As 2015 comes to a close, these major ongoing issues aren’t going anywhere

This awkward week jammed in between Christmas and New Year’s is when some of the year’s most half-assed journalism gets cranked out, in the form of phoned-in Year in Review pieces, or worse, Top Ten Blanks of 201x listicles.

I don’t have a problem with retrospectives. It’s just that the last week of December is only ever the actual turning point in current events by pure chance or accident. More often than not, major stories are still developing, trends are still unfolding, and it’s too soon to pass judgement on what the legacy of recent events will actually be.

So in my final post of 2015, I’m going to eschew the lazy conventions of the genre by highlighting a few stories which are very much ongoing affairs as the year comes to a close.

The slow collapse of the Canadian economy

Yesterday, oil hit another major low, as did the Canadian dollar, part of a free-falling trajectory that hasn’t really shown any signs of slowing down. Meanwhile, nervous experts fret that persistently low oil prices could mean a massive collapse in the value of Canadian real estate.

Low oil prices have already translated into major negative effects in Alberta, including skyrocketing suicide rates (up 30% year-over-year) and unemployment rates (at a five-year high, with more job losses accumulating each month), massive increases in food bank participation (a 23% increase in 2015), and even the widespread abandonment of pets in the heart of the tar sands, Fort McMurray.

As for the red-hot real estate market, it’s still charging upwards, at least in Toronto (12.5% increase this year) and Vancouver (up a staggering 20%), but experts (especially internationally) are increasingly questioning how much longer that trend can continue before it all comes crashing down.

Though the economy is no longer (technically) in recession, neither is it growing strongly. And with so many international factors (China’s slowdown, US monetary policy, a surge in global food prices, even Iranian oil export plans) negatively impacting what happens here, it’s clear that this story will continue to be a big one next year.

Will 2016 be the year the bubble bursts? The year a major bank gets bailed out? The year we see food riots in a Western nation? I don’t have a damn clue. The most specific prediction I’m willing to make about next year is that I’ll tag Stephen Harper in way fewer posts than I tagged him in this year.

That being said, will Canada’s crappy economic situation by a major factor in national affairs next year? Abso-freakin-lutely.

Pipeline resistance FTW

The fight against pipelines has been a major story in 2015, and all indications are that this struggle will only expand in the coming year.

Just today, a coalition of First Nations in (so-called) British Columbia who are opposed to Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline announced their intention to appeal a potential approval in court, months in advance of the National Energy Board’s final recommendation, which is due in May 2016. The announcement is yet another indication that many First Nations have completely given up on the NEB process as fundamentally and irredeemably flawed.

In addition to long-standing grievances over the NEB’s approach to consulting First Nations and the widespread perception that the Board is ultimately a friend to the industry it’s supposed to be regulating, opponents of Trans Mountain now have another reason to condemn the NEB process as farcical: the Board announced this week that it is refusing to accept a major new study into the effects of diluted bitumen in pipeline spills into evidence.

Described as “the most authoritative review on dilbit that’s ever been undertaken”, the study shows the near-impossibility of adequately cleaning up a spill of diluted bitumen in the ocean, and highlights the already-well-known difficulties of dealing with dilbit spills in rivers and lakes.

The NEB’s reason for rejecting the report? “In its ruling, the NEB admitted that the report is relevant and the late filing is justified. However, it denied the application because the timing would be unfair to [Kinder Morgan], which wouldn’t have enough time to respond to the new evidence.”

A court challenge to Trans Mountain would hardly be surprising; it almost seems like every major pipeline project in the country is facing a protracted legal battle led by First Nations. The Chippewas of the Thames First Nation is currently seeking leave to appeal the NEB’s approval of the reversal of Enbridge’s Line 9B to the Supreme Court of Canada, and a major court challenge already faces TransCanada’s Northern Gateway project.

Meanwhile, grassroots resistance and direct disruptive action against pipelines continues in affected communities across Canada. I wrote yesterday about the recent shutdown of a Line 9B pumping station in Sarnia, the second such shutdown in December; I would be shocked if we didn’t see similar actions unfolding in the months ahead.

The Tee-Pee-Pee

Admittedly, this one has fallen off the radar for the past few months. After the marathon conclusion of negotiations in October, this insidious sovereignty-destroying corporate giveaway of a deal hasn’t gotten a ton of press. (For my coverage from this year on the issue, see here.)

That may be set to change in the months to come. A formal signing ceremony for the treaty looks set to take place in February – or at least, that’s what the Japan Times reported today – although the deal itself won’t take effect until it’s been legally ratified by at least six countries representing 85% of the GDP of the bloc (i.e., the US and Japan plus any other four).

Meanwhile, criticism from both the mainstream (see this very long business-positive/TPP-negative piece in the Globe and Mail) and from decidedly less mainstream ones (see this great piece by Polly Jones in Counterpunch on global trade negotiations, which is headed with a picture of Emperor Palpatine).

The Trudeau government has promised widespread consultation before it brings the issue to a vote in Parliament, but as some observers have pointed out, it’s unclear how (or if) the feedback they receive from this consultation will influence either the process or the government’s position. And just yesterday, the Council of Canadians issued a scathing release on the “consultations” so far:

A not-widely publicized Government of Canada web-page has posted the line, “Canadians are invited to visit this page frequently for consultations activities and regular updates. You can also send your comments at any time via email:”

The “TPP consultations” noted on the website appear to only include the trade minister having met with ten provincial and territorial governments, including BC Premier Christy Clark; government representatives from New Zealand, Mexico, Malaysia, Peru, Chile and Australia; industry groups including the Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association, the Auto Parts Manufacturers Association, the “Canadian supply-managed sector” and “Canadian business leaders”; and from civil society, only the Canadian Labour Congress, Unifor, and “leaders from academia”.

Non-governmental organizations and First Nations are conspicuously absent from the list of those being consulted.

The possibility that the whole deal might get delayed until after November’s presidential election, or even killed when it comes before the U.S. Senate for approval is non-trivial and ought to be taken seriously, but opponents of the TPP can’t pin all their hopes on it. Here’s hoping that Canadian opponents of the deal get themselves organized and make their voices heard in 2016.

These are some stories I’m confident I’ll be continuing to cover in the months to come, although of course they aren’t alone in that respect. The refugee crisis, the fight against Bill C-51 and increased state surveillance, Canada’s confusing involvement in the fight against ISIS – I wouldn’t say that I’m looking forward to writing more about them, but I know I’m probably going to anyway.

As for you, dear readers – what are your thoughts on the year to come? What stories do you think will blow up (literally or figuratively) in 2016? Let me know yr predictions in the comments below. Thanks for being a part of this blog’s first year!

Off-Topic Tuesday is when I write about whatever the hell I want to. You can reach me at or leave a comment below. Happy New Year!

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