Person of the Year

2015 Person of the Year

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Alberta Politics, Person of the Year | Leave a comment

Every December, I name a “Person of the Year” – the individual who left their mark on Canadian politics over the past year, for good or for bad. This isn’t an award for the best or the most admirable politician – it’s someone who had an impact.

Below is a list of recent choices:

2014: Kathleen Wynne
2013: Rob Ford & Naheed Nenshi
2012: Allison Redford
2011: Jack Layton
2010: Rob Ford & Naheed Nenshi
2009: Jim Flaherty
2008: Stephane Dion
2007: Jean Charest
2006: Michael Ignatieff
2005: Belinda Stronach
2004: Ralph Klein

No matter how you slice it, Justin Trudeau was the star of Canadian politics in 2015, and the man who left the largest mark. That’s a given. His win was historic. He defeated a united Conservative Party and a viable NDP, quintupling the Liberal seat total, and moving them from third to first. Anyone who claims the election wasn’t about Trudeau must have missed the tens of millions of dollars the Conservatives spent over the past few years trying to make the election about him.

But the one rule I have for this yearly post is that the Prime Minister (or in this case, Prime Ministers) is exempt. And given I happen to be working for him, it’s likely best if we just place Justin Trudeau and his team to the side, and look elsewhere for a candidate.

Mike Duffy, Aylan Kurdi, and Zunera Ishaq all had an impact on the political scene, but it’s hard to argue the election turned on the Senate scandal, refugees, or the niqab. Joe Oliver’s budget set the fiscal framework for the balanced budget debate and was a foil for Trudeau’s middle class message. But Oliver was merely the messenger (and not a very good one).

We could go round and round looking at the impact different individuals had on the federal election, but it’s hard to have missed what happened in Alberta earlier this year. Which makes my 2015 person of the year none other than Rachel Notley.


The old joke is “If you don’t like the weather in Alberta, wait 30 minutes. If you don’t like the government, wait 30 years.” So even by those absurdist standards, the PCs were growing long in the tooth.

Alison Redford certainly didn’t help the situation when she expensed a $45,000 flight (plus that damn $25 luggage fee). Exit Redford. Enter Jim Prentice, who soared to a 20-point lead in the polls on the strength of two popular policies:

1. Scrapping an unpopular plan to redesign Alberta license plates.
2. Not being Alison Redford.

When he enticed Danielle Smith to cross the floor, it looked like we were heading for a rout. Funny thing is, for those who believed the PCs had lost their way, enticing Smith to cross the floor did more to re-enforce than dispel that sentiment.

So did a snap election, on the heels of an unpopular budget.

Up to now I’ve been building a stronger case for Jim Prentice as person of the year, by detailing how the PCs defeated themselves. But the PCs had done a fairly good defeating themselves in the lead up to the 2008 and 2012 elections too. The reason they survived is that Kevin Taft and Danielle Smith were not judged as viable alternatives. Rachel Notley was.

Notley won in places where NDP candidates haven’t gotten their deposits back in generations, by presenting a moderate platform. She convincingly sold controversial planks on corporate taxes and the oilsands. She filled change voters with confidence not just that she would bring about change, but that she could handle the job.

Knocking off Canada’s longest serving government is probably enough to make Notley the person of the year, but it’s worth reflecting on what her win did to the federal dynamic. Even though Notley made Tom Mulcair feel about as welcome in Alberta as a Canucks fan during the provincial campaign, the Alberta NDP’s victory vaulted the federal NDP to first in the polls overnight. While this didn’t ultimately usher in a new orange era nationally, it would be curious to peer into an alternate universe where Notley came up short, to see if Mulcair would have taken more risks had he entered the campaign in third rather than first.

Regardless, as a progressive voice in what has traditionally been a conservative province, Notley will certainly be a star on the federal scene for years to come. Her ambitious climate change announcement shows she plans to use her historic win to make history, even if it means taking risks.

It also turns the national debate around pipelines and the environment on its head, making consensus on both these files far more likely than they would have been under a Prentice (or Jean) administration.

Notley’s win completely changed the way the rest of Canada sees Alberta. Along with Don Iveson, Naheed Nenshi, and a quartet of new Liberal MPs, Notley is now the new face of the “new Alberta”. That makes her the face of 2015.

2014 Person of the Year

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Ontario Politics, Person of the Year | 1 Comment

Every December, I name a “Person of the Year” – the individual who left their mark on Canadian politics over the past year, for good or for bad. Below is a list of recent choices:

2013: Rob Ford & Naheed Nenshi
2012: Allison Redford
2011: Jack Layton
2010: Rob Ford & Naheed Nenshi
2009: Jim Flaherty
2008: Stephane Dion
2007: Jean Charest
2006: Michael Ignatieff
2005: Belinda Stronach
2004: Ralph Klein

I’ve never picked Stephen Harper because, duh, obviously the Prime Minister is going to have an impact on politics. And 2014 was no exception. In a year which was very much the prelude to the 2015 election, it was inevitable that Harper would be front in centre – would he call an early election? Would he take a walk in the snow? What would he do with the surplus?

