Everything Seemed Broken: How the Political and Economic Landscape Shifted in 2022
Police face off with demonstrators participating in a protest organized by truck drivers opposing vaccine mandates on Feb. 19, 2022 in Ottawa. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images
As the world’s political and economic engines painfully groaned back into full operation after two years of enforced hiatus, in 2022 we began to assess the full extent of the damage left in the wake of the pandemic.
And what we found was unsettling: on so many global and domestic fronts, everything seemed to be broken.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine and China’s aggressive diplomacy and warnings of a economic recession caused great concern on the global front. Meanwhile, stratospheric food and energy prices, rising interest rates, persistent supply chain issues, closed emergency rooms, shortages of infant pain killer, and endless delays for passports raised anxiety levels at home.
During challenging times like these, a fretful public inevitably looks to assign blame for the problems. As British philosopher Bertrand Russell put it: “Democracy is the process by which people choose the man who’ll get the blame.”
If that premise is true, then in 2023, our political leaders would be wise to prepare themselves for a torrent of blame and criticism that will inevitably fall on their shoulders as a result of the problems of 2022.
Let’s put this most difficult year to bed by looking back at five major political and economic developments that shaped Canada.
1. Affordability Crisis
With inflation rising to levels not seen in Canada since the 1970s, last year many of us struggled to stretch our household budgets. Low-income seniors were particularly hard hit — their inability to keep up with rising food, shelter and energy prices had some seeking help from families or charities.
Moreover, the failure of our political and business leaders to address the “affordability crisis” caused much angst and pessimism among Canadians, worsened by the increasing likelihood that we’ll be hit by a global recession in 2023.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland alluded to this in her November speech introducing the government’s Fall Economic Statement, saying that many are “anxious about whether Canada’s future will be as prosperous as our past, and anxious about paying the bills today.” Look for the federal government to enact stiffer anti-inflation measures in the new year.
2. Health Care Collapse
In 2022, our overburdened health care system began showing signs of wear and tear from the heavy use we placed on it during the pandemic. A pronounced lack of doctors left millions of Canadians without access to a family physician. Nursing shortages caused hospitals to close beds and emergency rooms. In November, hospitals could barely keep up with waves of flu and RSV, as wait times reached record highs — up to 20 hours at some locations in Ontario. The problems were felt across the country — in Nova Scotia, managers of Dartmouth Hospital released a statement saying “patients are dying in the waiting rooms.”
But even as the health care system faced these challenges, the federal and provincial governments continued to bicker over a funding formulas. In 2023, Canadians are hoping the prime minister and premiers can put aside their jurisdictional squabbles and focus on repairing our broken health care system.
3. Trudeau vs. Truckers
“You’ve had your protest, please move on,” begged Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson to Freedom Convoy truckers who rolled into his city in late January, bringing their cross-Canada protest of COVID-19 mandates to Parliament Hill. Despite Watson’s pleas, the truckers refused to budge, paralyzing the city’s downtown core and unleashing a new level of aggressive political protests that Canadians aren’t used to.
On Feb. 14, when local and provincial police failed to clear the truckers out, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act, giving his government extraordinary policing and financial powers to cripple the movement.
By Feb. 23, the protest had been dismantled, but anti-government feeling still persists and seems to be coalescing into a hostile anti-Trudeau sentiment. While some Canadians felt that Trudeau overreached his power by invoking the Emergencies Act to stop a legitimate protest, others argued that the protestors were capable of wreaking the same havoc on Ottawa as happened during U.S. Capitol riots of 2021.
Trudeau, who pilloried the truckers during the protests, hasn’t offered any olive branches since. Testifying at the Public Order Emergency Commission hearings in November, he claimed to be “absolutely serene and confident that I made the right choice” in invoking the act.
4. The Disappearing Political Centre
In March of this year, Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh announced that the former rival parties would be forming an extraordinary political alliance. The agreement would see the NDP support the government on all budget and confidence votes, ensuring that the Liberal minority government would remain in power.
In return for this support, the Liberals began to shift their policies to the left, ushering in the NDP’s universal dental plan. Pierre Poilievre, then a Conservative Party leadership hopeful, condemned the alliance as a “socialist coalition power pact” and the Globe and Mail argued that the deal would “neuter Parliament.” Trudeau maintained that the deal gave his government the “predictability and stability” it needed to run the country.
While the Liberals were leaning towards the left in 2022, the Tories signaled a shift to the right by overwhelmingly electing populist firebrand Pierre Poilievre as its new leader in September.
Poilievre, who cosied up to truckers during the Ottawa protests, replaced previous leader Erin O’Toole, whose centrist approach was blamed for the party’s 2021 election failure. Poilievre will likely shift the party to the right with what one commentator described as his “more assertive, positive and ideologically conscious conservatism.”
If Canada’s political centre continues to shrink in 2023, will our ideologically split Parliament be incapable of solving the pressing issues of our day, like inflation, economic recession and health-care reform?
5. A New Cold War?
Since China’s illegal 2018 arrest of the “Two Michaels” for use as diplomatic bargaining chips, the relationship between the Asian superpower and the Canadian government has cooled significantly.
The friction between the two countries reached flashpoint in 2022, especially at the November G20 summit in Indonesia, when cameras caught an angry exchange between Trudeau and Chinese President Xi Jinping. There has also been growing concern that Chinese agents have been building a spy network here and trying to influence federal elections. In November, a Canadian government release bluntly referred to China as “an increasingly disruptive global power” saying that the country “ignores human rights obligations or undermines our national security interests and those of partners in the region.”
Xi’s new and aggressive diplomatic approach — uttering war-like threats to neighbouring Taiwan and endorsing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine — has made him a pariah with Western countries. With China isolating itself from Canada and the rest of the world, are we on the cusp of a new cold war?
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