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Power & Politics: Top five political stories of 2020 – CBC.ca

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2020 has been a year like no other and that goes double for all things political.

While most people will be happy to close the door on the past 12 months, the team at CBC News Network’s Power & Politics took a look back at the top five political stories from this year, because, as they say, “hindsight is 2020.”

To help wrap things up, our Power Panel — Hill Times’ managing editor Charelle Evelyn, Amanda Alvaro of Pomp and Circumstance, Summa Strategies’ Tim Powers and Kathleen Monk of Earnscliffe Strategy Group — helped host Vassy Kapelos count down the key political moments from this year.

You can catch the full show Tuesday at 6 p.m. ET on CBC News Network.

5. Conservative leadership race

The race to replace Andrew Scheer as leader of the Conservative party takes the number five spot.

The contest started with much speculation over who would compete for the top Tory job — and included names like Rona Ambrose, Pierre Poilievre and Jean Charest.

But after the pandemic forced the party to suspend the race and delay the vote, Conservatives had four candidates to chose from in August: Erin O’Toole, Peter MacKay, Leslyn Lewis and Derek Sloan.

In a fitting end to the a 2020 leadership contest, O’Toole won after a six-hour delay due to glitches with the ballots, beating out MacKay in the final round of the run-off style vote.

The team at Power & Politics breaks down the top five political stories of 2020. 7:10

In his victory speech, O’Toole pledged to widen the Conservative base.

“I believe that whether you are Black, white, brown or from any race or creed, whether you are LGBT or straight, whether you are an Indigenous Canadian or have joined the Canadian family three weeks ago or three generations ago … whether you’re doing well or barely getting by. Whether you worship on Friday, Saturday, Sunday or not at all … you are an important part of Canada and you have a home in the Conservative Party of Canada,” he said.

4. Systemic racism

Number four is a topic that many governments and public officials struggled with this year — systemic racism.

The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers sparked outrage and calls to end systemic racism in the United States and across the globe, including Canada.

While protests gripped several U.S. cities, rallies and demonstrations also took place here at home — including in the nation’s capital, where the Prime Minister attended.

The team at Power & Politics breaks down the top five political stories of 2020. 9:46

Public officials faced questions about what could be done to end systemic racism in Canada.

Most notably, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki struggled to with the term systemic racism, before making an about face and admitting it exists within the national police force.

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was later booted from the House of Commons for refusing to apologize or withdraw comments directed at Bloc Québécois MP Alain Therrien. Singh had tried to get all parties to agree to a motion recognizing the existence of systemic racism in the RCMP. After Therrien was the only MP to vote against the motion, thus defeating it, Singh called Therrien a racist, resulting in his expulsion from the house.

Quebec Premier François Legault has likewise faced fierce criticism for not acknowledging the existence of systemic racism in his province.

3. U.S. election

For number three, we turn our gaze south of the border to the U.S. presidential election.

The campaign itself was different due to the pandemic, not least of all when a debate had to be cancelled after President Donald Trump contracted COVID-19.

Then 2020 struck again on Nov. 3, leaving no clear winner after election night.

What followed were days of counting absentee and mail-in ballots that had everyone — including Canada’s federal government — on the edge of their seats waiting for a final result.

The team at Power & Politics breaks down the top five political stories of 2020. 6:59

It wouldn’t be until four days after election night that the race was called, with democratic candidate Joe Biden winning the presidency after securing enough electoral college votes.

But afterward, President Trump refused to concede, making false claims about voter fraud and launching several legal challenges in an attempt to overturn the results in some states.

Multiple states, including Georgia and Wisconsin, conducted recounts. But in the end Biden still had enough votes to claim victory.

2. WE Charity scandal

In a year that has been gripped by a pandemic, it’s somewhat hard to pick out just one pandemic-related story that would make the cut for this list.

Yet coming in at number two is the WE Charity scandal.

The scandal rose out of what was supposed to be a pandemic support program for students, one that would offer money from the federal government for completing a specific number of volunteer hours during the summer break.

The WE Charity was originally tapped to administer the program, but the entire thing fell apart after it was revealed that members of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s family had previously been paid by the charity.

The team at Power & Politics breaks down the top five political stories of 2020. 8:53

What followed were weeks of outcry from the opposition. Trudeau and WE co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger were brought before committee to testify.

Trudeau said he pushed back against a public service recommendation to have WE administer the program, but ultimately didn’t recuse himself when the decision was put before cabinet.

It was later revealed that then Finance Minister Bill Morneau had cut the cheque to the organization during the scandal. The money was to repay the travel expenses incurred by WE related to two 2017 trips he and his family took with the organization.

Morneau would later resign from his position as finance minister and leave parliament entirely, though he has maintained his decision to leave had nothing to do with the scandal.