So if you strip Harper away, who does that leave?

The attacks on Parliament Hill stunned the country and will not be soon forgotten, but I doubt terrorism and security will be the defining issues of the next election. Kevin Vickers deserves every honour we can bestow but we’re singling out individuals who made a political impact, not heroes.

The death of Jim Flaherty was another tragedy that exposed the human side of politics. But with the exception of Flaherty’s doubts on the merits of income splitting, Joe Oliver has largely continued on the course his predecessor set.

The real world also cast its ugly shadow into the surreal world of Toronto municipal politics, with Rob Ford’s cancer diagnosis. Although John Tory winning something is a small miracle, he was elected precisely because he won’t inspire national and international headlines. So expect his impact on the national scene to be rather muted in the coming years.

So we’re left looking to the provinces for our person of the year. And there are no shortages of candidates.

The implosion of my 2012 Person of the Year Alison Redford was breathtaking, and might very well be the deathblow to Canada’s longest serving government…Oh wait. Who’s that riding into town on a horse to save the day? Why, it’s Jim Prentice. In only a few short months, Jim Prentice has taken the PCs from death’s door to a point where they are basically guaranteed to govern until 2020. Obviously enough, one of the all time great capitulations by Danielle Smith helped. The only thing holding me back from naming Prentice as my Person of the Year is that these “out of the ordinary” events have become rather ordinary in Alberta. As the cliché goes, these are just the sort of things that happen to governments during their 12th term.

Elsewhere, the Manitoba NDP and Newfoundland PCs are in the process of imploding, and seem destined for defeat unless they can find their own Jim Prentice. New Brunswick said hello to a new Premier, and PEI said goodbye to theirs. In Quebec, Philippe Couillard‘s victory doesn’t feel so surprising, but we forget how certain everyone was of a PQ victory. One PKP fist pump later, and no one is talking about another referendum.

The story was very much the same in Ontario. Which brings us to the Woman of the Year:

wynne jog

Although Kathleen Wynne led wire-to-wire, her victory was far from certain. The Liberals were going for a fourth mandate, and many die hard Liberals privately acknowledged they didn’t really deserve re-election. Baggage has a way of building over 10 years, and Wynne did not enjoy Prentice’s ability to come in as an outsider with clean hands. Hudak and Horwath both had paths to victory, and a scenario where the Liberals got squeezed to third place wasn’t outside the realm of possibility.

Yet Wynne was bold, and proudly progressive. Her opponents certainly made life easier for her, but she was a rookie against two leaders who had done this before. And she won. Decisively.

Though many in Ontario would disagree, Ontario is not Canada. Yet behind the scenes, the Ontario election served as a testing ground for the federal parties, and the lessons learned will be applied federally. Mulcair’s sharp turn to the left this fall was no doubt a response to the backlash Horwath saw for running to the right of the Liberals. And the Tim Hudak campaign of 2014 will serve as a cautionary tale for decades to come.

Since her win, Wynne has inserted herself into the national dialogue in a way Ontario Premiers have been shy to do in the past. Kathleen Wynne may not look or sound like Danny Williams or Ralph Klein, but she appears eager to assume the title of chief antagonist to the Prime Minister. Regardless of whether or not she ever gets her dinner date with Stephen Harper, she’s a player on the national stage. That will matter if Ontario turns into a battleground in 2015, as most expect. On pensions, on pipelines, on the environment – expect Wynne’s voice to be heard not just in Ontario, but nationally.

Persons of the Year

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Calgary Municipal Politics, Featured Posts, Person of the Year, Toronto Municipal Politics | Comments Off on Persons of the Year

Every December, I like to name a “Person of the Year” – the individual who left their mark on Canadian politics over the past year. The only rules are that the PM is too obvious a choice, and that lame picks (“You!”) are strictly verboten. The Person of the Year doesn’t need to be someone who used the force for the powers of good, or someone I like – just someone who made a difference. So, yeah, crack smoking mayors and disgraced senators are certainly eligible. Below is a list of recent choices:

2012: Allison Redford
2011: Jack Layton
2010: Rob Ford and Naheed Nenshi
2009: Jim Flaherty
2008: Stephane Dion
2007: Jean Charest
2006: Michael Ignatieff
2005: Belinda Stronach
2004: Ralph Klein

2013 was not a banner year for Canadian politics. There were some positives, including an overdue free trade deal with the EU, and an overdue debate on Prime Ministerial influence. But for every good news story there was Rob Anders being Rob Anders, Dean Del Mastro and Peter Penashue breaking election laws, and Paul Calandra turning Question Period into a joke.

However all stories, good and bad, were overshadowed by a year-long senate scandal (with a little Robocon thrown in for seasoning). This certainly leaves Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy as candidates for “person of the year”, but I’m less convinced than some about the long-term damage this controversy will inflict on Harper.

