December 27, 2017 12:00 pm

Year in Review: Top 10 political moments of 2017

Tourists take their picture at the Canada 150 sign on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario on Monday, Oct. 30, 2017.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg
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It’s been another year of political turmoil and intrigue on Parliament Hill.

With the Liberals passing the midway point of their mandate, clouds began to obscure Justin Trudeau‘s sunny ways, and the Opposition parties fully regrouped – choosing new leaders to steer them toward the next federal election in 2019.

Here are the biggest stories to come out of Ottawa this year, in no particular order.

Bahamas drama


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This brouhaha got started before 2017 even dawned, but it carried over into January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November and yes, even December.

It began when Justin Trudeau decided to visit an old family friend over the Christmas holidays last year, which normally wouldn’t be a problem. But in this case, the friend was the billionaire spiritual leader of the world’s approximately 15 million Ismaili Muslims, and the vacation spot was his private island in the Bahamas.

WATCH: Trudeau 1st PM to ever break a federal statute following ethics watchdog ruling

In addition to the dreadful optics of lounging on an island owned by a man whose charitable foundation receives government money, the PM’s use of a private helicopter to get there also caught the attention of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, Mary Dawson.

On Dec. 20, Dawson released her long-awaited report on the prime minister’s behaviour. The verdict? He broke the rules.

Morneau’s mess

Where do we even begin? The failure to disclose the private corporation that holds the finance minister’s French villa? The lack of a blind trust to manage the million shares he held in his former firm? His potentially problematic tabling of legislation that might benefit that same firm?

Bill Morneau weathered what seemed like one political storm after another in 2017. Compounding the issues linked to his personal wealth was a furious backlash over a proposed series of changes to Canada’s tax laws.

Announced at the height of the summer, Morneau said the proposals would close loopholes that allowed people who incorporate in Canada to unfairly reap tax breaks not available to everyone else. Small business owners were extremely displeased, and let their local MPs know it.

WATCH: Small business owners speak out against proposed federal tax changes

Under intense pressure, Morneau undertook a series of high-profile consultations, and some of the plans were cancelled while others were walked back. As of now, the finance minister is still clinging to his job.

Thing is, it’s actually been a pretty good year for the Canadian economy. But Morneau somehow managed to spend most of the fall fighting for his political life as he was hit with an endless stream (scratch that, firehose) of negative headlines. At one point he even threatened to sue the Conservatives.

One thing is for sure: this fight isn’t over.

Asylum seekers

They came by the hundreds – and then by the thousands. By crossing the border on foot between legal checkpoints, suitcases and children in tow, asylum seekers found they were able to take advantage of a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the U.S.

WATCH: Many questions, few answers from Trudeau on surge in asylum seekers

Instead of being sent back to America, they were permitted to try to make an asylum claim here. Word spread quickly through the Haitian and South American diaspora communities, and the Canadian government was forced to set up camps to shelter the arrivals last summer while also attempting to counter the misinformation spreading south of the border.

“There is no free ticket to Canada,” repeated Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, over and over again.

And indeed, the government says only 10 per cent of the Haitians who crossed have been approved to make an asylum claim. Still, people continue to come. By late 2017, the system for processing claims was badly backlogged and groups working to support the new arrivals were overwhelmed. Ottawa is now bracing for another potential influx in 2018.

Scheer shocker

May 27 was, to put it mildly, not a great day for Maxime Bernier. The former cabinet minister and front-runner in the Conservative leadership race likely had his victory speech written by that morning, based on the polling numbers, and a page-long biography of his girlfriend was even being handed out to reporters on the floor of the leadership convention.

Then, on the 13th ballot, dark horse Andrew Scheer snatched it all away.

WATCH: Who is new Conservative leader Andrew Scheer?

Scheer’s victory was unexpected, but it perfectly capped off a race that was full of twists, turns and controversy right from the start.

Hey, remember when Kevin O’Leary wanted to be prime minister? Or this video from Kellie Leitch? Good times.

Singh’s game-changer

Unlike the Conservative race, this one was arguably as predictable as they come in federal politics – especially near the end when Jagmeet Singh announced that he’d managed to single-handedly sign up tens of thousands of new NDP members.

