2011’s big stories

Earthquakes, Occupiers, riots and the threat of countries defaulting, all made 2011 one interesting year. But Prime Minister Stephen Harper must think of 2011 as his favourite year so far in his political career since, in 2011, he finally won the majority in Parliament he had been seeking for so long.

In contrast, the federal elections in May left the Liberal Party of Canada, once called “Canada’s natural governing party”, decimated, reduced to third party status with just 34 seats in Parliament, down from 77, while the New Democrats (NDP), led by the Jack Layton, achieved a new high in voter support with a record 103 seats to become the official Opposition.

The NDP’s rise was bittersweet when just weeks later a visibly frail Layton announced he was stepping down as leader to focus on treatment for cancer. Canadians reacted to Layton’s death in August with a huge outpouring of grief.

Elections at all levels of government gave Canadian citizens many opportunities to exercise their franchise, which may explain the low turnouts. Too many were either suffering from voter fatigue or loss of confidence in the democratic process.

In a lukewarm campaign in Ontario in October, the Dalton McGuinty-led provincial Liberals were able to hold on to power for a third term, albeit with a minority government.

Municipal elections in both Calgary and Toronto provided surprises with Calgarians electing their first Muslim mayor, Naheed Nenshi, while Toronto fell for the campaign pitch of long time Etobicoke North councillor, Rob Ford, a Conservative with a penchant for being stingy. He was elected the city’s 64th mayor.

The whole world seemed to have been more focused on money this year than at any other time in the recent past, and while no economist wants to use the word, the fear is that we are now sitting in an economic depression – or very close to one.

In a year of financial worries, the average Canadian household now carries an increased debt load, and our various levels of government aren’t doing much better. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation puts federal government debt at more than $575 billion and Ontario has to contend with a $16-billion deficit.

As a measure of citizen concern, young people took to camping out in city parks all around the world as part of the Occupy movement that began in mid-September in a park near New York City’s Wall Street. The leaderless movement maintained that the richest one per cent benefits at the expense of the other 99 per cent. Occupiers also camped in St. James Park in Toronto and held union-supported protest marches on Bay Street.

But the 11th year of this new century has not been without shockers across the globe.

The people of Northern Japan experienced a devastating magnitude 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11 that later led to life threatening radiation leakage from nuclear energy plants, the worst nuclear crisis in 25 years. The earthquake left nearly 20,000 people dead or missing and an estimated $218 billion in damage.

Twitter, Facebook and the Internet were the engines for the Arab Spring, in which hundreds of thousands of mostly young people in Arab and North African countries took to the streets to protest living and working conditions and to oust longtime leaders. The movement led to the ouster of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and the eventual assassination of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.

On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in the U.S., President Barack Obama announced that, on a raid in Pakistan, Navy SEALs killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the group blamed for the attacks.

Obama, who had been elected during one of the most difficult periods in recent American history, will face the electorate again in 2012 as he seeks a second term as U.S. president. We wish him luck.

We expect that, with the world economic crisis still unresolved, we will see a continuation of negotiations as governments work to bring spending under control without sending the global economy into a further tail spin.

Given the legacy of 2011, we will need all the faith we can muster as 2012 approaches.

Good luck and a Happy New Year to all.

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