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Tyee's Most Gripping Reads of 2015

Abuses of power, Alberta's big flip, a transit showdown, and some guy named Harper. Our 'longest read' stories of the year.

By Robyn Smith 31 Dec 2015 | TheTyee.ca

Robyn Smith is editor of The Tyee.

In Tyees of yore, our Dec. 31 best-of-the-year lists have been based on the year's most read stories -- those with the most clicks or page views. This year, we decided to copy the New York Times (kudos, NYT!) and look at what gripped you, ranking stories based on the total combined time readers spent looking at them.

While we're proud of all our writers' work this year, we think this list showcases some of our best. Here you'll find plenty of election investigations, wise and spirited reflections, and (may we humbly say) some of the most courageous voices in Canadian journalism today.

1. Harper, Serial Abuser of Power: The Evidence Compiled
The Tyee's full, updated list of 70 Harper government assaults on democracy and the law.

It's no surprise this "omnibus of sins" committed by Stephen Harper's Conservative government held readers' attention longer than any other story we ran this year -- a full 100 days total, to be precise. It was also The Tyee's most-read story ever in our 12-year history, and among our most interactive. After founding editor David Beers and a team of Tyee friends compiled an initial 59 examples of power abuses, we invited Tyee readers to suggest any that were missed. You were only too happy to help, and dozens more ideas poured in from across Canada. The final list, published Aug. 10, totalled 70 carefully annotated scams, smears, sabotages and scandals. A busy nine years!

2. Stephen Harper's Covert Evangelicalism
How an apocalyptic strain of Christianity guides his policies and campaigning.

Could a strain of Christianity that believes Jesus Christ will return to Earth in an apocalypse that is "imminent" possibly guide Harper's policies and campaigns? And was Harper's "love-in with Israel" largely a ploy to appeal to evangelical Christian voters? That was the fascinating thesis behind this barnburner column by Tyee contributing editor Andrew Nikiforuk, published one month before the federal election. The piece followed on Nikiforuk's viral 2012 op-ed that argued the Harper government was guided by a religious agenda averse to science and rational debate.

3. Canada's Biggest Political Scandal You Never Heard Of
Big oil, taxpayers' millions, call girls and a 'mechanic' named Bruce Carson.

"It's probably the biggest political scandal you've never heard of." That's how Andrew Nikiforuk begins his masterful retelling of a tale that haunted the Harper government for years (one source even said it made the Mike Duffy story look trivial by comparison). Combining powerful interests and taxpayers' millions, it's the story of former top Harper aide Bruce Carson and his time working at a federally funded university think-tank, and it was the third most gripping story of the year for Tyee readers.

4. Six Things Protesters Need to Know about Bill C-51
Preventative arrest? Secret police? Rights lawyers break down anti-terrorism law.

When the Harper government first unveiled the 60-page hot potato that was Bill C-51 (in true Orwellian style, no less), readers wanted the fast facts on how it would change Canadian law and surveillance in the name of national security. So two lawyers at the B.C. Civil Liberties Association combed through the Anti-Terrorism Act paragraph by paragraph and pull out what concerned them most. The result was this list of six need-to-know points about the bill specifically for protesters -- apparently a popular demographic among Tyee readers?

5. What Drives TransLink's Biggest Hater?
Insights into Jordan Bateman, the meme maker opposed to the transit tax hike.

Remember the transit plebiscite? Jordan Bateman does -- the default leader for the "No" campaign became something of a Metro Vancouver celebrity in the lead-up to the July vote. Media happily framed Bateman as the Everyman against TransLink, and his disdain for the transit agency's management was frequently cited and broadcast across the region. But what really drove "Dr. No?" That's what contributor Doug Ward's March profile of Bateman set out to uncover. Readers dished out equal parts criticism and sympathy for Bateman in the days following the story's publication, generating over 500 reader comments.

6. Why Harper's Tories Remain Best Bet to Win
No time to coast New Dems! To gain victory in October, still more lift needed in key regions.

Will McMartin's widely shared July column served as a warning to New Democrats not to coast, for in his view Harper was "near-certain to be our next prime minister unless the NDP makes significant further breakthroughs in key parts of Canada." Well, we all know what happened next. Still, McMartin's region-by-region seat analysis -- published at the virtual height of New Democrat fortunes -- was prescient about how hard it would be for the NDP to close the deal with voters. And McMartin did use riding math to explain why the Tories likely were treating the third place (at the time) Trudeau Liberals as their biggest threat -- a threat that proved unstoppable.

7. Royalty Miscalculation Cost Alberta Billions, Expert Says
'The Tories chose to pretend the big blunder did not happen,' says consultant Jim Roy.

