News & Current Events
Medical 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
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 tired 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.