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Look for 2013 to be full of surprises

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OTTAWA -- Ah 2012. We hardly got to know you, and you're already leaving.

When the new year was ushered in almost 12 months ago, we had, as usual, no idea what was in store for Canada, much as 2013 largely remains a mystery. It was a year when the abortion debate came back to Parliament Hill, when Pierre Trudeau's oldest son went from backbench media darling to leadership frontrunner, mostly thanks to a few lucky punches in a charity boxing match. It was a year that saw the NDP elect a new leader in Tom Mulcair, and a $16 orange juice at a swanky London hotel prove to be the downfall of a cabinet minister. Here is a list of five issues that seemed to resonate all year long and which will carry over into 2013 and beyond.


1. Tragic shootings


This was a year that will be remembered for its violence against children, particularly as it ended with 20 six- and seven-year-olds being gunned down in their school in Connecticut. But there was also the shooting of Pakistani school girl Malala Yousafzai, whose only crime was wanting an education. A gang shooting in Toronto which left a 14-year-old and a 23-year-old dead and 23 people injured, including an 11-month-old baby. And the list goes on. As 2013 begins, expect the debate over gun violence in the U.S. to spill over into Canada.


2. It's the economy, stupid


It's been four years since the bottom dropped out of the global economy and we are still waiting for that rebound. We are still years away from a return to balanced budgets, and austerity measures and federal cuts are becoming a normal course of business again. Canadians may have it better than much of the world, but we haven't been untouched by the global economic pendulum. The economy remains the No. 1 concern of most voters, and many Canadians are worrying and wondering what tomorrow will bring for their own jobs and families. Sadly, economists are not predicting 2013 will bring much more stability or certainty to that question.


3. Robocalls


Twelve months ago few Canadians had heard of robocalls. Today, it's part of the electoral lexicon and has proven technology has outpaced Elections Canada's ability to ensure our electoral system is infallible. It is still unclear exactly how widespread the scheme was to misdirect voters to the wrong polling stations during the 2011 federal election or if the calls were the master plan of a particular party or the whims of a rogue person or persons bent on tampering with the results. A decision will be expected early in the new year on a case that affects two Winnipeg ridings -- Winnipeg South Centre and Elmwood-Transcona -- as voters challenge the results of the election because of robocalls. Also look for Elections Canada to continue its investigation and see whether Parliament takes steps to prevent such a situation in the future. Politicians passed a resolution in March 2012 to strengthen election laws when it comes to robocalls. Will they put their votes now where their mouths were?


4. Political turmoil


Another day, another politician on the outs. From the premiers of the two biggest provinces -- Ontario's Dalton McGuinty, who resigned amid turmoil, and Quebec's Jean Charest, who was ousted by voters, to the mayor after mayor who was investigated and charged with corruption. Toronto's Rob Ford is fighting for his political life after a judge found he had violated conflict-of-interest rules and had to leave office. London's Joe Fontana is facing charges of fraud over allegations he paid for his daughter's wedding using funds as a federal MP. Not to mention at least four mayors of cities in Quebec have been arrested or resigned as the corruption probe in that province grows ever larger. Will 2013 bring a reprieve from the onslaught? Unlikely. Ford's appeal will be heard early in the new year and Winnipeg's Sam Katz will face a similar trial in the spring.


5. Idle No More


First Nations started 2012 with optimism in the form of a somewhat unprecedented Crown-First Nations gathering in Ottawa with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. But it is ending with massive protests nationwide as First Nations, particularly the youth, are throwing down the gauntlet and saying "no more." Earlier this year, young people in Quebec had an impact as thousands of students protested in the streets against rising tuition fees and helped oust the Liberal government. Will First Nations youth have the same staying power and impact on the federal government, to push for better negotiations on land claims, more input into legislation and a plan for resource revenue-sharing? In Manitoba in particular, look to see if Ottawa finally settles the longstanding Kapyong Barracks dispute.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 24, 2012 A14

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