As is often the case in the midst of majority mandates in Ottawa, the was more action at the provincial level – but it was equally depressing. In Ontario, Kathleen Wynne’s win was inspiring, but she spent the year answering questions about the gas plant cancelation. Christy Clark pulled off a small miracle in BC, but the moral of that story was that going negative works. The most repugnant development of the year was Pauline Marois’ Values Charter which took direct aim at minorities. More troubling than the Charter is that Marois sees it as a path to re-election.

However it was municipal politicians than rose to the top of the cesspool than was Canadian politics in 2013. London Mayor Joe Fontana is going to trial on fraud charges. Somehow, both Montreal and Laval saw their interim mayors resign, both appointed after corruption scandals destroyed their predecessors. And the mayor of Huntingdon Quebec told a radio station he enjoyed killing cats. You can’t make this stuff up.

Of course, one man became the face of controversy, not just in Canada – but around the world. That doesn’t neccesarily make him the person of the year. While many Torontonians will disagree, Toronto is just a city, and it’s not like Ford’s Prime Ministerial ambitions were ever going to materialize, scandal or not. But people spent so much time talking about “Toronto’s crack smoking mayor” this year that it would be foolish to assume the entire fiasco won’t have some impact, however subtle, on the way voters look at politicians.

So, yes, Rob Ford is once again my Person of the Year, as the politician who came to represent all that is wrong with Canadian politics. However, after being visited by the ghost of elections past last night, I’ve realized there is still some good in the world, so Ford will only share the title:

2013 Persons of the Year: Rob Ford & Naheed Nenshi

ford nenshi

Rob Ford and Naheed Nenshi will always be linked. They were elected within a week of each other, both running as anti-establishment outsiders against more polished, but overly cautious opponents. Yes, the kinds of people who voted for them may have been different, but a vote for Nenshi or a vote for Ford was a vote for change regardless of whether you were a commuter from Etobicoke or a student in downtown Calgary.

What made their elections so remarkable was that it looked like they had been body switched as some sort of Canadian Freaky Friday rip-off. Here were the liberal elites in Toronto voting for a foul mouthed football coach with a DUI who had been kicked out of a Leafs game for unruly behaviour. Meanwhile, the redneck yokels in Calgary were going with the Harvard-educated Muslim professor, who blogged about urban sprawl in his spare time. Never have two politicians been so similar and yet so different.

Since then, the caricatures have only grown more pronounced. There’s no need to recap Ford’s hijinx here, because I know you’ve had more than enough Rob Ford news to eat this year – he has been the subject of daily Daily Show coverage, viral parodies, and an entire gag gift industry. The man is now so well known in the US that he is not just the joke on late night talk shows, but the punch line. He tackles councillors, calls reporter pedophiles, and gives children the finger. And that’s just a typical Tuesday.

While not as infamous, Nenshi has built a reputation of his own. He is a Twitter sensation, has his face glued on “superman” posters, makes it onto Ontarians’ Christmas lists, and, somehow, was named the sexiest Calgarian. His leadership in the wake of the Alberta floods was textbook, at one point staying awake for 43 hours in a row, prompting a #nap4nenshi campaign. Even in the midst of the turmoil, Nenshi landed zingers, most memorably invoking Darwin’s Law as he warned Calgarians not to raft on the crested Bow river. When Toronto was hit with a flash flood a few weeks later, it’s no wonder Torontonians asked if they could borrow Nenshi.

Indeed, one of the most remarkable side-effects of the Ford and Nenshi phenomena is a genuine sense of “Calgary envy” in downtown Toronto. No longer can Torontonians look down on Calgary as an uncouth conservative outpost. If they do, Calgarians have the ultimate comeback – the equivalent of pointing out the Leafs’ 46-year Stanley Cup drought to win hockey arguments.

In fairness, both Nenshi and Ford can point to legislative victories and defeats. Nenshi has had trouble moving much of his agenda through City Council, and raised taxes by as much as 30%, depending how you do the math. While he was handily re-elected this fall, many of the developer-friendly councillors he anti-endorsed will be joining him at City Hall.

But image is everything in politics and, in 2013, Nenshi was the angel of Canadian politics and Ford was the demon. For that, they once again share the title of Persons of the Year.

2012 Woman of the Year

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2012 Alberta Election, Alberta Politics, Featured Posts, Person of the Year | 3 Comments

Every December, I like to name a “Person of the Year” – the individual who left their mark on Canadian politics over the past year. The only rules are that the PM is too obvious a choice, and that lame picks (“You!”) are strictly verboten. The Person of the Year doesn’t need to be someone who used the force for the powers of good, or someone I like – just someone who made a difference. Below is a list of recent choices:

2011: Jack Layton
2010: Rob Ford and Naheed Nenshi
2009: Jim Flaherty
2008: Stephane Dion
2007: Jean Charest
2006: Michael Ignatieff
2005: Belinda Stronach
2004: Ralph Klein

Unlike 2011, when Jack Layton’s rise and death came to define the year that was in Canadian politics, no single event or person stands out in 2012. There was no federal election, and little that happened in Ottawa resonated outside the political bubble. After being warned about Harper’s “hidden agenda” for a decade, the most newsworthy item of Flaherty’s first majority budget was the death of the penny.

