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Pique'n yer interest

Newsmakers of 2008



Setting this year against the last, it’s been a fairly docile year for the news. No Taser incidents, no high-profile assassinations, no clear instances of Prime Ministerial bribery (save for one unproven allegation).

It’s nevertheless been an interesting year for current events, a year that must have set records in terms of people reading the news. With that in mind, here’s a haphazard list of individuals who helped jar the public’s interest in current affairs, in ascending order:

5. Sean Avery – The NHL’s superpest has garnered more coverage than most of hockey’s best players. Even Sidney Crosby is playing second fiddle these days. Starting with his creative screening manoeuvre on Martin Brodeur, Avery has sought to elevate the game of hockey into the realm of sports entertainment. Taking shots at more skilled players like Jarome Iginla, he tried to draw a distinction between the game’s heroes and its villains, and was only too happy to captain the latter. His offensive jab at ex-girlfriend Elisha Cuthbert was like a set up for a “Hell in a Cell” showdown with Dion Phaneuf, were the NHL the WWE. Sadly the league suspended him before Phaneuf got the chance to pound him.

4) Julie Couillard – The dress that launched a thousand tabloids. Canada’s first femme fatale since Gerda Munsinger sent male tongues a-wagging as revelations came forth that she had relationships with money lenders and enforcers associated with the Hell’s Angels. Not a good track record before shacking up with Canada’s foreign affairs minister, Maxime Bernier. Her marital history landed Bernier in the hot seat and flung accusations against him that he had breached national security simply by dating her. His buffoonery in leaving NATO briefs at her apartment was a good excuse to dump him from cabinet (talk about dirty laundry). Now she has a book out and her famous dress is going to be auctioned off. Bernier, surprisingly, was a top vote-getter in October’s federal election with 31,883 votes in Quebec’s Beauce riding.

3) Mark Steyn – The New Hampshire-based neoconservative columnist is not an easy person to like. He supported the Iraq War. He wrote a book detailing how Muslims are in a plot to populate the world and stage a successful revolution in western countries. But this year he was Canada’s best hope for saving free speech. After publishing an excerpt of his book in Maclean’s, the Canadian Islamic Congress took him to human rights tribunals in three separate jurisdictions, arguing that his article amounted to a hate crime. Two jurisdictions rejected the complaint while another acquitted him, but nevertheless set out a formula by which journalists can be prosecuted by government commissions for expressing opinions. There’s little reason to believe this won’t happen again.

2) Stephen Harper – Love him or hate him, Canada’s Prime Minister deserves credit for jarring new interest in national politics. First he wins another minority with just over half the population voting. Then he promises to work with opposition parties to solve the economic crisis. Then he tries to bankrupt them by eliminating per-vote federal subsidies for all parties. The opposition responded in kind, threatening to bring him down through a coalition government. The coalition between Liberals, socialists and separatists sparked angry rhetoric across the country both for and against a makeshift government. Twitter accounts were all a-flutter with generic comments about Canadian politics. People missing the election had something else to follow, and Harper to thank for it. He may go down as Canada’s most divisive Prime Minister, but no one can take it from him that he made our politics more interesting.

1) Barack Obama – How rare it is when a good news story takes the number one spot. A euphoria reminiscent of Victory in Europe day gripped the world when Obama was elected the first black president of the United States. It was a symbolic move that showed, among other things, that race is no longer a barrier to leading the world’s most powerful country. He’s got a heck of a task ahead of him, what with a faltering economy and lofty expectations for what he can do to fix it. Vague promises of change need to see some action right about now.