The WE Charity would also later announce that they would be winding down operations in Canada.

1. COVID-19 Pandemic

In what should come as a surprise to no one, the pandemic takes the top spot for this year’s political story.

No other event in recent memory has changed so fundamentally the world as we know it, including our politics.

As mentioned previously, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the U.S. election as well as Canada’s Conservative leadership race, but it goes far beyond that.

Even before the pandemic took hold in this country, the federal government was forced to organize a charter plane to bring Canadian citizens and permanent residents home from Wuhan, China, the original epicentre of the pandemic.

But it was when the virus arrived in Canada and started to spread that life really began to change here.

The team at Power & Politics breaks down the top five political stories of 2020. 9:21

Just last year the Liberal government was defending its deficit spending by claiming it had the best debt-to-GDP ratio in the G7.

That was thrown out the window when suddenly people were being asked to stay home and employees were forced to shut down their shops and lay off workers.

The government began rolling out an aid package worth billions of dollars, resulting in government spending not seen since World War II.

In Ottawa, MPs — like many Canadians — were forced to work from home, resulting in a new virtual style of Parliament.

Here’s hoping that next year’s list includes an end to the pandemic.

Happy New Year.

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Green Party in turmoil, leader resists calls to step down

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Canada‘s Green Party was increasingly mired in an internal dispute over its position on Israel on Tuesday, and a news report said the bloc would hold a vote next month on whether to oust its leader, Annamie Paul, who was elected just eight months ago.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp (CBC) reported that the Greens had triggered a process that could remove Paul, the first black person to head a mainstream Canadian party, beginning with a vote next month.

A Green Party spokesperson declined to comment on the report, but said the party’s “federal council” would meet later on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, Paul, 48, rejected calls from the Quebec wing of the party for her to resign after a member of parliament left the Greens due to the Israel controversy.

“I believe that I have been given a strong mandate. I believe that I have been given the instructions to work on behalf of Canadians for a green recovery,” Paul said at a news conference in Ottawa.

Paul herself is not a member of parliament. The Greens – who champion the environment and the fight against climate change – had only three legislators in the 338-seat House of Commons and one, Jenica Atwin, abandoned the party last week to join the governing Liberals.

Atwin has said that her exit was in large part due to a dispute over the party’s stance on Israel. Atwin on Twitter has criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, while a senior adviser to Paul, Noah Zatzman, has posted on Facebook that some unspecified Green members of parliament are anti-Semitic.

The party’s executive committee voted last week not to renew Zatzman’s contract, local media reported. Paul converted to Judaism some two decades ago after she married a Jewish man.

While the Greens are the smallest faction in parliament, they perform well in British Colombia and hold two seats there. The current turmoil may favor their rivals ahead of a national election that senior Liberals say could be just a few months away.

The Greens would win about 6.7% of the vote nationally if a vote were held now, according to an average of recent polls aggregated by the CBC.

 

(Reporting by Steve Scherer and Julie Gordon; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Hope, anger and defiance greet birth of Israel’s new government

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Following are reactions to the new government in Israel, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER

“We’ll be back, soon.”

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES

“On behalf of the American people, I congratulate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and all the members of the new Israeli cabinet. I look forward to working with Prime Minister Bennett to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations.”

NABIL ABU RUDEINEH, SPOKESMAN FOR PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS

“This is an internal Israeli affair. Our position has always been clear, what we want is a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.”

BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER VIA TWITTER

“On behalf of the UK, I offer my congratulations to

@naftalibennett and @yairlapid on forming a new government in Israel. As we emerge from COVID-19, this is an exciting time for the UK and Israel to continue working together to advance peace and prosperity for all.”

TOR WENNESLAND, U.N. MIDDLE EAST PEACE ENVOY VIA TWITTER

“I look forward to working with the Government to advance the ultimate goal of a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”

CHARLES MICHEL, EUROPEAN COUNCIL PRESIDENT VIA TWITTER

“Congratulations to Prime Minister @naftalibennett and to Alternate PM & MFA @yairlapid for the swearing in of the new Israeli government. Looking forward to strengthen the partnership for common prosperity and towards lasting regional peace & stability.”

FAWZI BARHOUM, HAMAS SPOKESMAN

“Regardless of the shape of the government in Israel, it will not alter the way we look at the Zionist entity. It is an occupation and a colonial entity, which we should resist by force to get our rights back.”

BENNY GANTZ, ISRAELI DEFENCE MINISTER

“With all due respect, Israel is not a widower. Israel’s security was never dependent on one man. And it will never be dependent on one man.”

