Rachel Notley

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Well here we are, on the cusp of 2016 and it’s time for the traditional review of the top news stories of 2015. Everyone else is doing it, so why not AlbertaPolitics.ca?

Journalists, being who they are, tilt toward surprises. If Jim Prentice’s PCs had won the Alberta provincial election on May 5, as everyone expected, instead of Rachel Notley’s New Democrats, that probably wouldn’t have made as many lists simply because it wouldn’t have been as big a surprise. Yet, arguably, it would have been just as significant a story.

Likewise, journalists favour mayhem, mayhem being dramatic and almost always followed by pronouncements that “this changes everything.” Very rarely is this true, because violence at home and abroad almost always happens for a reason, usually in a political context.

Finally, journalists tend to concentrate on events that happened in the last half of the year — because, you know, the media attention span is notoriously short, and getting shorter all the time.

Here are my Top Ten news stories for 2015. If you don’t agree, feel free to contribute your own list to the comments section. Keep it shorter than this, though!

Jan. 1 — Oil prices just go on collapsing

The plummeting price of petroleum, which began unexpectedly halfway through 2014 and has never really stopped, is surely the biggest political and business story in 2015. It plays a role in every other story on this list, with the possible exception of Cecil the Lion’s fatal drilling by a dentist. It created conditions that made the rise of the NDP possible in Alberta, and it made governing the place seem like a nightmare. It made it easier for President Barack Obama to kill the Keystone Pipeline. Pundits didn’t see it coming, so now they can’t see it going away. It creates economic conditions that demand stimulus — and that cause conservatives instinctively to demand the opposite. High oil prices made it possible for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives to get away with hollowing out the Canadian manufacturing sector while the dollar soared. When prices collapsed, they took the dollar with them, but probably too late to do much for Canadian jobs. Oil prices will continue to be a major story in 2016.

May 5 — Alberta elects New Democrats, topples Tories

As I wrote the morning after, “How d’ya like them oranges?” Nobody expected Alberta’s election campaign, foolishly called a year early by Progressive Conservative premier Jim Prentice, to end with an NDP majority, least of all the Dippers. NDPers expected to do better under the charismatic Rachel Notley, who won the party’s leadership in the fall of 2014, but not that much better. Prentice, also chosen PC leader in 2014, was supposed to be his party’s saviour after the catastrophic rule of Alison Redford. Persuading most of the opposition caucus to join his party in December 2014 seemed like a stroke of genius to everyone except voters. Same thing with the election date. Nowadays, there are lots of whispers about PC MLAs who had their doubts and blame the premier’s Toronto-based political advisors. It could be true, but you’d never have known it at the time. It wasn’t just that the Tories blew it, though. Notley ran an (almost) pitch-perfect campaign. The combination made history.

June 16 — The Donald launches his campaign

Does the rise and absence of a fall of businessman and reality TV star Donald Trump as a presidential candidate signal the fatal degeneration of U.S. politics into tribalism or neo-fascism, or merely the intellectual demise of the Republican Party? Or is this happening because, as a certain number of American political observers contend, notwithstanding his nativist impulses he’s hit a chord because he speaks the ugly truth to frightened middle-class voters about political power in America? Whatever, Trump has this much in common with Justin Trudeau (in addition to the fact both have been endorsed by Conrad Black): it’s a big mistake to underestimate the guy. Reassuring voices keep saying he has no chance to become the Republican nominee. Plus, of course, if he does, he’ll be a snap for the likely Democratic candidate, the warmongering Hillary Clinton, to defeat. If you ask me, you can’t count on either of these supposed certainties.

July 1 — Dentist fatally drills Cecil the Lion

Minnesota dentist Walter James Palmer, the guy who paid $50,000 US to kill Cecil the Lion on Canada Day in Zimbabwe, may or may not have illegally lured the magnificent beast out of the park where it lived. He may or may not have actually faced legal difficulties in Zimbabwe — I suspect Zimbabwean officials were quietly relieved to see the guy safely depart. But his troubles after shooting Cecil show a couple of undeniable things about the era we live in, chief among them being that a very large number of people have an extremely low opinion of big game hunters and that you can’t hide from the Internet. Palmer tried to hide, and when his dental clinic resumed drilling and filling, it did so without him. If this keeps up, the only respectable reason to own a firearm in the United States will be to shoot at your fellow citizens!

Sept. 12 — Jeremy Corbyn elected Labour leader in U.K.

The overwhelming election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of Britain’s Opposition Labour Party wasn’t supposed to happen. He wasn’t even supposed to be the front-runner. He’s a genuine progressive, for crying out loud!. The chattering classes despise him, asking: Who wants old-fashioned junk like fairness, due process, a prosperous middle class and peace when you can have a free market? A hell of a lot of people in Britain, it turns out. Not only did he win big, more than 50,000 new members joined the party in the 10 days after he was elected. This illustrated a hunger for real change of a sort that electorates in other parts of the world, from Alberta to Spain, apparently want too. Sensing the jig may be up, “New Labour” neoliberals in his own party, plus the ruling Conservatives, the media, academia, Thinktankistan and the rest of the usual suspects have declared Corbyn persona non grata in the right circles. A British army general even threatened a military coup if he becomes PM. Whatever happens next will be an important story in 2016.

