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politics briefing newsletter

Good morning. With official Ottawa winding down for the holidays, we thought we’d take this week to reflect back on the stories that shaped the year in politics. We asked some of the reporters in The Globe’s Ottawa bureau what stories they covered that had the biggest impact. Today, energy reporter Shawn McCarthy looks at one of the most contentious political debates of the year: carbon pricing.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s road to a national carbon tax developed more potholes in 2018 than an Ottawa street after a long winter of frequent freeze and thaw.

After promising such a levy in the 2015 election campaign, the Liberal government included its carbon tax in the 2018 budget and passed legislation to implement it in June. The plan – dubbed a “backstop” by Ottawa – imposes the tax in any province that does not have its own carbon levy – either through a direct tax or cap-and-trade system.

Heading into 2018, Mr. Trudeau had only to contend with Saskatchewan as an outright opponent of the carbon tax. But the national consensus quickly fell apart over the course of the year, amid a rancorous political debate about the fairness and economic impacts of carbon pricing.

Ontario dropped out first. After winning power in June, Premier Doug Ford killed the provincial cap-and-trade program and joined Saskatchewan in challenging the federal plan in court. Conservative premiers in Manitoba and New Brunswick also backed off plans to adopt a carbon tax, forcing Ottawa to extend its backstop to those provinces along with Saskatchewan and Ontario.

Reacting to setbacks in plans to expand crude export capacity, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley froze her province’s carbon levy, putting it offside with Ottawa’s plan to raise the price to $50 a tonne in 2022. For now, the federal levy won’t apply in Alberta because the provincial tax remains higher than Ottawa’s $20 per tonne initial level, but that situation may not last beyond the scheduled spring election.

Ms. Notley’s rival, United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney, has a sizable lead in polls and is vowing to scrap the NDP carbon tax should he win office.

The prospect of a “Premier Kenney” would potentially be an axle-busting pothole on the road to the Trudeau government’s own re-election bid next October.

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Chris Hannay in Ottawa. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.

Editor’s note: We’ll be on hiatus for a few days because of the holidays. We’ll be back in your inboxes in a week.


A former Canadian diplomat who is being detained in China has been denied legal representation, is questioned by authorities multiple times a day and is not allowed to turn the lights off at night, sources tell Reuters. Michael Kovrig was detained last week in an apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest of an executive at the Chinese telecom giant Huawei. Mr. Kovrig had one half-hour visit with Canada’s ambassador, but has otherwise not been able to see other guests.

Two Canadian telecom companies – BCE and Telus – are urging the federal government to let them use Huawei equipment here despite national-security concerns, saying that the Chinese technology is cheaper than other alternatives.

Canada’s spy agency joined allies in the U.S. and Britain in condemning hacking by Chinese intelligence. U.S. officials publicly accused two Chinese citizens of leading a campaign against U.S. military members.

Retired Marine general Jim Mattis has resigned as U.S. President Donald Trump’s defence secretary, saying he could just not agree with Mr. Trump’s policies any more.

Canada’s top soldier, General Jonathan Vance, says he’s “alarmed” by testimony in Vice-Admiral Mark Norman’s pretrial that some military officers were skirting their responsibilities under access-to-information law.

For the third time in 15 years, voters in British Columbia have rejected electoral reform.

Senators have rejected outside oversight of their finances.

And an Ontario Court judge has been cleared of professional misconduct for his role in a black advocacy group that included meeting with politicians, though the judicial council warns that judges still need to steer clear of politics. “It is incompatible with the separation of powers for a judge to enter the fray and ask political actors for policy changes and the allocation of resources, however worthwhile the judge’s motivating cause,” the Ontario Judicial Council wrote in its decision about Ontario Court Justice Donald McLeod.

Bruce Mabley (The Globe and Mail) on the U.S. withdrawal from Syria: “But the United States' pullout would also crown Russia as a major regional player and, if a political settlement in Syria is indeed reached, it could solidify Russian prestige and power at the UN as a peacemaker, allowing Moscow to mask the dreadful record of barrel bombs and civilian carnage wreaked by its war planes on the Syrian people throughout the seven-year civil war.”

Shachi Kurl of the Angus Reid Institute, in the Ottawa Citizen, on the polls: “Trudeau and Scheer are also tied on approval (35 per cent versus 36 per cent respectively). The difference is the significant ‘unknown’ factor Scheer faces. One-in-five Canadians has no opinion of him one way of the other. If his strategy is to keep a low profile and stay out of the way while Trudeau takes the hits, it’s a risky one. The Liberals could go negative and define him before he gets the chance to define himself.”

Darrell Bricker of Ipsos Public Affairs, in Global News, on the polls: “What do the regional and sub-regional numbers show? That the Liberals are strong because they’re doing well where they need to win enough seats to form government again — that’s Ontario, Quebec and B.C. The Conservatives, on the other hand, are only five points behind the Liberals in the national vote numbers, but are over-performing in regions where there aren’t enough seats available to impact the election outcome.”

Margaret Wente (The Globe and Mail) on the holidays: “Why, after 40 years of feminism, has so little changed? The feminist explanation is that patriarchal oppression extends its stranglehold down through the generations. My explanation is that too many women are masochistic perfectionists. The Christmas juggernaut isn’t spread by men. It’s spread by women’s publications and by Pinterest, which bedazzle you with images of Stepford wives dressed in hand-knit reindeer sweaters decorating cunning little Christmas cookies.”

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