Published the weekend before the election that saw the toppling of a 40-year political dynasty in Alberta, this remarkable story by Andrew Nikiforuk relayed the work of private royalties expert Jim Roy, who charged that the provincial government over five years had failed to collect resource royalties totalling $13 billion due to a major calculation blunder. Both before and after the May vote, Albertan voters made it clear they were fed up with the government's apparent unwillingness to properly tax corporations. Many also cited Norway as a country that was properly managing its oil wealth, a potential way forward for Alberta that was also the subject of several strong reports by Tyee columnist Mitchell Anderson.

8. Dismay Voiced by Firebrands Who Helped Put Harper in Power
Reform party stalwarts wonder what happened to ideals of their populist revolt.

What happened to the eager Reformers who paved the way for Harper's Conservative government? When Tyee Ottawa reporter Jeremy Nuttall phoned up a number of them this summer, many expressed regret that the modern-day Tories had moved away from important principles that originally fired up their aspirations. "Some criticized the Tories for scandals and damage control tactics. Others resented the Harper government grabbing more control over citizens' private lives rather than shrinking the reach and power of government," Nuttall wrote. The story was another can't-miss election read that gripped Tyee readers.

9. Young Voters Could Defeat Harper, So Why Don't They?
Research suggests the answer is deeper than apathy or laziness.

Julie Van de Valk spoke for legions of young voters when she told Tyee climate change reporter Geoff Dembicki she wasn't inspired by any of the alternatives to Harper's party in the Oct. 19 election. The passionate climate change activist wasn't apathetic towards politics; she was simply disappointed by what the NDP, Liberals and Greens had to offer. "People of my generation, we want to see a politician commit 100 per cent to a brighter future," she said. Well, now Trudeau's party has promised brighter, or at least sunnier ways. Thankfully, we have Van de Valk and her ilk to hold them to it.

10. Harry Smith Is Coming for Stephen Harper
The 92-year-old anti-austerity campaigner, a UK sensation, sets his sights on Canada.

Readers couldn't get enough of Harry Smith, an English sensation known for his memoir Harry's Last Stand in which he draws parallels between his brutal U.K. childhood and where the western world is headed today. And in this well-read interview with Tyee reporter Jeremy Nuttall, Smith also designated himself Harper enemy #1. After it was published, Smith generously agreed to come to Vancouver and share his life wisdoms and thoughts on Canada's future in person with Tyee readers. He also became an occasional columnist, dishing out advice to the left and admonishing Harper for his "cultural war" on Muslim women. Smith continues to be an activist for many causes, and a popular tweeter who summons his unique life experience to school Internet trolls like no one else.

11. 'Perfect Storm' Engulfing Canada's Economy Perfectly Predictable
Years ago Andrew Nikiforuk, citing experts, warned where Stephen Harper's priorities would lead us.

The price of oil continued its epic decline in 2015; meanwhile, pundits squabbled over the meaning of recession and why Canada's supposedly strong economy was stalling. Some economists deemed it "a perfect storm." But not Andrew Nikiforuk. After all, he spent years warning readers that bitumen would not make Canada a superpower (as certain politicians liked to boast), nor would it "pave our streets with gold." In this August column, Nikiforuk revisited an argument he's made before, showing readers the signs were always there that tying Canada's economic future to a difficult resource was a massive liability, never a sure bet.

12. Top Five Myths about the Transit Vote
Too many 'facts' giving you a headache? The Tyee's here to help.

Is this referendum-plebiscite-thingy binding? Are the salaries of those TransLink fat cats actually wasteful? For such a rare and high-stakes civic moment as the Metro Vancouver transit referendum, we knew that Tyee readers needed someone to examine the rhetoric and help demystify the debate. David P. Ball took on the challenge with this widely shared mythbusting primer, published in March.

13. Turns Out, the NDP Just Wasn't Ready
With a campaign strategy that failed to inspire, it squandered the chance of a generation.

Columnist and former NDP strategist Bill Tieleman did not hold back in this definitive postmortem of the 2015 New Democrat election effort. "The 2015 campaign that many thought would see Mulcair as Canada's first NDP prime minister started badly and steadily got worse," he wrote in his unflinching dissection, widely shared and discussed across the country. As commenter JuHoansi put it, "If you have a better analysis of the NDP disaster, let's hear it."

582px version of NDPPartyOttawa_610px.jpg
New Democrats in Montreal watched as election night results rolled in. Photo by Mario Jean.

14. Eight Things about the Man Hired to Save Harper
Meet 'evil genius' Lynton Crosby.

He was the so-called "Lizard of Oz" recruited to lob dead cats into Canada's election campaign. Or something. There were a lot of strange nicknames and metaphors when it came to figuring out the mystery that was Lynton Crosby, the Australian political strategist supposedly brought in by the Conservatives to spice up the campaign trail in early September. In this zippy piece, Tyee founding editor David Beers scoured the available reports online to produce a quick primer on the man even his friends called an "evil genius."

