Parliament Hill lit up on Christmas Eve. Credit: Matti Blume / Wikimedia Commons

The year 2021 in federal politics began with intense speculation about a snap election.

The governing Liberals whispered to anyone within earshot their plans for what they called a policy re-launch in the spring 2021 budget – the ideal pretext for a blitzkrieg election less than a year and a half after the last one.

Justin Trudeau’s Liberals were convinced they could win a majority.

The Official Opposition Conservatives were struggling under a little-known new leader, and the Liberals planned to say of the New Democrats that they were playing me-too to their own COVID-19 initiatives. Such a portrayal would be inaccurate and unfair – after all, many Liberal initiatives started their lives as NDP proposals – but since when is politics supposed to be fair?

Early in 2021 Liberal operatives were salivating at their electoral chances. People outside Ottawa political circles, on the other hand, were incredulous. It made no sense to the folks Preston Manning used to call rank-and-file citizens that the government would be so insouciant as to trigger an entirely unnecessary election. Their typical reaction was that journalists were just looking for something to write about.

But the rumours were, in fact, true. Only one contingency held back the Trudeau folks – as has been so often the case since early 2020 – the unexpected and continued virulence of the pandemic.

In the end, the Liberals foisted their unnecessary election on us all – but had to wait half a year to do so. In case you were asleep last year, the election did not work out as planned.

Political operatives and most commentators opined that the issue of the election date (too early) would be a 24-hour controversy and would have no impact on the result.

It did not work out that way. The Liberals lost the popular vote for a second time in a row and squeaked back into a minority position.

Despite the smug pronouncements of the pundits and insiders, voters were genuinely annoyed at having to go to the polls early, while we were all coping with pandemic. Prime Minister Trudeau’s inability to cogently answer questions about the premature election did not help.

Canada-U.S. differences still stark

The year also started with, to put it mildly, some extravagant events south of the border, which Canadians could only observe in fear and terror.

Six days into the New Year, Canadians watched as an inflamed mob broke windows and doors and scaled walls to overwhelm the well-armed police guard and violently invade the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

The insurrectionists wreaked general havoc, while shouting their intentions to murder vice president Mike Pence and Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi – and perhaps many more.

The invaders’ putative purpose was to prevent Congress from certifying the election of Democrat Joe Biden, normally a formality. President Trump and his allies had convinced the mob the election was a fraud and a steal.

The rioters chanted “stop the steal” as they smashed windows and overwhelmed vastly outnumbered local and Capitol Hill police.

The president who had incited the mob at first refused to ask them to stop, then, finally, told them he loved them and gently suggested they might want to go home.

Even some members of Congress who had loyally supported Donald Trump were aghast, among them House of Representatives Republican leader Kevin McCarthy. But it did not take those Republicans long to recant and return to the Trump fold on bended knee.

Now much of the Republican party, and its media allies at Fox News and elsewhere, are playing the deflection, distraction and big-lie game.

Fox’s most popular on-air personality Tucker Carlson has used the airwaves to promote a series of conspiracy theories about the events of January 62021, blaming government agents or far-left activists for the violence.

Some Fox contributors quit in protest over the dangerous nonsense Carlson spews, but tens of millions of Americans believe him and other demagogues who spew the same venomous lies.

With the money and help of those millions, Trump and his confreres are now on a campaign to use every means possible to re-take power, starting with the 2022 mid-term election.

Republican state legislatures throughout the U.S. are busy re-drawing electoral maps to effectively disenfranchise Blacks and other minorities.

At the same time Republican politicians are changing election rules – which are already, compared to most other democracies, marred by an unacceptable degree of political interference – to replace professional, non-partisan officials with political activists who subscribe to Trump’s claims of fraud and theft.

Even on COVID measures, Canada and U.S. have radical disagreements

What happens in the U.S. will pose a huge challenge for Canada’s political leadership.

There have been few times in history when the gulf between our two countries has been greater.

Even now, with Joe Biden in power, we see a huge difference between our two countries in our approaches to the threat of the Omicron variant.

While most Canadian governments are instructing their citizens to limit the size of holiday gatherings to at most 10, the U.S. president says, in effect, party away. As the year came to an end, Trudeau and his senior ministers had to deal with questions about this enormous gulf between the U.S. and Canada.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the obvious, that “Canada is not the United States,” and that “we have taken very different approaches to the fight against COVID-19.”

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, who has shown himself to be a model of candour and clarity in his new role, went much further.

The U.S. death rate from COVID, Duclos said bluntly, “is three times what we have seen in Canada. Had we the same death rate as we have seen in the United States, we would have had 60,000 more people dying of COVID-19 in Canada.”

This is how the Canadian government talks about our southern neighbour when a supposedly friendly regime is in power.

Wait until Trump is back in the White House, with Trump loyalist Republicans in control of both houses of congress.

And we have not even mentioned trade and policies toward refugees here. Those will continue to be more than minor irritants in the Canada-U.S. relationship.

The political year had many other highlights and lowlights, many of which will continue to preoccupy us in 2022.

There were:

  • the never-ending scandal of the WE charity;
  • the disaster of long-term care for the elderly which the heavy death toll from COVID-19 revealed;
  • the government’s belated response to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry and the not-unrelated Indigenous child welfare court case;
  • the return of the two Michaels from China;
  • and, Canada’s resistance to eliminating patent barriers so that developing countries could manufacture vaccines.

And that’s just a short list.

We could also add the renewed interest in Quebec’s Law 21, which legislates discrimination against people who wear (notionally) religious symbols or garb, and all Canadian governments’ continuing failure to make good on pledges of financial and legal support to precarious and gig workers.

We will have to wait for January to deal with all of that, and its implications for the future.

For now, best wishes for the holiday season to all. Stay safe and be prudent in your festivities, please!

Karl Nerenberg

Karl Nerenberg joined rabble in 2011 to cover Canadian politics. He has worked as a journalist and filmmaker for many decades, including two and a half decades at CBC/Radio-Canada. Among his career highlights...