Seven news stories that will dominate Canadian headlines in 2014

Fireworks explode during New Year's Eve celebrations at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto, Wednesday, January 1, …Happy New Year, folks. While most of us were out ringing in the start of 2014, the world kept spinning and news kept happening. The fresh year ahead of us is an opportunity for new stories, new debates and a new focus. But that doesn’t mean the ghosts of 2013 have gone away.

The next 365 days will be busy ones, with some new topics of public discourse sure to rise up and grab our attention. There will also be headlines borne from the seeds planted last season, and issues coming to a head after ruling the year behind us.

When it comes to the news stories that are likely to dominate Canada, the year ahead will be a lot like the one that just finished. Here are seven stories that will make, or continue making, headlines in 2014.

Quebec values charter

Quebec’s governing Parti Quebecois announced last year a controversial provincial charter of values that would ban public sector employees from displaying religious items and wearing culturally-specific clothing such as the hijab. The move was seen by some as a strike against religious minorities and has split the province. Premier Pauline Marois has denied the charter is an attempt to drum up support for Quebec sovereignty. A public hearing on the issue is expected to begin on Jan. 14, and the issue could also play a central role in the next provincial election, which could be called later this year.

[ Related: From strippers to taxes: 2014 brings range of new rules ]

Sochi Olympics

The Olympics are sure to dominate the news cycle when it begins this February. Even setting aside the competition and pageantry of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, it will receive intense scrutiny from human rights advocates and Canadian officials. A storm of controversy surrounds Russia's anti-gay laws, which could threaten homosexual athletes and tourists. U.S. President Barack Obama says he will not attend the Games and has named openly gay athlete Billie Jean King as part of the White House delegation. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has also declined to attend. His government has urged Russia to show tolerance and uphold human rights during the Games.

The Winter Olympics have been further compromised by two deadly bomb attacks in the city of Volgograd, raising security fears and prompting President Vladimir Putin to promise the annihilation of all "terrorists." The Games begin on February 7 and run for two weeks.

Toronto municipal election

A new collection of municipal leaders will be selected across the country, with cities in Manitoba, British Columbia, Ontario and several other regions going to the polls in 2014. But the most watched municipal election of 2014 will inevitably be in Toronto, where citizens will choose between embattled Mayor Rob Ford and a bevy of competitors.

Despite a 2013 filled with controversy, drug confessions and court challenges, Ford's retains around 39 per cent support in most polls. His chances of re-election dim somewhat against NDP MP Olivia Chow, although she has not made a mayoral run official. A months-long campaign will culminate in an October vote, when Torontonians will decide whether to reward Ford's year of shame with another mandate or make a fresh start.

Prostitution laws

In December, the Supreme Court of Canada threw out three laws governing prostitution, declaring them unconstitutional. The government has been given until Dec. 19, 2014 to draft new, workable laws. But Justice Minister Peter MacKay has already indicated they will not go quietly.

Prostitution is not illegal in Canada, but there are three laws that make it untenable: making it illegal to keep a brothel, to live off the avails of prostitution and to solicit prostitution on the street. Those laws will come off the books on Dec. 19, 2014. No doubt, much consideration, bluster and debate with precede that deadline.

[ More Brew: 2nd Canadian reported missing from Caribbean cruise ships ]

Senate scandal

The ongoing Senate expense-claim scandal will continue to dominate headlines going into 2014, with inquiries, investigations and demands for answers shaking the Conservative government through the past year. The RCMP released in November evidence from an investigation that left some questioning how much Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his aides knew about the cleanup efforts.

The police investigation will continue in the New Year, and inquiries into the affair as well as questions in the House of Commons are sure to keep the government on its toes in Ottawa. The debate could be further elevated when the Supreme Court rules on potential Senate reform, possibly later this year.

Pipeline development

U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to announce at some point early this year whether he will support Keystone XL, a massive pipeline project that would run from Alberta down to Texas. Whether or not the project gets approval, it will inevitably stir deeper debate between supporters and environmentalists, and could even shake the relationship between the two countries.

Harper has been pushing for the pipeline's construction, and has also backed a Northern Gateway development between Alberta and the British Columbia coast. A federal review panel gave that project the green light in late December, although the project still faces hurdles before construction can get underway. This year could see a massive expansion of Canada's oil pipeline grid.

Luka Magnotta trial

The murder trial against Luka Magnotta will finally begin in 2014, two years after Magnotta was arrested and charged in the death and dismemberment of Montreal university student Lin Jun. Magnotta was the subject of an international manhunt after Lin disappeared in May 2012 and pieces of his body were mailed to government offices in Ottawa and an elementary school in Vancouver. Magnotta was eventually arrested in a German Internet cafe while reportedly reading about himself.

The case was the subject of intense attention due to the graphic and public nature of the death, with a video allegedly showing the murder being discovered on a graphic website. The trial is set to begin on Sept. 15, 2014, and is expected to run as long as eight weeks. Magnotta is pleading not guilty to five charges, including first-degree murder, committing an indignity to a body and publishing obscene material.

Want to know what news is brewing in Canada?
Follow @MRCoutts on Twitter.