Canada News & Current Events
French-Speaking Contigent Gains More Political Power
Faced with an increasingly violent separatist movement in the predominantly French province of Quebec, Trudeau introduced the Official Languages Bill, which encouraged bilingualism in the federal government; he also gave an economic portfolio to a French-speaking minister, Jean Chrétien. Both measures increased the power of French-speaking politicians in the federal government.
In 1976, the Parti Québécois (PQ) won the provincial Quebec elections, and René Lévesque became premier. The Quebec government passed Bill 101 in 1977, which established numerous rules promoting the French-speaking culture; for example, only French was to be used for commercial signs and for most public school instruction. Many of Bill 101's provisions have since been amended, striking more of a compromise; commercial signs, for example, may now be in French and English, provided that the French lettering is twice the size of the English. Quebec held a referendum in May 1980 on whether it should seek independence from Canada; it was defeated by 60% of the voters.
Resolving a dispute that had occupied Trudeau since the beginning of his tenure, Queen Elizabeth II signed the Constitution Act (also called the Canada Act) in Ottawa on April 17, 1982, thereby cutting the last legal tie between Canada and Britain. The constitution retains Queen Elizabeth as queen of Canada and keeps Canada's membership in the Commonwealth. This constitution was accepted by every province except Quebec.
Conservative Government Signs Free-Trade Pact with the United States
In the national election on Sept. 4, 1984, the Progressive Conservative Party scored an overwhelming victory, fundamentally changing the country's political landscape. The Conservatives, led by Brian Mulroney, won the highest political majority in Canadian history. The dominant foreign issue was a free-trade pact with the United States, a treaty bitterly opposed by the Liberal and New Democratic parties. The conflict led to elections in Nov. 1988 that solidly reelected Mulroney and gave him a mandate to proceed with the agreement.
The issue of separatist sentiments in French-speaking Quebec flared up again in 1990 with the failure of the Meech Lake Accord. The accord was designed to bring Quebec into the constitution while easing its residents' fear of losing their identity within the English-speaking majority by giving it status as a “distinct society.”
Jean Chretien of the Liberal Party Comes to Power
The economy continued to be mired in a long recession that many blamed on the free-trade agreement. Brian Mulroney's popularity continued to decline, causing him to resign before the next election. In June 1993 the governing Progressive Conservative Party chose Defense Minister Kim Campbell as its leader, making her the first female prime minister in Canadian history. The national election in Oct. 1993 resulted in the reemergence of the Liberal Party and the installation of Jean Chrétien as prime minister.
The Quebec referendum on secession in Oct. 1995 yielded a narrow rejection of the proposal, and separatists vowed to try again. Since then, however, the Quebec Liberal Party has replaced the Bloc Québecois as the ruling party.
On April 1, 1999, the Northwest Territories were officially divided to create a new territory in the east that would be governed by Canada's Inuits, who make up 85% of the area's population.
In July 2000, Stockwell Day of the new right-wing Canadian Alliance Party unexpectedly emerged as the leader of Canada's opposition. In Nov. 2000 elections, however, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien of the Liberal Party won a landslide victory for a third five-year term. After the election, the conservatives rapidly lost steam.
Marijuana and Gay Marriage Legalized
In recent years, Canada has introduced some of the world's most liberal social policies. Medical marijuana for the terminally or chronically ill was legalized in 2001; the country began legally dispensing marijuana by prescription in July 2003. In 2003, Ontario and British Columbia legalized same-sex marriage, and more provinces and territories followed in 2004. In July 2005, Canada legalized gay marriage throughout the country, becoming one of four nations (along with Belgium, the Netherlands, and Spain) to do so.
Canada sent 2,000 soldiers to help fight the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, but its relations with the United States were strained when it refused to join Washington's coalition supporting the war in Iraq.
