December 30, 2011

Milestone year for Canada

It may be an admission of lack of imagination or narrowness to declare that the highlights of the waning year in Canada were mostly about politics.

In the case of 2011, though, there's little debate that it was an extraordinary year in the comings and goings of those who sought to govern the country, one that is likely to have an impact for many years to come.

There's a bit of a toss-up over what was the most momentous thing that arose out of the stunning result of the federal election in May. For the record, those main outcomes were: Prime Minister Stephen Harper winning a strong Conservative majority government; the left-wing New Democratic Party winning a huge number of seats in Quebec, enough to propel it to official Opposition status; the reduction of the once mighty Liberal Party to its worst showing ever; and the de facto obliteration of the separatist Bloc Quebecois, down to four seats.

As if this massive tectonic shift in the federal political firmament were not enough drama, there was the sudden, shocking and cruel death of New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton, felled by an unspecified cancer at age 61.

Layton's death in August immediately forced a rethink of the longer-term prospects of the party he had brought to the doorstep of power, quite possibly forming an historic first New Democratic Party federal government come the next vote. The party's success was almost entirely based on the sudden affection Quebecers discovered for Layton's relentless optimism and socially progressive stance.

Whatever fate awaits the New Democratic Party, now in the midst of a leadership campaign, the fact remains Stephen Harper has a solid lock on power for four years, having already served as prime minister for five years in a minority situation. Based on actions taken so far, it's clear to political observers the prime minister fully intends to take the country in a new direction.

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