The unexpected was the norm in 2017, starting with trade

The year 2017 will likely go down in the political history books for being the year of the unexpected.

To say it was a year of surprises would be an understatement.

The arrival of U.S. President Donald Trump on the international political scene delivered a jolt not seen in decades to the way in which the world conducts business and diplomacy.

Almost overnight, the country seen as the beacon for free trade, globalization and international co-operation rejected many of those ideas in favour of an “America First” policy laden with protectionism.

Suddenly, the future of the World Trade Organization and global, multilateral trade were in jeopardy.

In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government (elected on a platform more in line with a world where global diplomatic and trade co-operation were front and centre) found itself devising a negotiating strategy designed to try to salvage the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, the original NAFTA brain child, was called upon to lend his expertise and insight. An advisory panel was struck with its membership comprising a cross section of some of this country’s brightest minds.

The original goal was to have the NAFTA renegotiation completed by the end of the year. That timeline has been deemed unfeasible, thanks to egregious American demands, and talks are now expected to stretch into early 2018.

The future of NAFTA remains in jeopardy. These days, uncertainty within the North American business community is simply part of doing business.

This year’s unexpected notes aren’t limited to the NAFTA front. Canada’s attempts to diversify its trade agenda have been marred by miscues and miscommunications.

Relations between Canada and the United States have taken on a chilly undertone thanks to an ongoing and longstanding dispute over softwood lumber. And, who can forget that never-ending, arm-breaking handshake.

Meanwhile, several countries — notably Japan — remain unimpressed with Canada’s performance at a meeting of Trans-Pacific Partnership members on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Vietnam this year. Also, Trudeau’s visit to China failed to secure the launch of formal trade talks.

Then there’s India, which continues to wreak havoc with Canadian pulse exports by refusing to issue a new derogation order and by imposing a sudden 50 percent tariff on global pea imports. It’s an escalating trade dispute no visiting Canadian ministerial delegation has been able to resolve.

While the trade file has been rife with unpredictability, 2017’s unexpectedness stretches beyond the world of exports and imports.

Closer to home, the Liberals stunned Canadian business owners by moving ahead with a substantial tax reform plan in the middle of the summer, when most of the country was on vacation, and abandoning an unwritten protocol of cross-party collaboration when it comes to tax reform.

While the government was later forced to abandon many of its proposed changes (including a move that would have impeded the transfer of family farms from one generation to the next), Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced Dec. 15 he was moving ahead with part of his tax plan, effective Jan. 1.

This, despite a stark warning from the chair of the Senate finance committee, who said Ottawa should scrap its entire tax reform plan — or at least postpone it until 2019.

The committee’s report was only the latest in a series of unanticipated moments of resistance from the Red Chamber.

It’s a trend that is expected to continue well into the new year unless the Liberals figure out a way to work with the newly independent Senate to ensure their legislation gets passed in a semi-timely manner.

In the meantime, expect political leaders both at home and abroad to continue hitting the reset button. The unexpected is only just beginning.

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