The robocon scandal might eventually stick, but we have no way of knowing, so selecting Pierre Poutine, or Misters McGregor and Maher is likely premature. A few people on Twitter nominated Mark Carney, but I’m not sure his flirtation with the Liberal Party or departure to England will really change much.

Rather, the focus in Ottawa this year was largely on leadership races in the opposition ranks. Thomas Mulcair deserves consideration for Person of the Year – he won a competitive race, allowing the NDP to complete their journey from protest to pragmatism. Mulcair proved himself to be a steady opposition leader, but his polling bounce has faded due to…

Justin Trudeau. I don’t doubt that Trudeaumania II will be the “Story of the Year” on a lot of recap lists, but it’s not clear to me Justin left any lasting mark on Canadian politics (other than the ones on Patrick Brazeau’s face). And being talked about isn’t enough to make you the Person of the Year, or else I’d be handing out this award to the IKEA Monkey.

If we move outside of federal politics, a couple of past winners find themselves on the short list again in 2012. Rob Ford was a headline machine this year, culminating with a judge ordering him to be removed from office. The only problem is, if we’re going to start naming troubled Mayors, it would make for one long list of co-winners, since you’d also need to include Gerard Tremblay, Gilles Vaillancourt, and Joe Fontana, among others.

It’s tempting to give my 2007 Person of the Year, Jean Charest, and fellow Liberal-on-the-way out Dalton McGuinty a lifetime achievement award for the impact they’ve had on Canadian politics over the past decade. After all, this fall’s Quebec election was a thriller, and Charest surprised everyone by nearly hanging on.

However, even more exciting and unpredictable was the Alberta election. Which brings us to our 2012 Woman of the Year:

Alison Redford poses with Daryl Katz

The PCs winning elections in Alberta is hardly news. They’ve now done that a dozen times in a row, and will soon break the record as the longest-serving government in Canadian history. Alison Redford won 61 of 87 seats which, admittedly, marks a down year for the PCs – but is still considered a rout in most functioning democracies.

But, oh, what an exciting rout that was.

Redford led by 37 points in a January Leger poll, and there were actually non-satirical articles printed citing senior Tories worried they’d win “too many” seats. Luckily for those senior Conservatives, Alison Redford quickly put those fears to rest.

The issue that landed Redford in dire straits and caused her to lose complete control of the agenda was the “money for nothing” controversy. When it came to light that MLAs were receiving $1,000 a month to sit on a committee which hadn’t met in four years, the opposition members did the sensible thing and returned the money. Redford did not. She called the gesture by the opposition MLAs a “stunt” and said there was nothing wrong with the committee – but hung her MLAs out to dry by suggesting there would be electoral consequences if they didn’t return the cash. Her caucus whip said voters were too stupid to understand the issue. Redford dithered and didn’t act until the polls went south a month after the story broke. But the damage was done. She had given the Wildrose Party all the ammunition they would need to run an “entitled to their entitlements” campaign.

In most years, Redford’s stumbles wouldn’t have been fatal, but what made this a truly great election was that the PCs were facing their strongest competition in 20 years. Smith versus Redford pitted two of the country’s strongest politicians head-to-head, in what is likely to become Canada’s most interesting political rivalry over the next few years. Contrary to what anyone reading news stories in 2010 or 2011 would believe, Danielle Smith isn’t perfect – she confusingly tried to brand herself as the “anti-change” candidate and presented voters with a gimmicky platform, offering Ralph Bucks and Doris Day petitions. But Smith is a smart, articulate, and charismatic politician, so it’s no surprise her campaign strategy of “let’s do photo-ops with cute animals” was paying off. Before long, the Wildrose Party had pulled ahead. Alison Redford was sounding more and more desperate by the day, accusing the Wildrosers of being the party of “old white men” (fun fact: Alison Redford’s Cabinet was 86% male and 95% white).

By this time, Wildrose campaign manager Tom Flanagan must have been having flashbacks to the 2004 federal election – a long time government brings in a new leader with expectations of a landslide victory, only to mismanage a scandal and see a new right wing party pull ahead. Sadly for Doctor Tom, the similarities would continue down the stretch, with voters en masse having second thoughts about what this new right wing party truly stood for.

For that, Redford can thank a pair of Wildrose candidates. Allan Hunsperger blogged that gays would burn for all eternity in a lake of fire in hell, and Danielle Smith didn’t seem too troubled. Ron Leech talked about “the white advantage”, and Danielle Smith didn’t seem too troubled, saying every candidate should put forward “their best argument for why they should be the person who can best represent the community”.

For a variety of reasons, the pundits and polls were as off the mark as Smith’s candidates, setting up one of the most stunning election nights in Canadian history. Columnists across the country were forced to madly re-write their columns on the demise of the PC dynasty. Some weren’t able to, hence Andrew Coyne’s first page Post column which beganUnless something astonishing happens, the Wildrose Party will form the next government of Alberta”. Turns out astonishing things can happen in politics every now and then – even in boring, predictable Alberta.