15. The Long, Long Ego Trip of Stephen Harper
A one-man show from fringe to power. Our underestimation only fuelled his contempt.

Time and time again, Tyee readers turn to contributing editor Crawford Kilian for his expansive historical memory and deep knowledge of many issues: education and health, to name a few. Whatever he studies, he knows intimately and opines about frequently. Another issue that's occupied Crawford's mind (very likely unwillingly) over the last decade? The dubious doings of Stephen Harper. That's one reason this post-election read felt so cathartic -- it felt like the sum of a decades worth of pondering the man's motives and actions: "Now, as the dust settles on the election, we should consider a new possibility: Harper did what he did for no reason except to show he could do it. It's been one long ego trip."

16. Why Tories Don't Need a Majority to Keep Power in 2016, and Beyond
They have a clear path to stay in control, and fight another election, without Parliament ever sitting.

Bill Tieleman's roadmap to power for the Harper Conservatives made for a chewy election read that filled the Facebook feeds of spooked progressives. While we now know Tieleman's so-called "doomsday scenario" was not to be, one thing's for sure: the column stirred up plenty of debate as another top election read.

17. The Delusions of David Frum's Mind
Stephen Harper make you worried and angry? Chill, says Canada's prodigal Republican son.

In this column, founding editor David Beers gamely took on Atlantic editor David Frum's defence of Stephen Harper published in the U.S. magazine's August edition. What's the big deal about Harper? Frum essentially asked. "Born to a famous Canadian family, Frum left long ago to toil in the fertile vineyards of right-wing America, landing a White House job selling George W. Bush's war, and then permanent pundit status," Beers begins his reply. "Now, like an ex-pat come home on vacation but oblivious to all the torn-down landmarks, he argues Canadians have no right to be angry at what Harper has done to their democracy." It was a fighting start to a highly entertaining evisceration of the "Google-challenged" Frum that much delighted Tyee readers. Not long after it ran, The Atlantic published its own rebuttal to its own editor Frum's strange assertions.

18. Harper's Newspeak
He loves naming laws with false slogans. (So do fascists.)

Another provocative column by Andrew Nikiforuk, this time on Harper's "Newspeak." In it Nikiforuk chronicles the serial and "deceptive" sloganeering of the Harper government (Fair Elections Act, anyone?). The column certainly made the rounds and had many commenters cheering Nikiforuk for making the case.

19. Famed Journalist Robert Fisk: Canada's Moral Power Is Lost
Middle East sage on ISIS, refugees, Harper, 'short-termism' and more. A Tyee interview.

In the midst of a cross-country tour, veteran war correspondent Robert Fisk spoke with freelancer Matthew Hays about ISIS, refugees, and Canada's waning moral power. This thoughtful interview with an intellectual heavyweight captivated Tyee readers.

20. Harper Brings CBC to Heel
Squeezed by the throat, our public broadcaster is beginning to resemble a state-controlled network.

Veteran media critic Antonia Zerbisias wasn't shy about her interpretation of the April wave of layoffs at the public broadcaster, a column that gripped Tyee readers as tightly as, well, the Tories gripped the Ceeb? "It would appear that Stephen Harper's government not only sees the CBC as 'state-owned,' it is also attempting to make it 'state-controlled,' bringing it to heel by stacking the board with Conservative bagmen who would never bite the hand that appointed them as well as by squeezing it by the budgetary throat."

What an amazing year for The Tyee -- thanks for all the reader support, and onwards to 2016!

Please note our comment threads will be closed Dec. 21 to Jan. 3 to give our moderators a well-deserved break. Happy holidays, readers.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Media


Laura Best: Why Canada Can Safely Meet Its Refugee Commitments. Twice this year, immigration lawyer Laura Best waded into the political storm around refugees to offer her expert clarifying perspective. In one op-ed that went absolutely viral, Best calmly laid out exactly how the security process for screening refugees works, arguing that Canada can safely meet its refugee commitments.

Heather Libby: Scared Yet? How Fear Hijacked Campaign 2015. Heather Libby's election-take on the Tories' three dead cats was dead on, with thousands sharing it across Canada. As one commenter put it, "thanks for another well-reasoned, sensible, and timely article by the hyper-intelligent Heather Libby."

Christopher Cheung: Why Racism in Vancouver's Housing Debate Can't Be Ignored. Christopher Cheung dove deep into the Lower Mainland's racialized blame game this summer, producing this much read and debated report.

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