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The Top 10 Alberta political news stories of 2016

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Rachel Notley

2016: It was the International Year of the Bean. I kid you not …

OK, technically, it was the International Year of Pulses. But you can take it from me, I'm an old agriculture reporter for what used to be a major metropolitan newspaper, and pulses have got nothing to do with heartbeats. It's a bean thing. In plain English, it means the International Year of the Bean. If you don't believe me, you can ask the United Nations.

We grow a lot of beans here in Alberta. Lately, we've been full of them too! Aside from beans, here we are on the cusp of 2017 and it’s time for the traditional review of the top 10 political news stories of the year that's nearly over.

There was no shortage of horrifying news stories in 2016, up to and including the election as president of the United States of Donald J. Trump. But given the mandate of this blog, I'm going to stick with stories that have a strong Alberta angle.

These are just my picks for those Top 10 spots, of course. They are in chronological order, rather than the traditional Top 10 approaches of best to worst, or least funny to funniest. Readers are welcome to disagree. Those who wish to do so are encouraged to submit their own lists to the comments section.

  1. January 1: Edmonton's first fentanyl bust of 2016. Police grab close to a half million dollars of the synthetic opioid drug on the first day of the year, arresting two men. Through the rest of the year, the drug will kill hundreds of Canadians. 2017 will likely be worse. It's a deadly public health crisis that we refuse to treat as a public health crisis. After all, fentanyl is the perfect drug for the fascistic "war on drugs." It’s far easier to smuggle into its No. 1 market than whisky from Canada or bales of Mary Jane from Mexico, and the perfect way to keep a restive lumpenproletariat under control, through dope or jail. In the New Gilded Age of Trump, despite the best efforts of thousands of fundamentalist preachers, it would seem artificial opiates have become the opiate of the people.
  2. January 30: No change to Alberta's royalty regime. The Alberta NDP has what looks like its Syriza moment and decides times are just too tough to make the oil industry pay fair royalties to the owners of Alberta's resources. That would be us, the people who are citizens of this place. In this end, this gets the government no credit from the Opposition and something less than full co-operation from the industry, although several larger companies scramble aboard the government's Climate Leadership Plan, which includes a carbon tax. If the NDP can't fix this problem, who the heck can?
  3. February 9: No #Kudatah. What if they called they called a coup and the Queen didn't show up? Once Her Majesty had seen their petition, the NDP government was supposed to fall like a house of cards, or so the government's nuttiest and most spelling challenged opponents claimed. Didn't happen. For one thing, Buckingham Palace wasn't taking cold-callers from Alberta. For another, it turns out Alberta is still part of a constitutional democracy.
  4. April 10: NDP turfs Tom Mulcair; boosts Leap Manifesto. Mulcair, who had a tough act to follow after the 2011 death of Jack Layton, became the first national leader of the New Democratic Party to lose a leadership review, right here in Edmonton. This has big ramifications for the national NDP, which has seen its public support flatline ever since and had a tepid response to date for its call for candidates. The fact the federal party slapped the Alberta party in the face at the same meeting by approving consideration of the LEAP Manifesto -- an environmental document Premier Rachel Notley termed naïve, ill-informed and tone-deaf -- deepened the growing fissure between the national NDP and the party's Alberta branch.
  5. May 3: Fort Mac Fire. The huge wildfire that ripped through Fort McMurray is the story everyone agrees should be on all lists of this sort. The fire, of course, was a catastrophe, even if the successful evacuation of 90,000 people from the northern Alberta oil sands service centre was a triumph. Also a triumph was Premier Rachel Notley's response, and that of Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee, which did a lot to leave the impression the neophyte New Democrats were a real government, run by grownups. The sobering possibility that global climate change may have played a role in creating the conditions for a fire this bad, however, was handled gingerly by all parties.
  6. June 23: Brexit. The British vote to leave the European Community may turn out to be a disaster, or not, but luckily it probably won't be a disaster for Albertans or Canadians. The Alberta angle was the perplexing behaviour of Jason Kenney, the former Harper cabinet minister who is the so-called unite-the-right candidate to lead the provincial Progressive Conservative Party. "Congratulations to the British people on choosing hope over fear by embracing a confident, sovereign future, open to the world," the former Stephen Harper spear-carrier tweeted on the night of the vote. This may have pleased Kenney's far-right, immigration-bashing base, but he seemed to have forgotten for a moment that the Alberta economy relies heavily on trade…
  7. August 26: Goodbye to Stephen Harper. Yes, Stephen Harper, the old Alberta sovereigntist Firewaller himself, who somehow became the prime minister of Canada for a long, dark decade and was sent packing by voters in October 2015, finally resigned his Calgary Heritage Parliamentary seat. What kept him so long? It certainly wasn't the rich irony of being defeated by the son of the Liberal politician he despised the most. No doubt part of it was the desire not to be called to testify about his knowledge of the PMO's shenanigans at the trial of Senator (Restored) Mike Duffy, or the appeal of that verdict that never materialized. Like the proverbial bad penny, though, Harper keeps turning up, trying to influence Alberta provincial politics.
  8. October 13: The death of Jim Prentice. In a way, the terrible death of Jim Prentice, the last Progressive Conservative Premier of Alberta, in a plane crash in British Columbia had little political significance. But in addition to being a tragedy for his family and the loss of a man who surely had more to contribute to public life, it underlined the symbolic end of an era in this province's political history and resonated painfully throughout all parts of Alberta's small political community. It is a reminder to all of the shortness and fragility of life.
  9. November 17: Sandra Jansen crosses the floor. Despite the effort of conservative commentators of all persuasions to pooh-pooh this reality, the decision by the Calgary North-West Progressive Conservative MLA, who hours before had been a candidate for the leadership of the party, to cross the floor of the Legislature to join the NDP has enormous significance. It is important in part because Jansen quit the Tories only after being harassed and intimidated by the supporters of the campaign of Jason Kenney, something all women voters are likely to note. In part because it shows the Alberta NDP is becoming a big tent party of the type that can, no matter how many times conservatives call it "ideological,” win elections more than once. Expect Premier Notley to invite Jansen to join her cabinet in the New Year.
  10. November 29: Two pipelines approved. How do Alberta's Opposition parties -- whose leaders in the secret chapels of their hearts are praying to the Almighty to keep Alberta's economy in the dumpster -- pretend to find fault with the Trudeau Government's approval, sought so passionately by the Notley Government, of not one, but two pipelines out of the province? It makes them spitting mad, of course, because it’s proof Notley's "social license" approach to resource development works, while the bullying they advocate has been an utter failure. Their pathetic complaint is that Justin Trudeau's Liberals didn’t approve three pipelines. Their constant claim -- to the point it amounts to an effort at economic sabotage -- is that neither pipeline will ever be built. It is likely they will be proved wrong about both in 2017, when the flow of more than $14 billion in private-sector investment to Alberta and B.C. begins.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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