10. The End of the Iraq War
After nearly nine years, the Iraq War ended with a whimper last week with the last U.S. combat troops crossing back over the border to Kuwait. The violence that has erupted since was more or less prophesied, but really, what else could have possibly happened? Would staying another year, another two years, been enough to change the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people? Doubtful. As for the American people, the majority of whom felt that war with Iraq was not just necessary, but the very right of the U.S. in aid of guarding their own security, they had more or less abandoned the support of the fight, especially in the wake of the ongoing economic crisis in America. In fact, the only chicken hawks still walking upright are most of the Republican nominees for President, the majority of whom feel that President Barack Obama was too premature in his withdrawal, and are now looking at a confrontation with Iran as inevitable. Hopefully, the appetite of the American people is for diplomacy over military conflict.
9. Quebec Enjoys an Orange Crush
There were numerous fascinating and surprising stories to come out of this spring's Federal Election, but few were more surprising, or fascinating, than Quebec's rejection of the Bloc Quebecois, and its nearly, wholehearted embrace of the NDP. In total, the Jack Layton-led NDP picked up 59 seats in the Province of Quebec, which was several times more than the Conservatives, the Liberals and the Bloc combined. As a side-story, the flip side of the "Orange Crush" was the decimation of the Bloc, who lost 43 seats in Parliament and losing official party status in the process. The real question going in to 2012 is will the NDP be able to hold on to its foothold in Quebec, and whether or not the NDP and its eventual new leader will be able to capitalize on their popularity with the Quebecois, and translate that support nationally.
8. G20 Drama Continues
From over 400 arrests over the weekend of the G20 meeting in Toronto in 2010, only 17 people are accepting any kind of legal consequences. Six of them, so far, have been sent to prison. The billions of dollars spent on security, the millions in property damage, the general disruption to the city centre of Canada's biggest metropolis, and all it amounts to is about 16 months in prison from six people on charges like "counselling others to commit property damage" and "counselling to obstruct a peace officer." More damning though is the fallout to our government when it was revealed by Sheila Fraser that the difference between moneys budgeted, and actual moneys spent on the summit. Exacerbating the matter is that a lot of that money fell on the riding of then Industry Minister Tony Clement, and despite a cover from John Baird, saying that all projects were approved by him as Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, not Clement, the optics still look terrible. What happens now? Well, protestors have no apologies for their actions and the same can be said for the Harper government. And that's what you call a stalemate.
7. Republican of Dunces
There are two types of leaders in the Republican Party, the vocal, name brand candidate that doesn't want to run for office but wants the platform it provides, and the bold ones that have put their name on the ballot but who are all being weighed down from achieving true frontrunner status by their individual baggage. "Celebrity" candidates like Donald Trump, Sarah Palin and Chris Christie flirted with running and zapped a good share of the media attention for their various causes célèbres. Meanwhile, the ones that have actually signed up for the race have taken turns looking like the likeliest candidate to take on Barack Obama this fall only to be hoisted on their own petard - sexual harassment, flip-flopping, debate failures, policy misspeaks, racist newsletter with your name on it - and lose the faith of a desperately divided party between far-right Tea Party members and more moderate, old school Republicans. You could throw a dart and have a 1 in 7 chance of hitting the eventual nominee, but given the drama so far it will be interesting to see what happens with the real race begins.
6. Harper Gets His Majority
After five years and three elections, Stephen Harper was able to secure majority status and form a government without fear of collapse at the hands of the opposition. How did he do it? It wasn't overwhelming national support because the Conservatives managed to secure only an additional two per cent of the popular vote over the 2008 election. But as the electoral math worked out, that was the right two per cent for the Conservatives to add 23 seats to their caucus. The recipe of staying on message, and promoting the idea of constancy in government as a prerequisite for economic stability, were winners. On the other hand though, Harper and his government has not been able to get ahead of the 40 per cent approval line, according to a poll released earlier this month. Despite a comfortable lead over the opposition NDP, and in spite of guffaws involving high-ranking government members using Canadian Forces helicopters as taxis, and embarrassment on the international stage for abandoning Kyoto, the Conservatives are steady, which as any one in advertising will tell you, isn't sexy.
