Well, I did it. And I’m sure you’re thrilled.
When I started writing this blog, I vowed to write a weekly review of events as I saw them. I did it mostly as a personal challenge, a way to instil a little discipline in my undisciplined life, and to boost my memory of the events of the year. This is no. 51 (I didn’t come up with the idea until a week was gone in the year), which is traditionally the time for a recap of the year’s events. I was going to write a series of five year-end blogs, then reduced it to three, then reduced it to whatever the hell this is going to be. Apparently, I haven’t developed quite as much discipline as I had hoped.
Looking back on the events of 2015, one thing stood out — it was an incredibly awful year. I suppose when you look back on any year, the bad outweighs the good, but this year sucked, and sucked big time. We can thank ISIS for much of what was terrible in 2015, and we can only hope that in 2016 we will look back on the merciless obliteration of this pox on humanity. But even taking ISIS out of the equation, 2015 was a depressing sequence of weeks. Here’s a look back, starting in the city that did nothing right …
EDMONTON: Here in my beloved home town, it was a year where nothing went right. The symbol of the year in Edmonton was the construction of the vital 102 Avenue bridge. Giant, multi-tonne girders actually BENT after installation, delaying the bridge for a months and months. The new Walterdale Bridge is months behind, thanks to the brilliant decision to import steel for the bridge from Korea instead of, oh, I don’t know, Edmonton? The venerable Roxy Theatre burned down. The Edmonton Rush won the National Lacrosse League championship, then decamped for Saskatoon. Saskatoon! Is this what Edmonton has come to, playing second fiddle to freakin’ Saskatoon? The terrorist group Al-Shabab mentioned West Edmonton Mall as a potential target in a video, causing some astonishingly stupid school groups to pull out of a cheerleading competition. There were 30 murders in Edmonton this year, including the barbaric executions of two Mac’s store employees in two different locations. And of course, we had the kind of crime that strikes at the heart of your sense of community: two cops — a Mountie in St. Albert and city of Edmonton cop Daniel Woodall — were killed in the line of duty.
But hey, it wasn’t all bad. The Edmonton Oilers lucked out and landed the greatest blue chip prospect since Mario Lemieux, one Connor McDavid. The organization, after years of indifference and ineptitude, cleaned house and hired actual hockey professionals to run the team. Even this good news story had a whatever the opposite of a silver lining is; McDavid broke his clavicle and has been out for months. And finally, we had something to cheer about when the Eskimos and their he-man QB Mike Reilly won the Grey Cup for the first time in 10 years. And then … coach Chris Jones left for Saskatchewan, and took his coaching staff with him. You win some, and you lose … most.
ALBERTA: Albertans did what we do every few decades — grow tired of the party we’ve supported unthinkingly for years, and installed a new government which we voted for unthinkingly.
PC Premier Grim Jim Prentice, who is a central casting idea of a politician (more of a U.S. Senator than a Canadian premier in my view), decided to violate Alberta election rules and call an election. It was an act of brazen, crass, cynical politics, basically business as usual for the Progressive Conservatives. His reasoning was sound. The Wildrose, the party seen as most likely to usurp the PCs, was in shambles with the 2014 mass betrayal of most of the party’s MLA for the PC party, including leader Danielle Smith (remember her?). The NDP was still seen as anathema to voters, and with just four members, no real threat. The Liberals had an interim leader, and three of its small caucus leaving. Victory seemed certain, even if it meant losing a few chair moisteners from the backbenches. Of course, there was that little matter of someone named Rachel Notley who seemed to have a little personal popularity, but surely Albertans wouldn’t be stupid enough to elect a government from a gaggle of soft socialists, social workers, unionists, students and generally unaccomplished candidates, would they?
On May 5, Albertans found themselves with a government of soft socialists, social workers, unionists, students and generally unaccomplished MLAs. If Jim Prentice was looking for someone to blame, all the had to do was, yes, look in the mirror. Prentice bailed on election night, an unprecedented insult to voters and campaign workers alike. Voters were so eager to punish the PCs for years of, well, winning, that they blindly voted NDP without really considering the quality of the candidates. Exhibit A: Deborah Drever, above.
Notley probably would have liked a term as opposition leader to sharpen her team, but the people chose to throw her into the deep end of the pool. By year’s end, many wished she would stay there. With oil tumbling to $38 a barrel, the first budget featured a mammoth deficit, with no spending cuts. The party introduced an important climate change plan — including the long-term phase out of coal — and committed to a $15 minimum wage. But they stepped in a cow pie of province-wide size with Bill 6, a farm safety bill of all things. Family farmers were enraged at the bill, and despite some modifications, apologies, and a rather cowardly attempt to blame the bureaucrats, the bill went through and the farmers remain enraged. Basic rule of thumb: it’s not a good idea to make people with pitchforks angry.
