Volume 95, Issue 50

Thursday, November 29, 2001
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2001: far wackier than a space odyssey

A look back at 2001

Western's newsmakers, in soundbite form

Chretien remains The Lord of the Rings

2001: far wackier than a space odyssey

By Chris Lackner
Gazette Staff

As the curtain closes on 2001, it has become increasingly clear the events of the last eleven months will have significant long-term effects upon the international community and the future of our own nation.

The year began with the inauguration of United States President George W. Bush, which brought closure to one of the most controversial elections in American history.

It was a year in which Canada's opposition parties were criticized for sinking to new levels of ineptitude, possibly solidifying the Liberal's hold on political power for years to come.

Most importantly, the Sept. 11 terrorist acts on the United States and the succeeding "war on terrorism" have brought the future stability of the entire world into question.

As it is difficult to make sense of the maddening circle of soundbites, video clips and headlines, The Gazette turned to a few experts and asked them to offer some perspective on the tumult that was 2001.

Paul Wells, a Canadian political affairs columnist for The National Post, said the most important Canadian news of 2001 was the end of a full decade of economic growth.

"It could change the fortunes of many in politics," he explained. "The Liberals have been in [federal] power for eight years and governing has been easy for them. When it's raining money, your choices are relatively easy. We're now going to see how they govern in hard times."

The Liberals were planning on moving towards a more centrist, pro-active government before Sept. 11, he said, adding new economic realities may force them to change their plans.

Similarly, David Spencer, a professor in Western's media, information and technoculture program, said the most important national news story of 2001 was the continuing decline of the Canadian dollar.

"We did everything the experts told us to do [to fix the situation]. We cut government spending, reduced taxes and had a buoyant economy. Yet, there exists a clear problem," he said.

Many important national stories deserved more media attention in 2001, Spencer added, noting decline in support for Quebec sovereignty and voters' continued loss of faith in the democratic process.

Spencer said voting patterns show a lack of interest in the political system. "People are saying, 'who cares – we have no influence anyway,'" he said.

"The death of the federal New Democratic Party is also an interesting story," he said. "They have not been able to resolve their own problems and unfortunately, they may not have a future."

As a result of the Sept. 11 attacks, Wells said many important news stories have been neglected. President Bush's recent announcement that he would unilaterally dismantle two thirds of the U.S. nuclear arsenal in the next half decade is a clear example of an issue that would have previously garnered considerable attention, he said.

"Almost nobody noticed it. That's 4,000 nuclear warheads which will be taken apart and 4,000 opportunities for some catastrophic, terrible mistake to take place. It's the kind of story which would have seen a week on the front page at any other time," he added.

Miriam Lapp, a political science professor at Western, said one of the most important stories of 2001 was the continued environmental degradation of the planet, adding this issue has also been put on the backburner since the Sept. 11 attacks.

"If there are no more terrorist attacks and the threat recedes, the government will have to bring these issues back into the light," she said. "They will affect far more people in the long run than terrorist attacks ever will."

Despite what Wells considered admirable coverage of both the U.S. and Middle East during the current war on terrorism, he criticized some of the Canadian media's narrow, national focus of the terrorism issue.

"People are working overtime to find terrorists in Canada, when it is equally obvious they are bit players in a much larger game, he said.

"[This] is fuelled by our equally pathetic desire to find some guy at Chapters whose cousin once had a girlfriend whose grandfather's housekeeper knew a guy who once shared a cab with a terrorist's gardener."

Wells noted no Canadian reporters have been assigned to places such as Milan, Paris or Chechnya, where some of the largest terrorist cells exist.

Lapp said the key impact of Sept. 11 on Canada has been increased security, as well as new legislation, including the anti-terrorism bill – Bill C-36.

"Canada has been very acquiescent thus far, but there is a potential for these [measures] to have a huge impact on the Canadian people," she said. "Internationally, we are seeing the beginning of greater U.S. leadership and coalition building. There is going to be less isolation from the U.S. because now they can't afford not to be involved internationally."

Lapp said Bush should be recognized as the politician of the year, but added her own personal political opinion of his performance has been more negative then positive. "Like it or not, the decisions he makes affect many worldwide," she said.

Bush's push to eliminate the ABM treaty, as well as the U.S. cutting itself off from various environmental and social treaties, could have tremendous impact on the planet, she said.

Two other potential American actions with unforeseen consequences lie in the decision to extend the current war on terrorism into Iraq, as well as the decision to extract oil from the Alaskan wildlife reserves, she added.

Spencer said 2001 saw Russian President Vladimir Putin affirm his place as a major player in international politics.

"He's told George W. Bush you shall not build an international ballistic missile [defence shield] and you shall not crush the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty," Spencer said.

The Russian market has seen some growth and the nation is more stable then it ever was under former president Boris Yeltsin, he said. This gives even more credit to Putin's political performance, he added.

If someone were to receive the title of Canadian politician of the year, Wells said Jean Chretien would go relatively un-contested.

"For 30 years people have been underestimating Chretien's ability to beat them in a fight," he said.

Judgmental eyes from the not-so-distant future have yet to cast their piercing gaze on the actions of our leaders and the nations of the world during the past year. It remains unclear whether current national and international decisions will be cast in a positive or negative light in the annals of history.

However, for countless reasons, the past year may have long-reaching effects on who we are tomorrow.

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Copyright The Gazette 2001