Six political battles of 2013

ABOVE: (Dec. 25, 2013) The Senate scandal dominated Parliament Hill starting way back in January when Sen. Pamela Wallin’s travel expenses were called into question. That snowballed and the year ended with three suspended senators. But that was just one of the many headlines from the Hill this year. Mike Le Couteur takes a look back.

Politics is battle, and we’re not just talking about the boxing matches. This year brought more action than the Conservatives have seen in seven years in power; a Senate scandal that has implicated Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s inner circle, an RCMP investigation, and plummeting poll numbers.

And yet…nobody puts Stephen in a corner. We expect he’ll come out swinging next year, and his success will also depend on how much his opponents train for the fight.

Here’s a look at six political battles fought this year:

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NDP leader Thomas Mulcair responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, December 4, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick.

1. Thomas Mulcair vs. Stephen Harper – There were only 35 question periods this fall, and Harper attended fewer than half of them. Looking more shaken than he had in years, the prime minister often found himself at the mercy of NDP leader Mulcair, who barely hid his glee when pointedly prosecuting the prime minister.

Mulcair even got the word “proboscis” in and coined new political phrases such as “testiphony” and “Advent Calandra” (see point six). As the Senate scandal story changed – oh, how it changed – each revelatory RCMP document served like a stab in the back to Harper and fodder for Mulcair’s criminal case.

Still, no evidence has explicitly implicated the prime minister, who signed a major free trade deal with Europe in the midst of it all. We look forward to Round 2 this winter.

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Senator Mike Duffy leaves Parliament Hill following a meeting of the Senate Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration committee on Parliament Hill on May 9, 2013 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick.

2. Nigel Wright vs. Stephen Harper vs. Mike Duffy – Who to believe: the chief of staff who said he only gave Duffy the money so taxpayers wouldn’t have to foot the bill; the prime minister who said he ordered Duffy’s expenses repaid and was out of the loop on Wright’s $90,000 cheque; or Duffy, who…well we don’t really know what he’s claiming, other than a “monstrous fraud” perpetrated by the Prime Minister’s Office?

What we do know is that Wright and Duffy are both out of Harper’s favour, but not forgotten: both are being investigated by the RCMP on breach of trust and fraud allegations. Other than to proclaim his innocence, Wright has declined to tell his side of the story in public – yet.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau takes part in an interview on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, December 10, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

3. Justin Trudeau vs. himself – First, it was a slip of the tongue: in an interview on the West Block in April, Trudeau cited “pi to the decibel,” not decimal, as we presume he meant.

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Then he came out as a casual pot smoker – an activity he partook in as an MP. And more recently, when asked to name an administration he admired, the Liberal leader chose China, of all places, praising the “basic dictatorship.”

It didn’t go over well, and only sought to underscore the criticisms that he is a lightweight politician with a lot to learn.  No matter: Trudeau claims his gaffes only make him more genuine. After a tremendous showing in last month’s byelections, he may have a point.

Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber stands during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 21, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick.

4. Brent Rathgeber vs. the PMO – The outspoken independent Conservative became an Independent conservative in June when he quit the party in protest of his colleagues gutting his private member’s bill on salary transparency.

It was, in his words, the straw that broke the camel’s back. “I fear that we have morphed into what we once mocked,” the Alberta MP wrote in his blog. Rathgeber blamed, at least in part, unelected staffers.

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Don’t even get him started on their especially short pants.

“That the PMO operates so opaquely and routinely without supervision is an affront to the constitutional requirements of responsible government and is also the genesis of the current Duffy/Wright debacle,” he wrote. We expect Conservative Michael Chong to pick up where Rathgeber left off, with his Reform Act up for consideration next spring.

Sen. Patrick Brazeau talks to media on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Feb.12, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

5. The Senate vs. Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau, Pamela Wallin: Well, it happened: in the face of a spending scandal that will undoubtedly change the upper chamber forever, three sitting senators were stripped of all but their health benefits by their fellow unelected colleagues.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. All three stood up in the chamber to plead their cases, in a marathon session the likes of which no one in Ottawa had ever seen. Brazeau called it a “gong show,” Wallin got teary-eyed, and Duffy revealed even more secrets – a second cheque to pay his legal bills.

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And the battle isn’t over. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the government’s Senate reform bill next year. Meanwhile, Duffy’s recovering from heart surgery, Brazeau’s trying his hand at cub-reporting, and Wallin is missing in action, presumably at home in Saskatchewan. We think.

Parliamentary Secretary Paul Calandra responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 3, 2013 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld.

6. Paul Calandra vs. Question Period – The man who would be prime minister is certainly pro-pizza. The parliamentary secretary emerged this session as a master obfuscator, weaving tales about his father’s pizza store and even its driver, a Filipino immigrant named Eugene, to make his point about senators abusing their posts.

He also took some heat for dragging his daughters into it. But no matter, Calandra did his job – most notably, to ensure there were no answers during question period.

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