CHUCK SCHUMER, U.S. SENATE MAJORITY LEADER

“So, there’s a new Administration in Israel. And we are hopeful that we can now begin serious negotiations for a two-state solution. I am urging the Biden Administration to do all it can to bring the parties together and help achieve a two-state solution where each side can live side by side in peace.”

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA

“Congratulations on the formation of a new Israeli government, Prime Minister @NaftaliBennett and Alternate Prime Minister @YairLapid. Together, let’s explore ways to further strengthen the relationship between Canada and Israel.”

MANSOUR ABBAS, ARAB MEMBER OF NEW ISRAELI GOVERNMENT

“We are aware that this step has a lot of risks and hardships that we cannot deny, but the opportunity for us is also big: to change the equation and the balance of power in the Knesset and in the upcoming government.”

DAPHNA KILION, ISRAELI IN JERUSALEM

“I think it’s very exciting for Israel to have a new beginning and I’m hopeful that the new government will take them in the right direction.”

EREZ GOLDMAN, ISRAELI IN JERUSALEM

“It’s a sad day today, it’s not a legitimate government. It’s pretty sad that almost 86 (out of 120 seats) in the parliament, the Knesset, belong to the right-wing and they sold their soul and ideology and their beliefs to the extreme left-wing just for one purpose – hatred of Netanyahu and to become a prime minister.”

SEBASTIAN KURZ, CHANCELLOR OF AUSTRIA, VIA TWITTER

“Congratulations to PM @naftalibennett and alternate PM @yairlapid for forming a government. I look forward to working with you. Austria is committed to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and will continue to stand by Israel’s side.”

(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Daniel Wallis and Lisa Shumaker)

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Boris Johnson hails Biden as ‘a big breath of fresh air’

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday as “a big breath of fresh air”, and praised his determination to work with allies on important global issues ranging from climate change and COVID-19 to security.

Johnson did not draw an explicit parallel between Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump after talks with the Democratic president in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay on the eve of a summit of the Group of Seven (G7) advanced economies.

But his comments made clear Biden had taken a much more multilateral approach to talks than Trump, whose vision of the world at times shocked, angered and bewildered many of Washington’s European allies.

“It’s a big breath of fresh air,” Johnson said of a meeting that lasted about an hour and 20 minutes.

“It was a long, long, good session. We covered a huge range of subjects,” he said. “It’s new, it’s interesting and we’re working very hard together.”

The two leaders appeared relaxed as they admired the view across the Atlantic alongside their wives, with Jill Biden wearing a jacket embroidered with the word “LOVE”.

“It’s a beautiful beginning,” she said.

Though Johnson said the talks were “great”, Biden brought grave concerns about a row between Britain and the European Union which he said could threaten peace in the British region of Northern Ireland, which following Britain’s departure from the EU is on the United Kingdom’s frontier with the bloc as it borders EU member state Ireland.

The two leaders did not have a joint briefing after the meeting: Johnson spoke to British media while Biden made a speech about a U.S. plan to donate half a billion vaccines to poorer countries.

NORTHERN IRELAND

Biden, who is proud of his Irish heritage, was keen to prevent difficult negotiations between Brussels and London undermining a 1998 U.S.-brokered peace deal known as the Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to Britain that Biden had a “rock-solid belief” in the peace deal and that any steps that imperilled the accord would not be welcomed.

Yael Lempert, the top U.S. diplomat in Britain, issued London with a demarche – a formal diplomatic reprimand – for “inflaming” tensions, the Times newspaper reported.

Johnson sought to play down the differences with Washington.

“There’s complete harmony on the need to keep going, find solutions, and make sure we uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement,” said Johnson, one of the leaders of the 2016 campaign to leave the EU.

Asked if Biden had made his alarm about the situation in Northern Ireland very clear, he said: “No he didn’t.

“America, the United States, Washington, the UK, plus the European Union have one thing we absolutely all want to do,” Johnson said. “And that is to uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, and make sure we keep the balance of the peace process going. That is absolutely common ground.”

The 1998 peace deal largely brought an end to the “Troubles” – three decades of conflict between Irish Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant “loyalist” paramilitaries in which 3,600 people were killed.

Britain’s exit from the EU has strained the peace in Northern Ireland. The 27-nation bloc wants to protect its markets but a border in the Irish Sea cuts off the British province from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Although Britain formally left the EU in 2020, the two sides are still trading threats over the Brexit deal after London unilaterally delayed the implementation of the Northern Irish clauses of the deal.

Johnson’s Downing Street office said he and Biden agreed that both Britain and the EU “had a responsibility to work together and to find pragmatic solutions to allow unencumbered trade” between Northern Ireland, Britain and Ireland.”

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Andrea Shalal, Padraic Halpin, John Chalmers; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Giles Elgood, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Mark Potter and Timothy Heritage)

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