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    Looking Down on America: Canada's 2018 From Trade War to Pot Legalisation

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    Canada rarely makes the headlines but 2018 was a bit different as the world's second largest nation stood up to its more powerful neighbour and its belligerent President.

    For years Canada has been a political backwater where very little happens to grab the global headlines but that began to change after the election of Justin Trudeau in 2015.

    The handsome and charismatic Liberal Party leader has sought to make a mark on the world and has mixed concern for human rights abroad with a strong patriotic flavour at home.

    Trade War With US

    Justin Trudeau likes to cast himself as a modern metrosexual liberal leader but when push comes to shove he can be as macho as the next guy.

    So when, in June, the North American alpha male, US President Donald Trump, started casting aspersions on Canadian industry and imposing tariffs on steel and other imports from north of the 49th parallel, Trudeau pushed back.

    The trade war erupted in July with Canada placing tariffs on 299 US goods, including everything from steel to yoghurt and sleeping bags.

    Matters were not helped in October when Trump's economic adviser Larry Kudlow referred to Trudeau as "that punk little kid running Canada."

    As 2018 comes to an end there is no sign of an end to the trade war, which has left consumers picking up the cost as retailers inevitably pass on the higher cost of tariffs to shoppers.

    But Trudeau's father Pierre famously stood up to Ronald Reagan in the 1980s so Justin is made of sterner stuff and the White House should not expect him to give in any time soon.

    'New NAFTA'

    Despite the tensions between Ottawa and Washington over trade, they still managed to thrash out a new trade agreement

    The United States, Mexico and Canada reached a trilateral trade agreement, called USMCA, which supersedes the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), which was negotiated by Bill Clinton and much derided by Trump during his 2016 election battle with Hillary Clinton.

    To qualify for zero tariffs automobiles must now have 75 percent of their components manufactured in their country of origin and by 2023 around 45 percent of these parts have to be made by workers earning US$16 an hour.

    Trump insisted the USMCA would not affect the trade war on steel and aluminium.

    Under Section 232 the US is still able to impose steel and aluminium tariffs on Canada, and vice versa.

    Trudeau annoyed Trump at the signing ceremony by describing the agreement as the "new NAFTA" and also made a pointed remark to "Donald" about the need to remove steel and aluminium tariffs.

    Clash With Saudi Arabia

    The Canadian government also got into a bit of a ding-dong with Saudi Arabia.

    On August 6, the Canadian Embassy in Riyadh posted Arab and English language tweets calling for the "immediate release" of activists jailed in Saudi Arabia, in a move that infuriated the Saudi government.

    Soon afterwards Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Canada for consultations, giving the Canadian ambassador to Riyadh only 24 hours to leave the country, freezing trade transactions and announcing the relocation of Saudi citizens studying in Canadian universities to other countries.

    Earlier this month Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau indicated his intention to scrap a US$13 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia in protest over the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and its continued bloody war in Yemen.

    But defence contractor General Dynamics warned the Canadian government Monday it would incur "billions of dollars of liability" if it cancelled the deal.

    Ethical foreign policies don't come cheap.

    Huawei Dispute With China

    In December Canada became embroiled in a dispute with China over the telecom giant Huawei.

    On December 1 Meng Wanzhou, Huawei's chief financial officer and deputy chair, was arrested in Vancouver and faces extradition to the US in connection with alleged sanctions violations involving Iran.

    Meng is the daughter of the company's founder, Ren Zhengfei, and news of her arrest went down very badly in Beijing.

    China's embassy in Canada protested and demanded her release.

    Two Canadians — former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor — were then arrested in China in what appeared to be tit-for-tat retaliation. Both were accused of violating Chinese national security.

    Canada is still pressing for Kovrig and Spavor to be released but has refused to link them to Meng's case.

    Marijuana Legalised

    In October, Canada became the second country in the world after Uruguay to fully legalise recreational marijuana for domestic sale and consumption, sparking a massive flurry of praise and debate on the decriminalisation of cannabis.

    The Canadian government informed over 15 million households about new laws to regulate recreational marijuana use, citing police preparedness for tackling users driving under the influence and other offences.

    Legalisation began after Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau made campaign promises in 2015 to decriminalise 'ineffective' weed laws made in 1923, adding the initiative would help ease the war on drugs while earning the federal government roughly $400 million in taxes each year.  

    But in November police in Ontario began raiding cannabis dispensaries, leading to widespread confusion and mockery.

    "If they had given me a warning, I would've shut down. I waited until legalisation to open. If I'm breaking the law, somebody should tell me," dispensary owner and cannabis campaigner Leo Lucier told the Windsor Star newspaper.

    Quebec Election

    An election in October saw the French-speaking and perennially rebellious province of Quebec lurch to the right.

    The centre-right Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), led by 61-year-old businessman Francois Legault, was declared the winner.

    The CAQ won 74 seats and 1.5 million votes, trouncing the Liberals of Phillippe Couillard and the pro-independence Parti Québécois.

    During this 39-day campaign, CAQ party leader Francois Legault promised to take in 10,000 fewer immigrants a year and to deport those who fail tests on French and Quebec values within three years.

    He also criticised Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government for its decision to open up the country's dairy industry to the United States, and promised to look at "all options" to defend local farmers.

    Boxer Spends Three Weeks in Coma

    On December 1, while the boxing world was focused on Los Angeles and the WBC heavyweight title fight between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury, another fighter suffered a traumatic brain injury and had to be put into an induced coma in Canada.

    Haiti-born Adonis Stevenson, nicknamed Superman, knocked out Britain's Tony Bellew in 2013 and was the betting favourite going into the world light heavyweight title fight with Oleksandr Gvozdyk, 31, in Quebec City.

    But the unbeaten Ukrainian was too strong for the 41-year-old Canadian, who crumpled under his assault in the 11th round.

    He collapsed shortly afterwards and was taken the the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Québec-Université Laval, where he was put into an induced coma. 

    On December 23 his girlfriend, Simone God, said he had woken from his coma.

    "Despite recent reports being leaked to media, I wanted to clarify that Adonis is awake. He is healing from his injury in the private company of his family and his dedicated medical team. Adonis is a world champion in the ring and is exhibiting that same grit, strength and determination in his recovery," said Ms. God.

    Canada Post Strike

    It may not have made headlines outside of the country, but one of the biggest talking points in Canada is the ongoing mail dispute.

    Workers at Canada Post have been on rotating strikes since October.

    Canada Post claimed it had a 30-day backlog of mail stored in 600 trailers at a number of distribution centres across the country and appealed to other countries to hold Canada-bound mail because they could not cope.

    The Canadian Union of Postal Workers' President, Mike Palecek, claimed the firm were telling lies.

    "We have places where Canada Post is offering members leave without pay to go home because they don't have work. So I wouldn't just question the backlog, I would say it was total fiction," Mr. Palecek told CTV News.

    Mr. Palecek said there had been no movement from management on the union's key demands, which include health and safety concerns and calls for equality measures.

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    trade war, dispute, Liberal Party of Canada, Justin Trudeau, Ontario, China, Canada, Quebec, Saudi Arabia
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