5. Tragedy in Attawapiskat
On October 28th, the tribal leadership of the Attawapiskat First Nation declared a state of emergency, and about a month later that news finally managed to make it to Ottawa and the rest of Canada. The desperate need for housing, to get people out of tents and shelters and other temporary housing, took a while to reach the national consciousness, and even longer from some people in power to do something about it. John Duncan, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, had to be pulled twice from a scrum because he looked dangerously uninformed on the issue, and when the government did respond it was with houses that can't arrive until the winter roads in the north are made in late January at the earliest. They did, however, get a consultant from the firm BDO Canada to get at the real problem: the band's finances. But while the Conservative government tries to convince the people of Attawapiskat that they don't need new housing as much as they need Tax Masters, the situation there was thrown into sharp focus, more generally, the conditions of Canada's First Nations peoples. Now the U.N.'s Human Rights Council is looking at the situation more closely, as more and more people are coming to understand that there's a Third World country right here, within our own borders.
4. The People Rally for Arab Spring
It was both a literal and metaphorical match that was struck when Mohamed Bouazizi's self-immolated himself in protest of police corruption and ill treatment on December 18, 2010 in Tunisia. As the new year dawned the protest spread across northern Africa to Libya and Egypt, which, like Tunisia, ended up overthrowing their governments in a grassroots effort co-ordinated through social media and were successful despite obstruction from those nations' military and their once beloved autocrats. Serious and sustained protests also took place Syria, Yemen, Oman, Jordan and Morocco, and even Saudi Arabia saw some minor sympathy protests within its borders. The fallout of all this is still in the process of being sorted out, but no matter what happens the mere fact of the ground up overthrow of a militaristic regime gives everyone hope, because if they can change their government and beat the odds then we all can. It might be not quite accurate to say that the Arab Spring lead to the Occupy Movement, but if you're a human being living in 2011, I think the common theme was "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore."
3. The Death of Tyrants
The year 2011 was not a good one if you were a villain. On the evening of May 2nd, it was announced to the world that the U.S. military had killed Osama bin Laden. Nearly 10 years after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, fate caught up with bin Laden at a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan where the leader of al Qaeda had apparently been held up for some time. While the War on Terror had progressed beyond bin Laden, his death is still seen as a significant victory for U.S. foreign policy. In October, amongst the fallout of the Arab Spring, former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was captured by rebel forces near his hometown Sirte. However, casting a pall over the affair is the allegations that Gaddafi was abused and tortured before being executed by rebels. Finally less than two weeks ago, North Korea announced to the world that their "Dear Leader," Kim Jong-il, had passed away of a suspected heart attack. In our well-connected world, it took two days for the news to break, and almost immediately, Kim Jong-il's chosen successor, his youngest son Kim Jong-un was announced as the "Great Successor." His first act of duty as Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army was to fire off a few missiles to prove his militaristic mantle. It will be interesting to see what Kim Jong-un might to for his still insular nation going into 2012.
2. The Passing of Jack Layton
It's a story that was almost Biblical, Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party since 2003, leads his party to its greatest victory, secures Official Opposition status, but due to health issues, passes away before Parliament began its fall session. The events of this past spring will secure Layton's place in Canadian history, but it's worth noting that this was not an overnight success. Over the course of four elections in eight years, Layton worked tirelessly to prove to Canadians from coast to coast to coast that the NDP was not only a viable and dependable choice to oppose the Harper Tories, but they were ready, willing and able to form a government in their own right. It took awhile, but Canadians started to listen. Quebecers especially became interested in Layton's message of a third path, and rewarded the NDP with the aforementioned 59 seats in the province. Any politician winning the leadership of the NDP will have big shoes to fill, and the daunting task of keeping the new big tent of the party together going into 2015.
1. The Occupy Movement
Just as Arabs across the Middle East began saying enough is enough about their brutal, autocratic regimes, so too said the 99 per cent about the brutality of the West's massive, and growing, income inequality gap. From a camp set up in New York's Zuccotti Park, egged on by activist magazine Adbusters, a group of people fed up with the fallout of deregulation and other harmful economic policies stood up against the system and demanded to be counted and treated fairly. Despite criticism that the protesters in New York were rebel rousers without a clear message, Occupy Wall Street became the Occupy Movement, and took root in other cities across North America, including locally here in Guelph. As the fall wore on, the movement was more preoccupied with keep their occupation intact then pushing the agenda that started it, but a quiet winter may result in louder action come the spring. Here in Guelph, the Beyond Occupy group is already looking to the future, and it will be interesting to see what other efforts come with the thaw of winter's end.
Tomorrow, look for the Top 10 Local and Provincial Stories of the year.