2012 Year in Review: Top 10 economic and political stories

Tainted food, toppled tech giants and teetering political parties were among the most talked-about economic and political stories of 2012 in Canada. Elections in Alberta and Quebec and the fallout from a federal election marred by controversy also captured our attention and continue to command headlines. But it wasn’t all political bluster. The release of the new polymer $20 also lured us online, including suggestions would melt in the sun. That sounds like a fun year.

1.    XL Foods beef recall: The fear of tainted beef at an Edmonton processing plant exploded into a nationwide recall earlier this year and only recently have we seen the product reenter the marketplace. The XL Foods scare began in September, when an outbreak of E. coli was traced back to the Edmonton factory. Eighteen illnesses were eventually linked to the outbreak, which led Health Canada to issue near-daily recalls on more than 1,800 products including sausages, steaks and hamburger meat. Alberta’s Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith prompted a backlash of her own after suggesting the meat be cooked and fed to homeless people.

2.    The downfall of Research in Motion: The continuing collapse of Canada’s once-omniscient tech giant continued its descent into oblivion through much of the calendar year with product delays and the announcement that 5,000 jobs would be slashed. Best, and frankly only, known as the creator of BlackBerry, Research in Motion has been losing market shares to Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android system since it reached its peak in 2008. This year it lost an exclusive contract with the Pentagon. The company hopes to cauterize the wound with the release of BlackBerry 10 early next year. The new operating system will include a handy new messaging system that will essentially allow users to make free long-distance calls. It is nice of them to try.

3.    Alberta Election: Alberta’s Conservative Party rallied from the brink of defeat earlier this year to stave off the right-leaning Wildrose Party and form its 12th consecutive majority government. The win also made Alison Redford Alberta’s first elected female premier. The loss was not attributed to the Wildrose’s unfortunate campaign bus decal, which was the butt of jokes for accentuating an unintended area of Leader Danielle Smith body. The March election has remained in the spotlight as the province’s electoral officer investigates as much as $430,000 in campaign contributions linked to Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz. The Alberta PCs also took steps recently to distance itself from the federal party.

4.    Quebec student protests: Outraged at a plan to raise university tuition across the province, students in Quebec launched a series of massive protests, clashing with police and forcing an early end to the academic year. The protests continued through May – when then-premier Jean Charest offered concessions to the protest groups – and into the provincial election. Student protesters ran against the Liberals and the movement declared a victory when the Charest government was defeated by the Parti Quebecois. New Premier Pauline Marois made it her first order of business to scrap the tuition hikes and repeal an anti-protest law that had been enacted in an attempt to end the protests.

5.    The Robocall scandal: Dirty tricks linked to the 2011 General Election were among the biggest political controversies of 2012. Elections Canada continues to investigate a series of automated phone calls made in several ridings that included incorrect polling station information in a case of alleged voter suppression. The controversy came to light after the Conservatives claimed a majority government and voters in 234 of the country’s 308 ridings complained of receiving misleading telephone calls. A Conservative campaign manager at the heart of the controversy recently moved to Kuwait and continues to refuse to participate in Election Canada’s investigation. Meantime, a young Conservative staffer who had been accused of masterminding the affair broke his silence and declared his innocence.

6.    Liberal Party tailspin and redemption: The same election that granted the Conservative Party of Canada its first majority since Brian Mulroney also decimated the Liberas, dropping it to third-party status for the first time in its history. The abject failure of leader Michael Ignatieff – painted as Ivory Tower U.S. elite – and the surge of the New Democratic Party behind leader Jack Layton left the Liberals in a tailspin. The party has spent most of the year sputtering under interim leader Bob Rae. Hope, or at least interest, in the party has reemerged since Justin Trudeau announced his intention to run for leader. A new poll suggests support for the Liberals is returning, cutting into the NDP vote.

7.    Quebec corruption investigation: The mayors of Montreal and Laval are the most recent casualties in a massive investigation into allegations of corruption in Quebec’s construction industry. The two mayors stepped down after being swept up in the affair, which has linked the Mafia to political party fundraisers and government contracts, proffered to engineers and construction contractors. One former engineer for the city of Montreal has admitted to accepting more than $500,000 in kickbacks and lavish gifts in exchange for inflating the price of government contracts. The Competition Bureau of Canada says it is also watching and waiting for the outcome of the provincial investigation, known as the Charbonneau Commission.

8.    Keystone Pipeline: The plan to expand a Western Canadian crude oil pipeline as far south as Texas has been a political hot potato on both sides of the border. Most recently it was made an issue in the U.S. election and the oil industry is hopeful that President Barack Obama will return his support to the plan now that he has been re-elected. The Keystone pipeline currently delivers about 500,000 barrels of crude oil from Alberta’s oil sands to a storage hub in Oklahoma, with TransCanada hoping to expand its reach to refineries in Texas’ Gulf Coast. Environmentalists continue to protest the project, including former vice-president Al Gore, who called the plan “lunacy.”

9.    The new $20 bill: Canada’s trend toward polymer currency took a step forward this year when the Bank of Canada released new $20 bills. It followed the previous releases of $100 and $50 bills, and $10 and $5 bills will soon follow suit, ending Canada’s addiction to paper currency entirely. The bills were designed to not only better withstand wear-and-tear but also thwart the attempts of counterfeiters. The RCMP says the new polymer notes are more difficult to duplicate, and went out of its way to prove that they could withstand heat, after some suggested the plastic bills melted when left in the sun. The release did hit some snags, however, with some people finding the bills hard to use in vending machines and others finding them too pornographic. Really.

10.    Protecting Children from Online Predators Act: Public Safety Minister Vic Toews didn’t mince words early this year while whipping the House of Commons to support a bill that would give police organizations more liberal access to online information. He declared that those who did not support the Protecting Children from Online Predators Act were supporting child pornographers. Canadians and internet hackers found plenty of ground between those two point, however, as they rallied to defend their online privacy. The bill has stalled in the House of Commons, but Canada’s police chiefs recently urged the government to bring the legislation back online, saying their investigations were being hampered by antiquated laws.