Opinion: Ten Canadians poised to make headlines in ‘18

The coming year in politics will be full of hairpin turns and issues that no one saw coming, making a mockery of any prognostication.

But – leaving aside the obvious principal player Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – here are 10 players who could steer much of the agenda in 2018:

Chrystia Freeland

Freeland has become something of a media darling at the end of 2017 and she’s earned that love. But the toughest test is yet to come for the foreign affairs minister, with contentious NAFTA negotiations heading for collisions with the Mexican presidential election and the U.S. midterm elections in 2018. Crunch time could come as early as March, and Freeland will have to steer talks away from the ditch.

Jane Philpott

The minister of Indigenous Services has laid out an ambitious plan for the coming year, promising progress on potable water, closing the gap between child welfare spending on Indigenous and non-Indigenous children and reducing the number of Indigenous children living in foster care. Expectations are high, but Philpott has a reputation as a minister who delivers. This will be the year to test that reputation.

Bill Morneau

The embattled finance minister would like to put a nightmarish 2017 behind him, but he still faces an ethics probe over his introduction of a pension bill that could have benefited his company, in which he held shares at the time. It will also be a test of incoming conflict of interest commissioner, Mario Dion. Morneau has the confidence of Trudeau and can boast economic numbers that should keep him in his job.

Patrick Brown

The former Stephen Harper backbencher is in a position to become Ontario premier in June, costing Trudeau an ally in the country’s largest province. Should Progressive Conservative Leader Brown or Kathleen Wynne win a minority government, then you can add NDP Leader Andrea Horwath to the list of game-changers in 2018.

John Horgan

Despite some sniping from Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver, the coalition headed by British Columbia NDP Premier Horgan should hold for the foreseeable future. That has two national implications. Horgan is doing everything he can to stop Kinder Morgan’s pipeline expansion, the most volatile front in Canada’s pipeline wars and Trudeau may be forced to take a more active role in selling the project to B.C. voters.

Andrew Scheer

The federal Conservative leader has proved to be an effective opposition leader in Parliament, but that will count for very little. He has a full year to market himself as the anti-Trudeau before we head into an election year. It might be a hard sell.

Jagmeet Singh

The new NDP leader has had a rough start, fumbling some policy questions, watching the party’s vote share tumble in byelections and enduring criticism for not seeking a Commons seat. But Singh is playing a long game and it is far too early to judge his performance.

Jason Kenney

The former Harper minister spent his year merging two opposition parties, winning two leadership races, then a seat in the Alberta legislature. In advance of a spring 2019 election, Kenney, as newly-minted opposition leader, will attack NDP Premier Rachel Notley’s carbon tax and promises to be a much tougher advocate for bringing Alberta crude to Asian markets. He has accused her of being missing in action when the Energy East pipeline was cancelled. Notley already faces two NDP foes, Horgan and Singh, when it comes to her goal of getting Alberta bitumen to the west coast and the ascendancy of Kenney could change the climate debate in Canada and cost Trudeau a valued ally in Notley.

Jody Wilson-Raybould

The justice minister will share the job with Morneau, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor and MP Bill Blair, but she will play a key role in the legalization of marijuana in 2018. The provinces had complained about timelines and revenue-sharing, but if the Senate does not derail the government’s plan, Wilson-Raybould will have to stickhandle much of what promises to be the biggest story in the coming year.

François Legault

Like Wynne next door, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard will be swimming upstream in a 2018 provincial election. Both Liberal governments were elected in 2003 with only the Quebec party spending a brief time out of power. If Quebec Liberals are painted as tired and out of touch, the beneficiary could be Legault and his Coalition Avenir Québec.

Tim Harper writes on national affairs.

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