The first few months of NDP government has been alternately ambitious and overreaching. Their use and abuse of power has often been brazen and painfully reminiscent of the old PC government. The Bill 6 fiasco could have easily been avoided with proper consultation, but the Dippers are already showing signs of Government Knows Best thinking. Right now, the government has one asset — Rachel Notley — and a whole lot of nothing else. They have three years to improve.
CANADA: A landmark year in Canadian history began with a bit of a surprise: after years of hype and months of disappointment, the giant American retailer Target pulled the plug on its Canadian experiment. Canadians sampled Target, found it to be a somewhat upscale Zeller’s, and didn’t come back. The other closure of significance was the shutdown of the lame Sun News TV network, and attempt to graft Fox News-style “reporting” onto the Canadian body politic. It failed miserably, which is actually a shame: if it hadn’t been so stridently right wing, so cheap in its production values, so filled with Ezra Levant, it might have survived. Speaking of survival, Canada’s two big newspaper chains joined forces, with Postmedia (the Edmonton Journal) buying the Sun newspapers (the Edmonton Sun). In Edmonton, the formerly fierce competitors are now located, uncomfortably, in one building. Some sort of merger seems inevitable.
Elsewhere, Omar Khadr was finally set free after years of unconstitutional incarceration; he is now living quietly in Edmonton. The trial of the Senator from (snicker) Prince Edward Island, Mike Duffy, continued with Canadians getting a first-hand account of how the office of Stephen Harper controlled the Senate, and everything else. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report into the Indian Residential School system came out, and it was, as expected, grim and shameful reading. Not that anyone read it. Something called the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership was signed, but it is complex and boring and probably very important, so after a day or two of news, it has vanished from the headlines. And “all of Canada” was supposed to be enraptured by the Toronto Blue Jays playoff run. Fortunately for “all of Canada”, they didn’t make the World Series.
One story dominated all others.
The longest election in modern Canadian history — 78 grinding days — looked like a true three-way race when it began. The Thomas Mulcair NDP actually lead some polls, with the Justin Trudeau Liberals in third place in some polls. Stephen Harper and the Conservatives, however, judged Trudeau to be the only real threat, labelling Trudeau II “not ready” to lead. Their relentlessly negative ads, with three bad actors pretending to look over Trudeau’s resume (“Nice hair, though.”) backfired. Trudeau countered the ads directly, and the Liberals remained optimistic and upbeat, in contrast to the perpetually dour, gloomy Harper. In the waining days of the election, with polls showing power slipping through his soft fingers, Harper attempted to make hijabs an election issue. Canadians smelled the desperation on him, and on election night swallowed their concerns about the untested, “not ready” Trudeau and gave the Liberals a resounding victory.
Trudeau, just like Notley, is the Liberal party’s greatest asset. But unlike Notley, who had to make a cabinet out of balsa wood, Trudeau had a selection or sturdy oak and pine to make his. Twenty-sixteen will be interesting; Trudeau has an ambitious agenda and a shaky economy. Even if the fails more than he succeeds, Justin Trudeau will forever be in my good books for ridding us of the scourge of Stephen Harper.
THE WORLD: And now, the world. And what a royally messed up world it is. Too much to go over, so let’s just wrap of the world with a few choice words.
Charlie Hebdo massacre; the Greek financial crisis; ISIS; Ukraine under attack by Russia; Ferguson, Missouri and Black Lives Matter; a pilot deliberately crashes his plane, killing 150; in Kenya, Boka Harum goes on a killing spree at a Christian college in Kenya, killing 188; hundreds of thousands of migrants flood Europe, overwhelming resources; little Alan Kurdi, the drowning victim who forced the world to look at the migrant crisis; an earthquake in Nepal kills 6,500; mass shootings in the U.S. on an almost daily basis, including a TV reporter killed on live TV; the war in Syria raged on, even though there is nothing left to fight over; radicalized Muslims went on a killing spree in San Bernardino, Ca.; Paris terrorists killed 128 and … Donald Trump.
That must be the most saddest paragraph I’ve ever written, and not just from a grammatical point of view.
In non-bloody news, people became infatuated with a formerly handsome man named Bruce Jenner who turned himself into an unattractive woman named Caitlyn Jenner. The Pacquioa-Mayweather fight brought boxing briefly back into the headlines; Canada won the world hockey championship; FIFA was rocked by scandal; Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) released a “new” book, as did the long departed Dr. Seuss; Cecil the Lion took on a Minnesota dentist, and both lost; David Letterman and Jon Stewart both called it quits; Playboy got out of the nudity business; Bill Cosby finally faced justice, and … Donald Trump.
So that was the year that was, if it’s possible to wrap up a year in 1,906 words. I’m considering doing this all over again in 2016, so if you enjoyed the 2015 edition, please let me know. Always nice to know that someone, anyone, is reading.
Happy New Year, all. Two thousand and sixteen is bound to be a better year … right? Seriously, please be better.
RIP: Meadowlark Lemon, 82, one of the most popular members of the Harlem Globetrotters …. Wayne Rogers, 82, who played Trapper John in the first few years of M*A*S*H.