Vic’s Top 5 Canadian News Stories of 2018

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The birth of this blog, which came about a lot like an episode of “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant,” happens to coincide with the end of quite a busy year in the Canadian mediascape. As 2018 draws to a close, I decided a nice way to start things up would be to compile my own Top 5 list of the most important news stories of the year.

5. The Trans-Mountain Pipeline expansion

Burnaby BC pipeline protest
Thousands of environmentalists and Indigenous activists gathered in Burnaby, B.C. in March to protest the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain pipeline. (Photo: Darryl Dyck, The Canadian Press)

Although this story first broke in 2013 when an application was made to the National Energy Board (NEB) to expand the Trans-Mountain Pipeline, the project has kept the attention of Canadian journalists and the public at large as things came to a head this past summer.

The pipeline’s expansion, headed by Kinder Morgan Canada, has been wrought with controversy since its inception. Many provincial, municipal and even federal leaders publicly opposed the project. Notably,
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and New Democrat MP Kennedy Stewart were arrested at a protest in Burnaby in March. Protests have erupted across B.C. and beyond this year as plans stumbled forward, especially among environmental activists and the Indigenous community. On Aug. 30, the Federal Court of Appeal overturned the federal government’s approval of the expansion, citing the National Energy Board’s failure to consider Indigenous concerns in their initial review.

As a result, this review was deemed insufficient to be used as a basis for approval and plans were halted until a new assessment could be done. Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi hired former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Frank Iacobucci to oversee a new round of Indigenous consultations for the new assessment on Oct. 3, however, there is still no set deadline for when the new review will be complete. 

FIND OUT MORE: If you’re curious about the finer details of this story, CBC has published a useful timeline of key events throughout its development.

4. China detains Canadians ‘without explanation’

A photo of Canadian ex-diplomat, Michael Kovrig, posted by CBC following his arrest on Dec. 7, 2018. (Photo: CBC/International Crisis Group)

This story is cutting it pretty close to be part of a 2018 round-up, but the inexplicable arrests of two Canadians in China this week have crucial ties to important stories that have been brewing throughout the year. 

On Dec. 11, the Canadian Government confirmed that Canadian ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig had been arrested “without explanation,” as reported by CBC. His arrest closely followed the arrest of the chief financial officer of China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd in Canada on Dec. 1. Meng Wanzhou was arrested on U.S. charges in Vancouver regarding alleged illicit bank transactions with Iran. Meng was ordered released on $10-million bail with an order to appear in court in February 2019. 

The same day, Michael Spavor – a Canadian entrepreneur living near the North Korean border – was arrested without cause. According to CTV, both men were arrested “on suspicion of ‘engaging in activities that endanger the national security’ of China.” Today, Global Affairs Canada released a statement confirming that Canadian officials have been able to meet with both detainees and that their situation was “concerning.” Chillingly, Chinese state media released a flurry of editorials on Dec. 13 warning of dire consequences for Canada should Meng not be released. Broadcasters and journalists claimed that Meng’s arrest had created a rift in Sino-Canadian relations and that Canada should release Meng before those ties were damaged any further.

These events coincide with a snowballing Tariff war between China and the United States. Although Canada has attempted to maintain its trade relationship with China amid these tensions, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters that issues between two of the world’s greatest superpowers are bound to affect Canada.

3. North American Free Trade battle comes to an end (kind of)

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto (front left), U.S. President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met at the G-20 Summit in Argentina on Nov. 30 to sign the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement. (Photo: Sarah Pabst, Bloomberg)

Canadian, Mexican and U.S. leaders met at the G-20 Summit in Argentina on Nov. 30 to officially sign the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) in what can only be described as the beginning of the end of a story that has just kept on giving all year.

CUSMA, a brand new trade deal that will replace the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) once it is ratified by all three countries in 2019, has had many Canadians gripping the edges of their seats since negotiations began. The deal was signed on Pena Nieto’s last day in office, narrowly meeting the deadline all three countries were hoping (and struggling) to meet. 

Negotiators stood on the precipice of a long, slippery slope when they began discussing amendments to NAFTA in 2017 after U.S. President Donald Trump declared it “the worst trade deal in history” during his campaign in 2016. Although Canadian economists, media and industry stakeholders argued that the original deal contained important provisions that were crucial to maintaining Canada’s flourishing trade relationships with its southern neighbours, the U.S. Administration ultimately demanded a new deal or no deal at all. Negotiations were wrought with tension from the beginning, with persisting issues in various industries including, most notably, autos and dairy. Canadians were left completely in the dark over a period this summer when Mexican and U.S. negotiators met privately to discuss issues between them, and suddenly emerged threatening a new trade deal that would not include Canada. 