Redford has stayed in the news post-election, thanks mainly to two more badly mismanaged scandals. However, she’s also had an impact on the national stage, being at the centre of the Enbridge pipeline feud with Christy Clark. Although Redford has only been PC leader for a little over a year, she is quickly becoming one of the most well known and respected names on the national stage – and her prominence is likely to grow with new Premiers recently elected or on the way in Quebec, Ontario, and BC (unless something astonishing happens!). With Alberta continuing to grow, and Redford showing an eagerness to expand Alberta’s influence in Canada and around the world, expect to hear more from her in 2013.

2011 Person of the Year

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Featured Posts, Person of the Year | 1 Comment

As 2011 winds down, it’s time to pick a Calgary Grit Person of the Year for the 8th consecutive year. The criteria is simple – someone who made an impact on the Canadian political scene in 2011.

While I usually try to think outside the box on these picks, this year’s selection is about as obvious as they come. In effect, I think it’s the first time I’ve been on the same page as the Canadian Press. But before we get there, a few runner-ups.

In any other year, provincial politics would have been the story, as political junkies in nearly every province got their fix. In Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, PEI and Newfoundland, incumbent governments were returned to power in a series of fall elections that ranged from “boring” to “painfully boring”.

More exciting may have been the provinces who didn’t go to the polls. In British Columbia, Christy Clark become Premier by taking the BC Liberal leadership race over Kevin Fallon 52% to 48% on the third ballot. She promptly called a referendum where voters “extinguished” the HST.

In Alberta, you needed a program to keep track of the floor crossings, new parties, and surprise resignations. When the dust settled, Alison Redford emerged as Premier.

In Quebec, François Legault founded a new party and surged to first in the polls on his bold promise of not being Jean Charest or Pauline Marois.

So yes, Redford, Clark, McGuinty…a case could be made for any of them as the person of the year. Just not this year.


There are few politicians who ever get the chance to go out on top. Sadly, Jack Layton did just that in 2011.

If we rewind back to the start of 2011, Ottawa was busy playing its favourite “will they or won’t they” game of election speculation. Between Bev Oda’s problem with “nots”, the Conservative Party’s problem with the rules of Parliament, and Bruce Carson’s problem with escorts, the opposition parties smelled blood in the water. The Liberals had made it clear they were ready to vote down the government and Gilles Duceppe, knowing he was guaranteed at least 40 seats in the subsequent campaign, was set to force an election unless Stephen Harper gave him $5 billion for equalization, a new hockey arena, and daily piggyback rides around the House of Commons. Harper said he didn’t want an “unnecessary election” but his eyes said “yes”.

So it was all up to Jack. Layton had often mocked the Liberals for propping up the Harper government, only he himself tended to come down with a case of “making Parliament work” every time the Liberals found a backbone. Complicating the situation was hip surgery that left him needing a cane to walk.

Layton ended all the speculation 5 minutes after Jim Flaherty’s budget speech, passing immediate judgment on the Harper government. We were off to the poll yet again, for what most figured to be a boring campaign with few surprises. The funny thing about surprises though, is that they tend to be unexpected, by definition.

So fast forward to April 12th, in a 70s-themed debate studio, when Jack Layton pulled off a tour de force. Barely able to stand without sweating a month earlier, Layton stood tall for two hours. Many of his lines were tacky – I rolled my eyes when he uttered “hash tag fail” and when he told Stephen Harper “you’ve changed, you used to care about the environment“. But he connected with voters, both in terms of style and content, and left Michael Ignatieff reeling when he brought up the Liberal leader’s less-than-exemplary attendance record. In 30 seconds, the great Michael Ignatieff experiment (and possibly the Liberal Party) was effectively over.

Layton was good the next night in Quebec, but he didn’t need to be. He’d already made waves cheering on the Habs at local bars and everyone in Quebec was talking about his performance on tout le monde en parle. Layton soon overtook the Bloc in Quebec and, par conséquent, the Liberals. From there, all he had to do was surf the orange wave to Stornoway.

So by May 2nd, it was already obvious Jack Layton would be the newsmaker of the year. He had taken the NDP to record heights and done what Ed Broadbent and Tommy Douglas could not.

You all know the rest of the story – the tragedy and the tributes – since it dominated the headlines in August and September. Even beyond the grave, Layton left his mark, with the NDP making gains in most provincial elections. His departure also launched the NDP leadership race, and made the Liberal and Bloc races somewhat more meaningful.

Although Jack is gone, he’ll continue to have a major impact on Canadian politics for years to come.

2010: Rob Ford and Naheed Nenshi
2009: Jim Flaherty
2008: Stephane Dion
2007: Jean Charest
2006: Michael Ignatieff
2005: Belinda Stronach
2004: Ralph Klein

2010 Person of the Year

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2010 Calgary Municipal Election, 2010 Toronto Muncipal Election, Calgary Municipal Politics, Featured Posts, Person of the Year, Toronto Municipal Politics | Leave a comment

As 2010 winds down, it’s time to pick a Calgary Grit Person of the Year for the 7th consecutive year. The criteria is simple – a person who made an impact on the Canadian political scene in 2010 (ruling out obvious choices like the PM, or lame picks like “you“).