Sept. 30 — Russians strike Syria, upset the American applecart

There’s not enough room in a single paragraph to describe the geopolitical complexities of Russia led by President Vladimir Putin flexing its not inconsiderable muscles in its Middle Eastern back yard, at least partly in response to encirclement by an aggressive NATO. Suffice it to say, by going after ISIS — setting the terror entity on its heels, along with some of our “moderate” terrorists too — Russia effectively exposed the U.S.-NATO-Western anti-ISIS intervention as less than wholehearted, mainly designed to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Lately, the Russians have been accused in the Western press of causing civilian casualties. This may be true, but it’s a bit rich coming from supporters of the uncontested world champions of collateral damage. Even if the U.S.-led bombing campaign wasn’t giving backhanded support to ISIS and was ineffective for other reasons, the Russians have clearly shown our Turkish NATO ally to be abetting terrorism. As of today, the Russians have changed things dramatically on the ground in Syria.

Oct. 19 — Trudeau elected; Harper swept away

Maybe the order of that headline should be reversed to portray the proper significance of this story. Stephen Harper had to go for the sake of the country, but it was far from clear when the campaign began that would be the outcome. Thanks to a combination of Conservative hubris, underestimation of the redoubtable Justin Trudeau, a weak campaign designed to fight the last battle by the NDP, and the utter revulsion by voting Canadians at the multitudinous sins of the Harper Regime, that most un-Canadian of governments was swept away. When it happened, it was as if the sun had broken through the clouds. Trudeau’s “Sunny Ways” comment on election night rang our collective bell. Trudeau will not live up to all of our hopes, but what a breath of fresh air he is after a dreary decade in which our government encouraged our worst national instincts, restricted our freedom and suppressed science, common sense and common decency. The NDP faces a long road to restore its social democratic credentials with its own supporters. The Conservatives a longer one to overcome the past decade. Like it or not, you really can make a case the Liberals never stopped being Canada’s Natural Governing Party.

Nov. 3 — Connor crunches collarbone; there is no joy in Mudville, AB

OK, hockey’s just a game, albeit one that’s played by millionaires. But here in Edmonton, where our sad-sack Oilers just can’t get a break, Connor McDavid, 18, from (shhhhhh!) the Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill was supposed to change everything. He was supposed to be the start, finally, of Something Big in the former City of Champions! Then … crunch went the crucial collarbone. He will get better. And, who knows, maybe the Oilers with their nice new taxpayer-financed rink in downtown Edmonton will too. But a new rink hasn’t helped the Maple Leafs, has it? Just sayin’.

Nov. 6 — Obama kills Keystone Pipeline

When President Obama pulled the plug on the Keystone XL pipeline, conservatives of all stripes in Alberta began to screech that it was Premier Notley’s fault. Presumably if she’d only screamed and stomped as loudly as by-then-defeated prime minister Stephen Harper, POTUS would have buckled and done what Alberta wanted. Well, you can believe that fairy tale if you wish. It seems to me Notley’s sales pitch to the folks through whose territory Alberta’s much-craved pipelines need to pass is more likely to work than Harper’s bullying approach. That said, it beats me why we didn’t refine the stuff here and employ Albertans. What this story really shows, though, is that timing is everything, the gods are capricious and businessmen aren’t as smart as they think they are. Another president of the United States, another king of Saudi Arabia, and maybe everything would have been different. Now? Who knows? Perhaps that oil really will remain forever locked in Alberta’s sandy ground. Maybe we’ll never hear the phrase “peak oil” again. Possibly Albertans will be glad we didn’t talk Ottawa into amending the federal equalization formula! Don’t bet on any of this happening, though.

Dec. 10 — First Syrian refugees arrive in Canada

Out of one of the greatest tragedies of modern history — the wreckage left throughout so much of the Middle East by the West’s wars of choice that really got rolling with George W. Bush’s destruction of Iraq — comes a ray of hope. Canadians opened their hearts to some of the tens of thousands of refugees flooding out of the region. This will do more to stop terror than all the bombs a CF-18 can drop. It’s said here it was the final straw when Harper tried to turn this issue into yet another divisive electoral wedge, and a key reason why voters turfed the man. Canadians are better than that. Canada is a better place already for this effort, and it will make us better still. The rescue operation may be imperfect, and behind schedule, but what a great, positive, hopeful note on which to end one year and begin another.

There were other contenders for this list, of course: marijuana goes mainstream south of the Medicine Line, a nuclear deal is signed with Iran despite the best efforts of some to sabotage it, terrorist attacks in Europe, recognition of the right to same-sex marriage by the U.S. Supreme Court and the tragic death of PC MLA Manmeet Bhullar here in Alberta just to name a few. These are my choices. That is all.


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

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David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe...