Year in review: from plunging oil to rising hope, the Top Ten news stories of 2015

Posted on December 30, 2015, 12:37 am
17 mins

PHOTOS: Cameras try to follow a nearly invisible Rachel Notley through the crowd at an Edmonton hotel on May 5, 2015, moments after she had been declared the winner of the Alberta election. No one could quite believe that the NDP had just won a majority government, in Alberta of all places, Ms. Notley’s talents as a politician notwithstanding. Below: Premier Notley as she gave her victory speech that night, former prime minister Stephen Harper, former premier Jim Prentice as shown in March on a now-hilarious Alberta Views cover, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, the much-lamented Cecil the Lion, U.K. Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, unfortunate Oiler Connor McDavid, U.S. President Barack Obama and a mother and child, refugees from Syria.

Well here we are, on the cusp of 2016 and it’s time for the traditional review of the top news stories of 2015. Everyone else is doing it, so why not

NotleyJournalists, being who they are, tilt toward surprises. If Jim Prentice’s PCs had won the Alberta provincial election on May 5, as everyone expected, instead of Rachel Notley’s New Democrats, that probably wouldn’t have made as many lists simply because it wouldn’t have been as big a surprise. Yet, arguably, it would have been just as significant a story.

Likewise, journalists favour mayhem, mayhem being dramatic and almost always followed by pronouncements that “this changes everything.” Very rarely is this true, because violence at home and abroad almost always happens for a reason, usually in a political context.

Finally, journalists tend to concentrate on events that happened in the last half of the year – because, you know, the media attention span is notoriously short, and getting shorter all the time.

Here are my Top Ten news stories for 2015. If you don’t agree, feel free to contribute your own list to the comments section. Keep it shorter than this, though!

Jan. 1 – Oil prices just go on collapsing

HarperThe plummeting price of petroleum, which began unexpectedly halfway through 2014 and has never really stopped, is surely the biggest political and business story in 2015. It plays a role in every other story on this list, with the possible exception of Cecil the Lion’s fatal drilling by a dentist. It created conditions that made the rise of the NDP possible in Alberta, and it made governing the place seem like a nightmare. It made it easier for President Barack Obama to kill the Keystone Pipeline. Pundits didn’t see it coming, so now they can’t see it going away. It creates economic conditions that demand stimulus – and that cause conservatives instinctively to demand the opposite. High oil prices made it possible for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives to get away with hollowing out the Canadian manufacturing sector while the dollar soared. When prices collapsed, they took the dollar with them, but probably too late to do much for Canadian jobs. Oil prices will continue to be a major story in 2016.

May 5 – Alberta elects New Democrats, topples Tories

PrenticeAs I wrote the morning after, “How d’ya like them oranges?” Nobody expected Alberta’s election campaign, foolishly called a year early by Progressive Conservative premier Jim Prentice, to end with an NDP majority, least of all the Dippers. NDPers expected to do better under the charismatic Rachel Notley, who won the party’s leadership in the fall of 2014, but not that much better. Mr. Prentice, also chosen PC leader in 2014, was supposed to be his party’s saviour after the catastrophic rule of Alison Redford. Persuading most of the opposition caucus to join his party in December 2014 seemed like a stroke of genius to everyone except voters. Same thing with the election date. Nowadays, there are lots of whispers about PC MLAs who had their doubts and blame the premier’s Toronto-based political advisors. It could be true, but you’d never have known it at the time. It wasn’t just that the Tories blew it, though. Ms. Notley ran an (almost) pitch-perfect campaign. The combination made history.

June 16 – The Donald launches his campaign

TrumpDoes the rise and absence of a fall of businessman and reality TV star Donald Trump as a presidential candidate signal the fatal degeneration of U.S. politics into tribalism or neo-fascism, or merely the intellectual demise of the Republican Party? Or is this happening because, as a certain number of American political observers contend, notwithstanding his nativist impulses he’s hit a chord because he speaks the ugly truth to frightened middle-class voters about political power in America? Whatever, Mr. Trump has this much in common with Justin Trudeau (in addition to the fact both have been endorsed by Conrad Black): it’s a big mistake to underestimate the guy. Reassuring voices keep saying he has no chance to become the Republican nominee. Plus, of course, if he does, he’ll be a snap for the likely Democratic candidate, the warmongering Hillary Clinton, to defeat. If you ask me, you can’t count on either of these supposed certainties.

July 1 – Dentist fatally drills Cecil the Lion

CecilMinnesota dentist Walter James Palmer, the guy who paid $50,000 US to kill Cecil the Lion on Canada Day in Zimbabwe, may or may not have illegally lured the magnificent beast out of the park where it lived. He may or may not have actually faced legal difficulties in Zimbabwe – I suspect Zimbabwean officials were quietly relieved to see the guy safely depart. But his troubles after shooting Cecil show a couple of undeniable things about the era we live in, chief among them being that a very large number of people have an extremely low opinion of big game hunters and that you can’t hide from the Internet. Dr. Palmer tried to hide, and when his dental clinic resumed drilling and filling, it did so without him. If this keeps up, the only respectable reason to own a firearm in the United States will be to shoot at your fellow citizens!

Sept. 12 – Jeremy Corbyn elected Labour leader in U.K.

Corbyn-JPGThe overwhelming election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of Britain’s Opposition Labour Party wasn’t supposed to happen. He wasn’t even supposed to be the front-runner. He’s a genuine progressive, for crying out loud!. The chattering classes despise him, asking: Who wants old-fashioned junk like fairness, due process, a prosperous middle class and peace when you can have a free market? A hell of a lot of people in Britain, it turns out. Not only did he win big, more than 50,000 new members joined the party in the 10 days after he was elected. This illustrated a hunger for real change of a sort that electorates in other parts of the world, from Alberta to Spain, apparently want too. Sensing the jig may be up, “New Labour” neoliberals in his own party, plus the ruling Conservatives, the media, academia, Thinktankistan and the rest of the usual suspects have declared Mr. Corbyn persona non grata in the right circles. A British army general even threatened a military coup if he becomes PM. Whatever happens next will be an important story in 2016.

Sept. 30 – Russians strike Syria, upset the American applecart

PutinThere’s not enough room in a single paragraph to describe the geopolitical complexities of Russia led by President Vladimir Putin flexing its not inconsiderable muscles in its Middle Eastern back yard, at least partly in response to encirclement by an aggressive NATO. Suffice it to say, by going after ISIS – setting the terror entity on its heels, along with some of our “moderate” terrorists too – Russia effectively exposed the U.S.-NATO-Western anti-ISIS intervention as less than wholehearted, mainly designed to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Lately, the Russians have been accused in the Western press of causing civilian casualties. This may be true, but it’s a bit rich coming from supporters of the uncontested world champions of collateral damage. Even if the U.S.-led bombing campaign wasn’t giving backhanded support to ISIS and was ineffective for other reasons, the Russians have clearly shown our Turkish NATO ally to be abetting terrorism. As of today, the Russians have changed things dramatically on the ground in Syria.

Oct. 19 – Trudeau elected; Harper swept away

TrudeauMaybe the order of that headline should be reversed to portray the proper significance of this story. Stephen Harper had to go for the sake of the country, but it was far from clear when the campaign began that would be the outcome. Thanks to a combination of Conservative hubris, underestimation of the redoubtable Justin Trudeau, a weak campaign designed to fight the last battle by the NDP, and the utter revulsion by voting Canadians at the multitudinous sins of the Harper Regime, that most un-Canadian of governments was swept away. When it happened, it was as if the sun had broken through the clouds. Mr. Trudeau’s “Sunny Ways” comment on election night rang our collective bell. Mr. Trudeau will not live up to all of our hopes, but what a breath of fresh air he is after a dreary decade in which our government encouraged our worst national instincts, restricted our freedom and suppressed science, common sense and common decency. The NDP faces a long road to restore its social democratic credentials with its own supporters. The Conservatives a longer one to overcome the past decade. Like it or not, you really can make a case the Liberals never stopped being Canada’s Natural Governing Party.

Nov. 3 – Connor crunches collarbone; there is no joy in Mudville, AB

McDavidOK, hockey’s just a game, albeit one that’s played by millionaires. But here in Edmonton, where our sad-sack Oilers just can’t get a break, Connor McDavid, 18, from (shhhhhh!) the Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill was supposed to change everything. He was supposed to be the start, finally, of Something Big in the former City of Champions! Then … crunch went the crucial collarbone. He will get better. And, who knows, maybe the Oilers with their nice new taxpayer-financed rink in downtown Edmonton will too. But a new rink hasn’t helped the Maple Leafs, has it? Just sayin’.

Nov. 6 – Obama kills Keystone Pipeline

Obama-2-JPGWhen President Obama pulled the plug on the Keystone XL pipeline, conservatives of all stripes in Alberta began to screech that it was Premier Notley’s fault. Presumably if she’d only screamed and stomped as loudly as by-then-defeated prime minister Stephen Harper, POTUS would have buckled and done what Alberta wanted. Well, you can believe that fairy tale if you wish. It seems to me Ms. Notley’s sales pitch to the folks through whose territory Alberta’s much-craved pipelines need to pass is more likely to work than Mr. Harper’s bullying approach. That said, it beats me why we didn’t refine the stuff here and employ Albertans. What this story really shows, though, is that timing is everything, the gods are capricious and businessmen aren’t as smart as they think they are. Another president of the United States, another king of Saudi Arabia, and maybe everything would have been different. Now? Who knows? Perhaps that oil really will remain forever locked in Alberta’s sandy ground. Maybe we’ll never hear the phrase “peak oil” again. Possibly Albertans will be glad we didn’t talk Ottawa into amending the federal equalization formula! Don’t bet on any of this happening, though.

Dec. 10 – First Syrian refugees arrive in Canada

RefugeesOut of one of the greatest tragedies of modern history – the wreckage left throughout so much of the Middle East by the West’s wars of choice that really got rolling with George W. Bush’s destruction of Iraq – comes a ray of hope. Canadians opened their hearts to some of the tens of thousands of refugees flooding out of the region. This will do more to stop terror than all the bombs a CF-18 can drop. It’s said here it was the final straw when Mr. Harper tried to turn this issue into yet another divisive electoral wedge, and a key reason why voters turfed the man. Canadians are better than that. Canada is a better place already for this effort, and it will make us better still. The rescue operation may be imperfect, and behind schedule, but what a great, positive, hopeful note on which to end one year and begin another.

There were other contenders for this list, of course: marijuana goes mainstream south of the Medicine Line, a nuclear deal is signed with Iran despite the best efforts of some to sabotage it, terrorist attacks in Europe, recognition of the right to same-sex marriage by the U.S. Supreme Court and the tragic death of PC MLA Manmeet Bhullar here in Alberta just to name a few. These are my choices. That is all.

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5 Comments to: Year in review: from plunging oil to rising hope, the Top Ten news stories of 2015

  1. jerrymacgp

    December 30th, 2015

    I must say, while I tend to agree with most of your take on Alberta provincial and Canadian federal politics, I part ways with you on much of your foreign policy opinions. You have become somewhat of an apologist for Vladimir Putin’s kleptocratic regime in modern Russia, and your views on the Iraq-Syria-IS/ISIL/ISIS quagmire are not very mainstream.

    IS is a vicious bloodthirsty group that needs to be vigorously suppressed, not because of its threat to North American societies, which are relatively insulated, nor even because of its threat to Western Europe, but because of the humanitarian crisis it is creating in its home turf. Yes, it is true that US policy in the region under the Bush Jr. Presidency is largely responsible for its emergence; however, the clock cannot be turned back to undo those policies. What is sad is that the current Weatern efforts against IS are so ineffectual. What is needed are a no-fly zone over Iraq & Syria, and an approach that involves using close air support to attack armoured vehicles, artillery pieces and transport vehicles used by IS, not from altitude but from the kind of up close & personal ranges that both increase the risk for Western troops and reduce the risk of civilian casualties (so not CF-18s and the like, but helicopter gunships & A-10s); this kind of approach can then provide the cover the local Iraqi and Peshmerga formations need to gain the upper hand.

    It is also unfortunate that the Assad regime in Syria is likely to remain in place, as the (only marginally) lesser of evils in that unfortunate country.

    • David Climenhaga

      December 30th, 2015

      It is not being an apologist for the Putin Regime to recognize the NATO encirclement of Russia is aggressive, unneeded and dangerous – and, indeed, bound to result in increasingly threatening nuclear posturing we are seeing the world today. I actually think we were closer to nuclear war in 2015 than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

      Don’t take my word for it, consider what the late George F. Kennan and the still-living Henry Kissinger had to say about it.

      “Expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold war era,” Kennan said in 2005 in the New York Times. “Such a decision may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking.”

      “I think it is the beginning of a new cold war,” Kennan also said in 1998. “I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever… It shows so little understanding of Russian history and Soviet history. Of course there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia…”

      Henry Kissinger wrote in the National Interest: “The relationship between Ukraine and Russia will always have a special character in the Russian mind. It can never be limited to a relationship of two traditional sovereign states, not from the Russian point of view, maybe not even from Ukraine’s. So, what happens in Ukraine cannot be put into a simple formula of applying principles that worked in Western Europe.”

      “Ukraine should not join NATO,” Kissinger stated more bluntly in the Washington Post last year.

      Neither of those two guys is what you’d call a soft-headed lefty given to sympathizing with the Russians just because they make nice blinis!

      Nor is it being unsympathetic to Russia to recognize it is has interests in the Middle Eastern region (it really is right in its back yard, after all) just as it does in Ukraine, or that it faces a far more serious threat from ISIS than the West does, particularly in North America, again because it’s next door but also because it suspects the West is behind ISIS and will use it as a tool to make trouble in the former Soviet republics of the predominantly Muslim south. And who can blame the Russians for this given what was happening in Syria before they showed up?

      As for how best to respond to ISIS, it’s hardly an insult to say my views are not very mainstream. Would you expect the Western mainstream media to report forthrightly that our NATO ally Turkey is aiding and collaborating with ISIS? Well, that’s pretty well out in the open now and even Western media are starting to admit it. And how else do you explain the remarkable passivity and lack of success of the U.S. led “bombing campaign,” supposedly against ISIS, until the Russians got involved on the side of the Assad Regime? It seems clear on the face of it that ISIS was never attacked as long as they were attacking the Syrians. Meanwhile, the Turks allowed ISIS recruits to train on their territory and to pass unimpeded through Turkey from the West to Syria. All this is known and discreetly admitted in the West.

      So, yeah, A-10s and CF-18s should have been bombing the crap out of ISIS, up close and personal. They had more than a year to do it and never did. What gives? It’s not as if ISIS had air cover – other than that provided by the Turkish air force, that is. It is hard not to conclude that the objective of the U.S.-coalition campaign from the get-go was regime change in Syria, not doing anything about ISIS.

      Finally, on the question of the Assad Regime, you’re right, it’s not made up of very nice people – although perhaps it’s not as horrific as it’s painted in Western media. It may even be as bad as Saddam Hussein’s government. But like the Hussein Regime, since the West has been encouraging real terrorists (al-Nusra Front, for example, AQ’s franchise in Syria) to help with its regime-change project, anything that comes after is certain to be worse. Canada’s interests and those of Syria are not served by our being involved in the effort to knock off Assad. And Canada’s interests are not the same as those of other players in the region, like Turkey, Saudi Arabia or Israel.

      So am I sympathetic with the Russians? Not particularly. Do I see their point. You bet.

  2. Tom in Ontario

    December 30th, 2015

    A top story of 2015? How about the mass killings in San Bernardino purportedly carried out by a Muslim couple on December 2. Commenting, a Denver based blogger named Christopher Brauchli had this to say.

    “David Gergen, a former adviser to four presidents, commented on the San Bernardino massacre. He told the New York Times that fear exists among the public that has not been seen since 9/11. He said, “I talk to people who worry that they will be shot in the streets of New York.”

    Mr. Gergen did not explain what gave rise to this sudden fear of walking around in New York since the people had not been made fearful by other mass shootings of 2015 nor the random shootings that take place on a daily basis in the United States. They might feel safer if Congress did something about guns.

    It never will. If you wonder why, just ask the NRA. When it comes to guns, it has all the answers.”

  3. political ranger

    December 30th, 2015

    A very fine list David, as could only be prepared by a very fine journalist, as you are.

    I’m not though, so I tend to hang on to the morsel in my teeth despite newer, shiny objects, other surprises or more mayhem. The thread that seems to be running through it all, from dead King Cedric to possible rule by a court jester, from revulsion of Conservatives to revolt by the people and from local economies to geopolitical interventions, is the seemingly purposeful dismissal of rational analysis and logical conclusions.

    Over the last few days Brad Wall and now lately, Jack Mintz, are arguing for changes to the Canadian Equalization Plan. Of course, the changes are all for the immediate relief of suffering petroleum economies. As is their right, as petroleum supported stooges, to argue for.

    But what of moral hazard? What responsibilities do blind, deaf and dumb petro-corp lap thingys bear for the irresponsible and self-serving policies they have enacted over the last couple decades? Why, after years of stealing and misallocating a king’s ransom in common wealth all at the expense of common people and the environmental commons suffering brutal and destructive business practices, should the survivors now pay these people anything?

    There should now be little doubt, in any person’s mind, that we in Alberta have suffered the Dutch Disease, the Resource Curse. Jack Mintz says that we should get some extra cash to help our economy grow ‘organically’. He, of all people, should know that in the 21st Century there is no such thing as an ‘organic economy’; everything and all things economic are mediated by one form of government or another. It was our choices, in governments and in policies that led to this situation of wrenching economic malaise because of one sector. That is the Dutch disease; that is the resource Curse.

    The solution is simple. First is to widely recognize the problem. Not because diagnosing a disease or a curse is good for the soul or some sort of just retribution, but because much is known about this condition. There are rooms full of literature describing the nature of the problem and, importantly, successful and unsuccessful methodologies to relief. This has been going on for a few hundred years now; it’s entirely predictable. Much to the chagrin of the petro-corp set like Mintz and harper.

    Second, is an overtly aggressive and purposefully interventionist government. Nothing particularly unusual in that. The difference is that the aggression and intervention is on the behalf of common people and the environment instead of the 1% and their corporations.

    So, three cheers for the future!
    Hooray for Rachel Notley, hooray for Justin Trudeau and hooray for Paris COP21!

  4. Sam Gunsch

    December 31st, 2015

    re: Oil prices collapsing

    Many voices that get little coverage in MSM publications like the Edm Jnl and C Herald have warned AB and Canada for years of the economic dangers of oil dependence.

    Here’s just one report by Nikiforuk:

    excerpt: “…pioneering research of political scientist Terry Lynn Karl, who wrote that “Oil revenues are the catalyst for a chronic tendency of the state to become overextended, over-centralized and captured by special interests.”

    Karl herself warned Tyee readers in 2014 that if low oil prices persisted, then Canadians could expect to see “a rapidly declining Canadian dollar, greater problems over pipelines, the reduction of future investments, and a very bumpy oil ride, especially for Alberta.”

    I, too, warned that bitumen was a difficult resource with extreme liabilities and therefore the most vulnerable to price shocks.

    Though Canada’s shameless politicians still deny the fact, the carbon liabilities remain defiantly large.

    Of 30 oils recently ranked by some of the continent’s top energy researchers, extra-heavy synthetic crude oils from Canada still produce the highest greenhouse gas footprint.

    Kepler Cheuvreux, a large European financial services company, warned that in addition to climate change, the increasing costs and capital intensity of extreme hydrocarbons have created another perfect storm: “The oil industry’s current dynamics look unsustainable to us.”

    The agency also predicts that when global climate policy gets real over time, it will “squeeze out the high-cost, high-carbon sources first,” such as bitumen miners. Meanwhile Saudi Arabia, which owns lower-cost and lower-carbon reserves, will happily optimize their selloff.


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