But this was a tough year, with no obvious choice once it became clear that I couldn’t contort the criteria to give the award to Sidney Crosby.

Federally, 2010 was about as dull, meaningless, and mundane as it gets. No election. No crisis. No bold policies. No leadership races. Wake me up when it’s 2011. If I had to pick a federal politician, I’d have to go with my buddy, Tony Clement. He was, after all, at the centre of the largest stories of the year – the Census, Potash, the G20 Summit. So convinced was I that Tony should be the Man of the Year that I sent him an application form – alas, he never filed it out, so I had to look elsewhere.

Now, the “political person of the year” doesn’t have to be a politician. Ivan Fellegi and Munir Sheikh could have been joint winners for turning the Census into the unlikeliest of issues. A wild card pick might have been the kids who set up the “anti-prorogation” Facebook group. But in both cases, Harper seems to have recovered and the probability of long term damage is low.

As always, interesting candidates can be found in the provincial arena. Shawn Graham signed then unsigned the NB Hydro deal and, in the process, signed away a promising career. Danny Williams called it a night. So did Gordon Campbell, though he would have been a more deserving candidate in 2008 for his carbon tax, or in 2009 for his re-election victory and subsequent HST announcement.

All good candidates, but none really define the year that was.

In my mind, 2010 was all about municipal politics. Some people think municipal politics don’t matter, but they must if people like Jim Watson, George Smitherman, Judy Wasylycia-Leis, Maurizio Bevilacqua, and Inky Mark leave provincial and federal politics for a chance to run (and in some cases, lose) municipally.

The problem is, I can’t very well pick 100 mayors as my people of the year. And selecting Rob Ford is a bit too Toronto-centric for a blog with “Calgary” in the name. So, after much thought, here are my Men of the Year:

Rob Ford and Naheed Nenshi

Of all the mayoral races in 2010, none were more fascinating, surprising, or memorable than these two. In a city overrun with “pinko cyclists”, a loud Ralph Klein clone from the suburbs drove away with it. In “redneck” Calgary, a Muslim Harvard graduate who teaches University and blogs about urban sprawl was the come from behind winner. Ford and Nenshi shattered stereotypes, prompting many to scratch their heads and wonder if we’d entered the world of bizarro politics.

Though the differences between Ford and Nenshi are obvious, their campaigns were quite similar when you get down it it. They both ran as anti-establishment outsiders. They both defined themselves early with a clear message and understandable policies. They both filled a void left open by overly cautious front runners. Yes, the kinds of people who voted for them may have been different, but a vote for Nenshi or a vote for Ford was a vote for change regardless of whether you were a commuter from Etobicoke or a student in downtown Calgary.

Beyond the immediate impact Ford and Nenshi will have on the 3.5 million Canadians they now represent is the effect their wins will have on the rest of the country. Is Ford’s win a dark omen for Dalton McGuinty or an opportunity? What does Nenshi’s victory in Calgary do to the already rocky world of Alberta provincial politics? What does this anti-establishment wave sweeping the country mean for Stephen Harper?

In addition to these questions, the lessons learned from these campaigns will last…well, at least until the next memorable election. There isn’t a politician in Canada who isn’t thinking about “the gravy train” right now. And there isn’t a campaign manager in Canada who hasn’t looked at Nenshi’s use of social media.

But above all else, in a dreary year for politics, Calgary and Toronto gave us mayoral elections worth watching and worth talking about. Which is more than can be said about just about everything else that happened politically in 2010.

2009: Jim Flaherty
2008: Stephane Dion
2007: Jean Charest
2006: Michael Ignatieff
2005: Belinda Stronach
2004: Ralph Klein

2009 Man of the Year

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Featured Posts, Person of the Year | Leave a comment

I’ve picked a “Person of the Year” for five years running now – it’s not always someone I like (see: Klein, Ralph), and it’s not always someone who had a very good year (see: Dion, Stephane). Rather, I like to pick someone who left their mark on Canadian politics over the past 12 months. And as a rule of thumb, unlike the Canadian Press award, I try to stay away from the Prime Minister, since that’s a bit of a gimme most years.

With no federal election in 2009, there’s a temptation to look at provincial politics – Dalton McGuinty was a busy boy, bring in the HST, the Green Energy Act, and full-day kindergarten, while fighting off scandal at EHealth. Gordon Campbell was re-elected, then pretty much guaranteed he wouldn’t be in 2013. Darrell Dexter became Atlantic Canada’s first NDP Premier.

Federally, the rise and fall of Michael Ignatieff got a lot of ink. As did Nanny-gate, Wafer-gate, RAIT-gate, and a slew of other stories that made us all question why it’s really worth wasting time on Canadian politics that could be better spent doing something more productive…like, say, watching reality TV.

