idle No More”: December 2012 was a time in Canadian history that will be studied for a long time, but in my mind, it was one of the biggest turning points in our political history period, not just of this decade. We have seen Indigenous peoples protest to protect their rights before, and as a Métis person, I had taken part in some in my days. But this time was very different. The election of the Stephen Harper majority and that governments direct attacks on Indigenous nations and rights was a throw back to much darker times in our history. This was a government that literally made no bones about imposing itself on First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples, with a flurry of legislation that tried to take an axe to our rights. The immediate reaction in that December was “Idle No More”, the awakening of a movement that used social media to spread far and wide. We saw traditions like the round dance being deployed in protest, spontaneously breaking out in malls and public places all over Canada. We saw tens of thousands protest in the streets of Ottawa and one Parliament Hill in December, marching through the falling snow in the cold to make the point that we were asserting ourselves. We saw Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike on Victoria Island, in the shadow of Parliament. We saw the issues of Indigenous rights rise to the forefront, as Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples from all backgrounds came together to say enough. While that moment didn’t stop the Conservatives in that moment, the movement itself spurred continued actions, including record Indigenous voter turnout in the 2015 election. Indigenous peoples from across Canada voted to remove the Conservatives, turning out like never before and making a big impact in electing not only a Liberal government that made big promises, but electing Indigenous MPs like Romeo Saganash. The question going into 2019 was if that impact would continue in the face of many broken promises from the Trudeau Liberals, and the answer turned out to be “yes”. The number of Indigenous voters remained high by historical measures, as using the ballot has become more prevalent for Indigenous peoples to speak out against this government. In the end, probably the biggest part of Stephen Harper’s legacy as Prime Minister will have been “Idle No More” and awakening Indigenous peoples to more political involvement. Like I mentioned with the Environment, parties now must have credible Indigenous policy to be viewed as credible parties and they can’t ignore Indigenous issues, like Harper’s Conservative did for years. We’ve seen record numbers of Indigenous peoples seek Federal and Provincial office, with record numbers getting elected. We can point to “Idle No More” and those round dances in the winter of 2012 as a catalyst. So even though the height of “Idle No More” might have come eight years ago, it’s legacy continued to grow and get stronger through out the decade. And it’s poised to continue to grow in the decade to come.