The obligatory review of 2011. With videos!

Well, here we are at the end of another arbitrary span of 365 days that we call a year. And what a year it was! Things happened! Famous people died! Future famous people were born (how come nobody talks about that?)! Movies and TV shows were produced, some of them good, and some of them bad! The earth moved, literally in some cases, figuratively in others. It was a year of bests and worsts, mosts and leasts. Here’s my entirely personal list, which has no scientific basis.

Canada, Alberta and Edmonton

Least surprising political event: Stephen Harper gets his cherished majority, and  immediately sets about cranking Canada so far to the right that even American Republicans are saying: “Slow down, Steven.”

Most surprising political event: The NDP becomes the Official Opposition as Quebec voters elect 20-year-old barmaids who don’t even live in their ridings. Quebecers apparently mistook election for one of those terrible Just for Laughs gags shows.

Most surprising political development: Alison Redford comes out of nowhere (Calgary) to win the PC leadership, using a canny mix of populist promises and a guarantee to spend $100 million on teachers, putting her over the top as teachers flock to the polls.

Least surprising political development: Alison Redford reneges on her promise of fixed election date. Calling it a fixed date when there is a three-month window is like saying your dog is fixed if he’s only had one nut removed.

Most welcomed political retirements, Alberta edition: No more Ron Liepert, no more Lloyd Snelgrove, and especially no more King Ken Kowalski, who leaves the speaker’s chair with $1.3 million in his pocket. But he earned every penny of it. Just ask him.

Least welcomed political retirements (Alberta edition): Hugh MacDonald and Kevin Taft from the Alberta Liberals, neither of whom is running next year. The legislature will be a lesser place without them, if that’s even possible.

Most protracted debate: the Edmonton arena debate. Hey, we all knew Darrel Katz was going to get his way. What took so long?

Least welcomed retirement: Rod Phillips calls his last Edmonton Oilers game. I’m pretty sure you can still hear “HE SCOOOOOOOOOOORES” in the rafters of Rexall.

Most welcomed retirement (permanent): Serial killer Clifford Olson croaks. He won’t be meeting his child victims where he’s gone.

Worst season: The winter of 2011-12. Too much snow, too much cold, too much everything.

The World

Least effective protest: The Occupy Anywhere Movement. Remember those guys, hanging out in public squares, banging on drums and their old ladies (I assume that’s what they did to keep warm, anyway)? Now that they’re gone, the world has changed … how?

Most effective protests: Egyptians and Libyans and everyone else for overthrowing regimes by taking to the streets. See, Occupy people? THAT’S how it’s done.

Most hilarious political scandal: New York Congressman is ruined for emailing photos of his Little Congressman to women. His name? Anthony Weiner. And he doesn’t even pronounce it ‘Whiner’. It’s Weiner! This is like a sex scandal written by the staff of Family Guy.

Most recorded disaster: Japan earthquake and tsunami. Astonishing footage, like this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kOpVUTXqS0&feature=related and this one http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ceym2c18OQM&feature=related and this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTeQt3KmpNA&feature=related. Unreal.

Most welcomed political retirements (permanent edition): Hosni ‘The Modern Pharaoh’ Mubarek of Egypt, Muammar ‘Multiple Spellings’ Gaddafi of Libya, Kim (I Once Got 18 Holes-In-One The First Time I Went Golfing) Jung Il of North Korea, Osama (Honey, There’s Someone At the Door) bin Laden of 9/11 infamy, Silvio ‘Bunga Bunga ‘ Berlusconi of  Italy. It was a really great year for taking out the trash.

Most overwrought media coverage: The death of Jack Layton. The untimely departure of the NDP leader was given the full ‘great man has passed away, nation grieves’ splash. The cane he used only briefly was raised to iconic status, like Charlie Chaplin’s.

Most overwrought media coverage, international edition: Marriage of Prince Prematurely Balding to Princess Way Too Hot for Him. Honorable mention: death of Steve Jobs.

Least surprising riot: Let’s see now… cram 100,000 young and privileged people into a public square to watch Game 7 of the Stanley Cup, add liberal doses of alcohol and drugs, stir in a hometown defeat. What could possibly go wrong?