But, if you look beyond all the silliness in what was one of the most petty and trivial years in Canadian political history, there were a few important events. And the man at the centre of them earns this year’s Person of the Year:

Jim Flaherty

Given how Stephen Harper rules his caucus, it’s always a risk to give a Cabinet Minister credit for dressing himself, never mind making major policy decisions. But in a year dominated by talk of the economy, the Finance Minister was the face of several important decisions.

First and foremost was January’s budget which ensured the survival of the Harper government and ended the coalition threat once and for all (or at least until the CPC attack ads hit the air next election). But the price was high – Canada’s first deficit budget in 12 years, which had fiscal Conservatives pulling out their hair and wondering how the offspring of the Reform Party could become the biggest spending government in Canadian history. The projected size of the deficit also had a bad habit of increasing by several billion dollars every month.

The budget’s stimulus program led to accusations of pork barrel politics and several studies showed that money was being disproportionately spent in Tory ridings. The opposition parties pounced on this, determined to make it as clear as possible to voters that the best way to get what your riding needed was by voting Conservative. It never turned out to be the game-changer they hoped it would be.

However it was Flaherty’s 2008 budget which may have had the biggest impact on the political landscape in 2009. In was in that budget that he pushed hard for the provinces to harmonize their PSTs with the GST and, one year later, a pair of Premiers took him up on his offer. The end result may be the eventual defeat of two of Canada’s longest-serving Premiers but, if economists are to be believed, it will also be a godsend for business in two of Canada’s largest provinces.

And, while less headline-grabbing, Flaherty’s push for a National Securities Regulator represents a real policy decision with meat and bones on it. It’s also one of the few decisions the Harper government has made that hasn’t been driven by Patrick Muttart’s micro-targeted polling numbers.

Love him or hate him, Jim Flaherty is turning into one of the most memorable Finance Ministers in Canadian history. Hell, one somewhat misguided magazine named him the Finance Minister of the Year (no, it wasn’t the Onion). So, in an otherwise banal year in politics, Flaherty gets another title, this time as my 2009 Person of the Year.

Previous Winners

2008: Stephane Dion
2007: Jean Charest
2006: Michael Ignatieff
2005: Belinda Stronach
2004: Ralph Klein

2008 Man of the Year

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2004: Ralph Klein
2005: Belinda Stronach
2006: Michael Ignatieff
2007: Jean Charest

It’s time to crown the Calgary Grit “Person of the Year”. As the above list of past winners shows, this award doesn’t necessarily go to my favourite politician, or to the politician who had the best year. Rather, it goes to someone whose influence was felt on the Canadian political landscape – with that said, I try to stay away from the PM whenever possible, since that’s always an easy cop-out.

So who wins in 2008? Well, let’s look at the runner-ups first. Maxime Bernier and Julie Couillard injected some life into the droll world of Canadian politics, but had little long-term impact. At the provincial level, Jean Charest and Ed Stelmach were re-elected in a pair of rather uneventful elections. Few Premiers made bold political moves, outside of Gordon Campbell’s carbon tax – but its rejection in the federal election limits his influence to the West Coast. And, once again, few in the Harper Cabinet distinguished themselves, although Jim Flaherty’s fiscal update certainly makes him a candidate. Guy Giorno is also a tempting choice, but it’s difficult to say what percentage of PMO decisions were his, and what percentage were Harper’s.

I toyed with the idea of thinking outside the box and picking Barack Obama. After all, Canadians paid far more attention to the US election than to our own. And the don’t-call-it-NAFTAgate scandal did bring it home, to a certain extent. However, I see little evidence of an “Obama effect” on our election so while his election was historic and may change Canada significantly over the next 4 or 8 years, it didn’t change Canada significantly this year.

No, in the end, the three most significant political events of the year were likely: the Green Shift, the federal election, and the coalition confidence crisis. And one man was at the center of each of them.

The fall of Stephane Dion in 2008 wasn’t unexpected. It wasn’t unique. But, it was the story of the year.

His bold policy, the Green Shift, was a great metaphor for Dion himself. Canadians said they wanted action on the environment, just like they said they wanted thoughtful and honest politicians. The Green Shift was a good policy in theory and, if given the chance, would have accomplished a lot. But, it could not be messaged or sold properly, and was soundly rejected by voters – as was Dion.

That rejection came during the 2008 federal election, when Harper became only the 5th Conservative Prime Minister ever to earn re-election. However, the election was never about Harper. From the very first attack ad in 2007, it was clear the election would be about Dion. So, despite a strong showing in the French debates and some spirited attacks against Harpernomics, voters chose Harper over Dion.

Or so they thought.

This brings us to what was, hands down, the defining moment of 2008 – the fortnight of insanity that began November 26th. Every hour, the political world moved a little. An election was on, an election was off. A coalition was rumoured. The vote was Monday, no it was next Monday. Dion would be PM, no it would be Ignatieff, no it would be Dion, no it would be Harper. For political junkies, this was better than an election.