Conservative Stephen Harper Becomes Prime Minister, Striving for a Blow Against Terrorism
In Dec. 2003, Chrétien stepped down and handed the prime ministership to the new leader of Canada's Liberal Party, former finance minister Paul Martin. Chrétien had announced in 2002 that he would not seek a fourth term—conflict between Chrétien and Martin had divided and weakened the Liberal Party in recent years. In June 2004, Martin was reelected prime minister, but the Liberal Party lost its majority in parliament, which it had dominated for 11 years. In 2005, a scandal involving the misappropriation of government funds by the Liberal Party threatened the stability of Martin's government. Martin himself was not implicated in the scandal, but his predecessor came under fire. In Jan. 2006 parliamentary elections, Conservatives won 36% of the vote, ending twelve years of Liberal rule. Conservative leader Stephen Harper became prime minister in February. In June 2006, police arrested 17 suspected Islamist terrorists in Toronto and are believed to have foiled a major terrorist attack on the country. In November, Prime Minister Harper succeeded in passing a motion to recognize Quebec as “a nation within a united Canada.”
In February 2007, Canada's Supreme Court struck down a law that permitted foreign terrorism suspects to be detained indefinitely without charges while waiting for deportation. “The overarching principle of fundamental justice that applies here is this: before the state can detain people for significant periods of time, it must accord them a fair judicial process,” said Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.
Prime Minister Harper was reelected in October 2008 in elections that were held a year ahead of schedule. His Conservative Party defeated the Liberal Party, 37.6% to 26.2.%. The Conservatives, however, failed to win a majority in the House of Commons and will form a minority government, the third in four years.
In December 2008, in an unprecedented move, Prime Minister Harper suspended Parliament to avoid a no-confidence vote. If the vote had passed, which was likely since two opposition parties joined to form a coalition, Liberal Party leader, Stephane Dion, would have become Prime Minister. Harper created further controversy later in the month, when he quietly appointed 18 Conservatives to Canada's unelected Senate, breaking his promise not to name additional members to Parliament until it became an elected body.
Fourth Election in Seven Years Expands Conservative Party's Hold
In the May 2, 2011 federal election, the Conservative Party won a parliamentary majority by a slim 39.6% of the vote. The New Democrats became the official opposition after the centrist Liberals lose more than half their seats. Bloc Québécois, Quebec's separatist party, was nearly eliminated entirely from Parliament, losing 90% of its seats.
The election shifted the political landscape in Canada. For seven years no party had the majority in the House of Commons. The election was a big victory for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who won a clear mandate for his conservative party. The swing toward the conservative party was a sign that the Liberals' base has decreased in size. This is partly because immigrants, who in the past represented a huge part of that base, have shifted to a more conservative viewpoint.
Attack on Canada's Parliament
A Canadian soldier was shot and killed while guarding the National War Memorial in Ottawa, Canada's capital on Oct. 22, 2014. Nearby, gunfire erupted inside the Parliament building. A gunman, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, was killed as police rushed to evacuate and secure the building. Initially, police searched for at least two more possible gunmen, but came to believe that Zehaf-Bibeau, age 32, acted alone. Zehaf-Bibeau had a criminal record and had been recently designated a high-risk traveler by the Canadian government.
It was the second assault on a member of Canada's armed forces in three days. On Oct. 20, a car struck two people, one in uniform. Police chased Martin Rouleau-Coulture, the driver of the car, who was shot and killed after a confrontation. Authorities suspected that the two incidents could be linked to Canada's support of the campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS).
Justin Trudeau Pulls Off Upset Election, Becomes Prime Minister Like His Father
Justin Trudeau during a visit to Washington, D.C., 2013
Source: AP Photo/Susan Walsh
In Oct. 2015 parliamentary elections, Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party pulled off an upset, stunning Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party. The Liberal Party took 39.5% of the vote, 184 out of 338 seats, while Harper's Conservative Party took 31.9% of the vote, or 99 seats. Election observers viewed the outcome as a result of a public that had grown tried of Harper's heavy-handed conservative focus during his nine year reign.
Trudeau succeeded Harper as prime minister 47 years after Pierre Elliott Trudeau, his father, held the office. The 43 year-old Trudeau also became the country's second-youngest prime minister and the first to follow a parent into the position.
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