Most baffling riots: Youths run wild in London. Still don’t know why.

Most hilarious commercial: Herman Cain’s utterly bizarre Smoking Man ad. No Saturday Night Live parody was funnier. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6VnTqpTqvQ

“Arts” and entertainment:

Most overrated TV show of the year: Two Broke Girls. Routine CBS style sitcom. But it stars two chicks, so that’s supposed to make it groundbreaking. I’d settle for funny. Also seriously overrated: Louie.

Best new TV comedy: New Girl. The only positive in a brutal year for TV comedy.

Best TV comedy: Parks and Recreation. By the way, the spinoff book, Pawnee, is hilarious. If you like the show, you’ll love the book.

Best new TV drama: Homeland, a genuinely gripping drama of post 9/11 America (and as an added bonus, with gratuitous nudity). Well worth downloading the first season.

Best TV drama: Breaking Bad. I hate to use a term like ‘pulse pounding’, but it made my pulse pound. One of the best seasons of any TV show. Ever. Honorable mentions: Garrow’s Law (a BBC series seen on PBS set in very, very, very olden times English courts; superb acting and writing), Boardwalk Empire (top notch HBO series about bootleggers and general criminal types in the 1920s; no character was safe), and Justified (crackling good lawman drama set in Kentucky).New season starts soon. Check it out.

Most disappointing TV finale: The Killing, which promised a resolution to a season-long murder mystery, then didn’t deliver. Producers actually apologized. Too late for that, pal.

Best books of the year (at least of the ones that I read): Rin Tin Tin, The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean; Here Comes Trouble by Michael Moore; Life Itself by Roger Ebert; Fire and Rain, The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY, and the Lost Story of 1970.

Most promising musical newcomer: OK, this is more of a prediction, since her album doesn’t come out until next year, but Lana Del Rey will be the talk of 2012 based on this song from this year alone. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HO1OV5B_JDw&context=C35e71a7ADOEgsToPDskJqAaWUF6ojl0Vka21fUVFJ

Worst song. Ever: “Friiiiday, Friiiday…” You hate me for putting that song back into your head, don’t you? Fifteen million views and counting. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfVsfOSbJY0&ob=av3e

Best film I saw this year: Hugo, Martin Scorcese’s thrilling, awesome, touching 3D tribute to the early days of movies. Spend the extra to see it in 3D.

Most overrated movie: Bridesmaids. Yes, it was funny, and yes, it was entertaining. But one of the best of the year? C’mon.

Most confounding but strangely captivating movie: The Tree of Life. Have no idea what the hell was going on, but couldn’t take my eyes off it.

Worst movie by good people: Larry Crowne, a total turkey from Tom Hanks. And Julia Roberts!

Sporting stuff

Best sporting event: Canucks do not win Stanley Cup. There, I said it.

Most overhyped sporting event: World Junior Hockey Championship. Seriously, until the gold medal game, who cares?

Worst sporting event: Canadian women’s soccer team crashes and burns in women’s World Cup. Who did they think they were, Canadian men?

Most disturbing sports trend: Half of the NHL is out with a concussion. NHL baffled as to why young men who are hit at high speeds by other 250 pound men suited up likes knights of yore are suffering concussions. Must be today’s softer skulls.

Most surprising sporting event: Eskimos trade proven winner Ricky Ray for unproven non-winner Stephen Jyles.  But the trade must be good, because Esk GM Eric Tillman is a genius. Right? Please, somebody tell me I’m right.

Most surprisingly entertaining sports event: The rugby World Cup from New Zealand. Now that’s a man’s game.

Agree? Disagree? Want to add your picks. Always happy to hear from my reader(s).

Happy new year to you all, and thanks for reading.

A few contrary thoughts on Jack Layton.

Was I wrong about Jack Layton?

When he was alive, I always found him somewhat insufferable.  A glad-handing, ‘hi how are ya’ kind of politician who was forever seeking the spotlight, and finding it, thanks to a doting press.  I have always likened him to a used car salesman.