The impact of those two weeks will be far reaching – from the Liberal leadership (non) race, to how Ignatieff will define himself as a leader, to the timing of the next election, to the constitutional precedents that were set. Sure, Dion was no more a player in the coalition saga than any of the other leaders, but his lame-duck leader status no doubt hurt the opposition insurgents. It also turned political insanity into Liberal insanity, leading to the crowning of a new Liberal leader 5 months ahead of schedule. Just as Dion’s win in 2006 was due to a rejection of Ignatieff, Ignatieff’s win – nearly three years to the day later – was due to a rejection of Dion.

So while 2008 was not the best of years for Stéphane Dion, his influence was felt throughout it.

2007 Man of the Year

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It’s that time of year again when everyone picks their person of the year…or cops out and does something incredibly lame. So, always one to follow suit, it’s time for the prestigious Calgary Grit person of the year selection. As was the case over the past three years when Michael Ignatieff, Belinda Stronach, and Ralph Klein were crowned, this doesn’t go to my favourite politician, the best politician, or even necessarily a good politician. It goes to an individual who had a big impact on Canadian politics. And, when possible, I try to resist the urge to go with the big party leaders in Ottawa because that’s a bit easy. So, without further adieu, votre gagnant:

Despite all the election speculation and viciousness in Ottawa, 2007 in Canadian politics was all about the provinces with six provincial elections and a new era of inter provincial bickering. And while a good case could be made for crowning Dalton McGuinty, Brad Wall, or Danny Williams, much like Forrest Gump, Jean Charest just seemed to be in the centre of everything this year. Hell, he even made a cameo appearance or two in the Mulroney-Schreyber affair. The debate on reasonable accommodation that spread across Canada was at its most intense in Quebec, with Charest establishing the Bouchard-Taylor commission to study the issue.

On the national stage, Charest’s drive for re-election led to a massive influx of cash from Ottawa to ensure the election of the most federalist Premier in Stephen Harper’s lifetime. When Charest turned the cash around into a 700 million dollar tax break in less time than a Gilles Duceppe leadership run, he pretty much exposed the fiscal imbalance hype as being nothing more than a mythical creature. It also set off a new round of bickering between the provinces and Ottawa that featured attack ads and lawsuits. And, if the polls are to be believed, the tax cuts were about as popular in Quebec as they were outside the province, nearly threatening to bring down his government a few weeks after the election.

As for the election itself, it was far and away the most interesting of the six, with three parties legitimately in the game. The ADQ was on the rise led by Mario Dumont and the PQ was floundering with Andre Boisclair, the biggest bust to come out of Quebec since Alexander Daigle. And while it’s hard to claim victory when a majority turns to the slimmest of minorities, Charest did manage to hang on. If you’re someone who watches politics like sports (and you probably are if you’re reading this blog), it doesn’t get much better than the 2007 Quebec election.

And that’s why Jean Charest was the Man of the Year in the eyes of this blogger.

Man of the Year

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Time doesn’t have a copyright on it so, for the third straight year, I’m ready to crown my Person of the Year. Last year, Belinda took the honour for her waltz across the floor which grabbed headlines and changed history. In 2004, I went with Ralph Klein for his re-election and interference in the federal vote. And while Stephen Harper is the obvious choice this year, I think picking the PM is a big cop out (although not as lame as picking “You”, I guess) so this year’s Calgary Grit Person of the Year is…

Michael Ignatieff

A year ago, Michael Ignatieff was fighting for a seat in Etobicoke Lakeshore, admit virulent criticism that he was anti-Ukrainian and supported torture. It was as messy a run for office as you’ll ever see in a safe Toronto seat (which, for the Liberals, are most Toronto seats). A year later, he came within a few gaffes of winning leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada and, despite his loss, he drove much of the political agenda in 2006 and is now Deputy Leader of the LPC. Not bad for a rookie.

As the frontrunner, Ignatieff grabbed most of the headlines in the year long Liberal leadership race and, as Dion said in his acceptance speech, took the lumps because of it. Everytime he sneezed, his critics said it was proof his immune system couldn’t handle the top job and his supporters said it was a sign he wasn’t a typical politician and that the sniffles were why they loved him. His stand on Afghanistan may have been the reason Harper called a snap vote on extending the mission and he led the debate throughout the entire leadership race (often arguing both sides, as one scribe wryly commented).

But despite what many Liberals say, the Liberal Party is not Canada and to be man of the year, there needs to be some meaningful and lasting contribution to the country. Ignatieff did just that during the Quebec nation fiasco this fall. While Ignatieff’s ownership of the nation motion was proportional to the motion’s popularity for much of the year, it’s hard to deny that he got the ball rolling on it. No policy this year was more controversial and none has the potential to have a larger long term impact on the very nature of our country. Those who support the motion feel it will squash separatism while those who opposed it (such as myself), feel it’s a very dangerous step towards the edge of the cliff. Time will tell, but for better or worse, Ignatieff’s role in this debate made him influential in 2006.

Michael Ignatieff is not a politician but that’s what made him a gift to blogging in 2006. Big ideas, big gaffes, and a polarizing figure – the holy trinity of blog material. One presumes Iggy will continue to provide good fodder in 2007.

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