READ MORE: 7 in 10 Canadians would be A-OK with voting for a party led by a Sikh

The charismatic, snappily dressed Ontario MPP then successfully convinced that membership that he was the right choice to replace Tom Mulcair.

WATCH: Singh responds to racist heckling with ‘We welcome you’

During his campaign, Singh pushed for decriminalization of all drugs, a revamp of old age security and a federal ban on racial profiling. In a recent appearance on Global News, he also said he had no firm plans to try to balance future budgets.

Singh’s victory, which made him the first non-white leader of a major federal party in Canada, has been portrayed as a potential game-changer. Now all he needs is a seat in the House of Commons and a new tailor in Ottawa.

Mark Norman ousted

This story began in mid-January when Vice-Admiral Mark Norman — the second-highest ranking officer in Canada’s military — was mysteriously relieved of duty. The defence department offered no explanation, but it didn’t take long for the details to start trickling out.

WATCH: RCMP allege Vice-Admiral Mark Norman leaked government secrets

Norman, as it turns out, was suspected of leaking confidential cabinet materials to an executive with a Quebec shipbuilding firm in an effort to get the government to move ahead with a supply-ship contract that Norman favoured. Further details were revealed in April when court documents were made public.

The scandal shook the military — and destroyed Norman’s career.

Since last spring, however, not much has happened. Norman remains on leave with pay, and no charges have been laid by the RCMP.

Omar Khadr settlement

The government argued that it was an unavoidable and difficult lesson in what happens when Canada flagrantly violates the rights of its citizens, but news of a $10.5-million payout to former Guantanamo Bay inmate Omar Khadr was nevertheless greeted by public outrage.

READ MORE: Government issues official apology, confirms settlement payout to Omar Khadr

The Conservatives argued that, in spite of two Supreme Court rulings that determined the government had indeed violated Khadr’s rights, there was no need to pay him any settlement money; his repatriation to Canada was compensation enough.

The Liberals shot back, saying that the inevitable court battle would have cost taxpayers even more, in the end.

Canadians themselves seemed to side with the Tories, with 71 per cent saying Trudeau’s government made the wrong call. Khadr said he just wanted to go back to living his life.

NAFTA woes

U.S. President Donald Trump has made headlines on a near-daily basis in 2017, whether it be for his controversial tweets, his campaign’s alleged ties to Russia or the ongoing tensions between America and North Korea.

But it was Trump’s full-frontal attack on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that made the biggest waves here in Canada.

WATCH: Donald Trump calls NAFTA horrendous, one sided

The president has repeatedly threatened to scrap the trade deal, leaving Canada and Mexico scrambling to renegotiate the pact. Many experts agree that NAFTA should be updated, but coming to a consensus on what needs to change – or stay the same – has proven extremely challenging.

READ MORE: What keeps Justin Trudeau awake at night? Deadlock on NAFTA talks

Meanwhile, as NAFTA wobbles, the Canadian government has redoubled its efforts to reach out to China, Europe, India and Pacific-rim nations on trade. The results have been mixed, to say the least.

M-103

Who would have thought a simple motion in the House of Commons could cause so much trouble?

M-103 changed no laws and did not place any new legal limits on free speech. It simply called on the government to denounce “Islamophobia and all forms of racism and religious discrimination,” and tasked a committee to study how to tackle such discrimination.

Conservative MPs argued that condemning Islamophobia without defining it could, however, stifle legitimate debate about controversial issues like the niqab.

WATCH: Islamophobia becomes political hot potato in Ottawa

Right-wing website The Rebel did little to quell the outrage when it alleged that the motion represented a blatant attack on free speech and the first step toward sharia law in Canada.

There were angry protests. The MP who tabled the motion got death threats. Amendments were proposed and rejected. And then, in March, M-103 quietly passed.

Phoenix

This story makes the list mainly for its sheer staying power. Nearly two years after its launch, the government’s Phoenix pay system is still a mess.

And not a small mess, either. A big one. The kind of mess that involves over half of all federal public servants, hundreds of millions of dollars, two ministers and more than a few angry union bosses.

WATCH: Edmonton woman explains how she got caught up in Phoenix pay system debacle

The Senate decided that enough was enough this fall and bailed out entirely. It seems everyone else will need to wait as Ottawa continues to try to fix the beleaguered computer program that has caused so much trouble.

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