But not what Layton is gone (sorry, that should be ‘Jack’; everyone has taken to calling him ‘Jack’ like he was a close personal buddy), I’m wondering if maybe I was wrong. I see thousands of people lined up to pay their respects. I see makeshift flower shrines (we can credit the British for creating this trend after Princess Diana died), dotted with the occasional can of Orange Crush.  I read and hear of people talking about his integrity, and how he was trying to bring decorum back to politics, and his decency, etc.

Have I been wrong about Jack Layton? Was he, really, a politician who touched people in a special way that I have missed?

Clearly, yes. I missed the Jack Layton parade. But all this public grieving is a little over the top, don’t you think?

I know it’s risky to say anything negative about a person who has just expired. I’m sure when Charles Manson finally goes to hell, someone will extol his leadership abilities. But let’s put Layton’s career in politics in perspective, shall we?

Jack Layton had been in politics almost his whole life, with little to show for it. He has been the NDP leader since only 2003, and an MP only since 2004. In that time, his greatest success was in improving the fortunes of the NDP, luring away enough potential Liberal voters to ensure minority governments for Stephen Harper. His greatest success was in this year’s election, with the party’s stunning breakthrough in Quebec and the NDP’s elevation to official opposition status for the first time in history. It can safely be said that the NDP gains in Quebec had little to do with NDP policy or the quality of its candidates, and everything to do with pissed off Quebec voters turning their backs on the Liberals and the Bloc, and finding nothing else other than the NDP and their smiling, singing, casual French-speaking leader. Until further notice, it will have to be regarded as one of the great flukes in Canadian political history.

I guess you could say that Layton’s greatest accomplishment as NDP leader was in reigning in Harper’s worst right-wing impulses during the minority government years. For that, we can be thankful. But otherwise, the cupboard is bare. No legislation, of course, bears the Layton signature. I’ve tried, in fairness, to come up with something Layton can be credited with (aside from the success of the NDP) and come up with nothing.

Was he a decent guy? Apparently, but there are lots of decent people in politics, believe it or not. Did he have the country’s best interests at heart? I’m sure he did. I suppose he was a good human being, but he was also a political operator and a bit of a showboat.

So why all this supposed grief for a politician who was, up until this year, a secondary player on the Canadian scene? Maybe it’s because we have in Stephen Harper a leader who is so cold, so unappealing, that we’re lavishing our love on someone who actually knows how to smile. Michael Ignatieff (remember him?) left us cold, too. Layton was the only leader we could warm up to (well, not everyone), which makes his passing all the more painful.

A Jack Layton government would be reason to leave the country. But still, we are poorer for having lost him. He clearly connected with people in ways I don’t understand, and he was the only person standing in the way of the Harper juggernaut, even if he was only going to be a speed bump in the Harper majority years to come. Now, with Layton gone, opposition to Harper finds itself rudderless. The Liberals are a wreck, and the NDP is at sea and bewildered.

No, I didn’t like the guy at all, but I’ll give him this — Canadian politics is a lot worse off without him.

JLP (Jack Layton Party) and his pimply-faced caucus playing politics.

If you’re really hard up for something to do, turn your TV to channel 120, CPAC, the Canadian parliamentary channel. (The only thing sadder than watching CPAC is the fact that I know what channel CPAC is on.)

The Jack Layton Party (the new name of the New Democratic Party — just check out their backdrops and graphics; Jack Layton’s name is twice the size of the words New Democratic Party) has decided, as its first show of strength as the Official Opposition, to filibuster a bill that would send Canada Post back to doing what it’s supposed to do — deliver the mail. We’ve been two weeks now without mail delivery, and my magazines are piling up somewhere in a Canada Post storage facility (also known as a sorting facility). Hey, I want my Entertainment Weekly! How am I supposed to know who’s hot, and who’s not? By the time I get all my back issues, whoever’s on the cover as the hot new thing will already be reduced to made-for-TV movies on the Lifetime channel.

If the JLP thinks they have the support of Canadians in this utterly pointless filibuster, they are misreading the mood of the public. Or, maybe I am. But since I am a member of the public, and I talk to other members of the public, I feel it is safe to say they are clueless, and this filibuster is all show.