Despite CUSMA being successfully signed (with a few major concessions on Canada’s part) and on its way to implementation, the consensus seems to be that continuing tariffs imposed on Canada by the U.S. are deepening the rift between the two countries.

FIND OUT MORE: Despite my best efforts to cram the most important details into a few paragraphs, this is a ‘uge story. For more information, check out this handy timeline of negotiations by the Financial Post.

2. #MeToo knocks Canada off its feet

#MeToo demonstrators attend the Survivor’s March in LA, California in November.
(Photo: David McNew, Getty Images/Radio Canada International)

What began as a Twitter hashtag giving a voice to survivors of sexual assault quickly erupted into one of the most polarizing global movements in recent history, and one that has affected Canadians from all walks of life.

Some may question why this story has a higher ranking on this list compared to some of the more, umm, political events I’ve included. Though my proclivity toward social issues may be a factor, the thing that makes this story unique is that this movement has an effect on everyone. This makes #MeToo one of 2018’s most newsworthy events, in my opinion. The #MeToo movement has divided our home and native land into two distinct parties: supporters and ardent opponents. The widespread anti-harassment sentiment it inspired among Canadians (especially Canadian women) has touched every industry, from politics to entertainment to media.

Several notable Canadians who were outed as a result of the #MeToo movement included Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown, Canadian rocker Jacob Hoggard, former CBC Radio personality Jian Ghomeshi, former NHL player Dave Williams, federal NDP member Erin Weir, Ottawa-based chef Matthew Carmichael, Just for Laughs founder Gilbert Rozon and many more. 

Although many of these allegations remain unaddressed and some were reportedly proven false, this global movement sparked much-needed discussions of sexual assault and where to draw the line between what is and what is not appropriate, especially in the work force. In November, the National Post reported on a snapshot by Statistics Canada that indicated a sharp increase of reported sexual assaults in Canada, which peaked in October at almost 2,500. The movement also resulted in various updates to outdated workplace harassment policies in all levels of government, as well as in the private sector. According to McLean’s Magazine, the federal government recently pushed for federal legislation on harassment and violence that aims to come into force in late 2019.

1. Legalization of marijuana

On Wednesday, Oct. 17, recreational marijuana became legal in Canada.
(Photo: Bernard Weil, Toronto Star/Getty Images)

This story made it to the top of the Canadian Press’s official list of the biggest business stories of 2018, and for good reason. This past fall, Canada became the second country to completely legalize recreational marijuana on a federal scale. David Blair, a business columnist with CBC radio, told the Canadian Press that this story is unique because journalists rarely get to cover the development of a brand new federal industry. “Especially one that is as controversial as cannabis,” he added. 

According to the Liberal Party of Canada’s website, the drug was legalized in an effort to regulate and restrict access to marijuana. The federal government declared the “war on drugs” (championed by the U.S.) as ineffective, and claims legalizing cannabis would be a more efficient way of regulating it, displacing the black market and keeping it out of the hands of minors. Not to mention the various economic benefits this industry will bring to Canada. Global News reported that the base retail market value for recreational marijuana that could total between $4.9 and $8.7 billion a year.

But what of the naysayers? The two greatest concerns surrounding the legalization of marijuana have been the health risks associated with its use and issues surrounding driving under the influence. To address these concerns, the Canadian government has implemented impaired driving laws on a federal scale that were complemented by additional policies by local governments. The federal government has also acknowledged that there is little evidence to confirm the supposed health risks of using marijuana and that the drug has potential to ease the symptoms of chronic disease, epilepsy and many other health conditions.

There have been several bumps in the road since the roll-out of marijuana legalization in October. Canada is now considered a ‘pioneer’ of pot legalization. According to the Financial Post, other countries including New Zealand, Mexico, the Netherlands and more are looking to us to see how this bold move will pan out. There have been several issues including widespread shortages and policing confusion as Canadians scramble to familiarize themselves with the complex new laws.

For me, the most interesting part of these stories is that they will continue to develop as we enter a new year, each one with the potential to impact Canada in its own way. The legalization of marijuana and the effects of the #MeToo movement are basically ongoing experiments at this point in time, and many eyes are on us to see how we will continue to deal with these issues. Trade relations with China, the U.S. and Mexico will also continue to be a focus in 2019 as tensions swirl. 

I will more than likely continue to comment on these stories as they develop, but in the meantime stay tuned for a few fun holiday posts I have hidden up my sleeve before the new year officially begins.