True, the mail isn’t what it used to be. It’s not remotely as important as it was when Canada suffered through postal strikes roughly every two years. Back then, postal strikes were a national crisis. Now, they’re more of a national nuisance. But still, a lot of people depend on their mail for their business. It’s important; not as important as it once was, but still important.

I don’t agree with much that the Stephen Harper government does — hell, I am at a loss to think of even one thing right now — but I agree with the act to resume postal service. The dispute has gone on long enough, and since a resolution seems well nigh impossible, the government had to step in.

But the JLP, anxious to assure its small but rabid support base that they’re not willing to move to the centre to solidify their power, has decided to take a stand against the bill. Never mind that they can’t win, never mind that most people in Canada want their mail back, and the JLP is standing in the way of that. The JLP has a stand to make, and screw the public.

Besides, for the JLP’s pimply-faced caucus, the filibuster is just like a sleepover. You get to stay up all night, and eat all the pizza you want!

Well, I’m sorry, but I’m not willing to give up my mail delivery so the JLP can take off their training wheels and pretend to be real politicians.  Mail is important to the economy, and the government is right to bring this to an end.

What’s behind the NDP surge?

Jut a couple of weeks ago, this election nobody apparently wanted seemed destined to be an either/or conclusion: either Stephen Harper gets his majority, or not.

But strange things have been happening, and nothing more strange than the New Democrats and their glad-handing, used-car-salesman leader Jack Layton and his impossible promises pulling ahead of the Liberals and their leader, Michael Ignatieff. (I’ll bet the Tories are having second thoughts about their apparently successful smear campaign against Ignatieff now.)

Could it be, excited pundits are punditing, that we could have a Jack Layton led coalition government? Or even — gasp! — a New Democrat government?

Uh, no. There will not be an NDP national government in Canada, and never will be, because I’m not prepared to leave the country quite yet. And I have a hunch that the New Democrats are being set up for a bit of a comedown on election night.

The most recent poll put the NDP at an unheard of 30 per cent  nationally. Where does all this support come from?

Well, it’s primarily from Quebec, where as of the Harris-Decima poll Friday, the NDP was at an astonishing 42 per cent, 20 points ahead of the Bloc Quebecois. This is good news if it holds. It shows that the Quebec voter might just have grown exhausted with the BQ’s act, and it looking for something new. The Liberals have never recuperated in Quebec since the sponsorship scandal, and the Tories haven’t been strong in Quebec since Brian Mulroney. The option, for the disaffected Quebec voter, appears to be the NDP. Only in Quebec would I cheer that development.

But the backlash has begun. Stories are appearing about Quebec NDP candidates who were so certain of defeat, that they took holidays during the campaign. One candidate in an almost entirely French-speaking riding doesn’t even speak French! In the dying days of the campaign, more and more of these stories will begin to emerge, threatening the NDP revival.

But let’s look further in the so-called NDP surge. In Ontario, where elections are decided, the NDP is still a distant third. The Liberals, in the Friday poll, are the top party, followed by the Conservatives. Could it be that Ontario voters remember what it was like to have an NDP government, and are rallying behind the Liberals?

The Prairies are, with a couple of isolated cases, a lost cause for the NDP. In BC, they’re in second, but well behind the Tories.

So the NDP ‘surge’ is mostly in Quebec. Yes, they’ll pick up seats, but mostly at the expense of the BQ. I think, however, that when the unsuitability of NDP candidates becomes clearer, their support will soften.

Then there’s the fading Liberal vote. Ignatieff has not engaged the population, and the Liberals have run a miserable campaign, trying to out-flank the NDP on the left, giving the NDP a boost. I think a lot of Canadians are saying, ‘If I’m going to vote for a left-leaning party, might as well go with the real deal.’ But one thing the polls will do is galvanize the existing Liberal vote. They’re scared, and the thought of becoming Canada’s third place party will get soft or lazy Liberal voters out in droves to prevent a historic humiliation.

As for me, I don’t now which is worse. Jack Layton and the NDP having any kind of power in Ottawa, or Stephen Harper getting a majority. It’s like having your choice of execution methods — lethal injection or the chair.