TORONTO - The surge in the NDP's political fortunes in 2011 — punctuated by the death of the man who helped orchestrate it — ranked as the year's most compelling news story in an annual survey of Yahoo! Canada readers.
But not far behind the story of Jack Layton and the New Democrats were two disparate narratives whose selections hinted at a sharp social divide: Prince William and Kate's summertime visit and the arrival of the Occupy protests on Canadian soil.
The Canadian Press, which surveys newsrooms annually to determine what the professionals considered the News Story of the Year, partners with Yahoo! Canada to allow the public to have a say in which story most captured the imagination of readers.
Layton claimed 18 per cent of the online votes cast, followed by the royal visit at 11 per cent and the Occupy protests in third at 10.6 per cent. The Stanley Cup riots followed at 9.6 per cent.
Editors and news producers who voted in the CP News Story survey, meanwhile, gave the edge to Prime Minister Stephen Harper winning his first majority Conservative government. The NDP's surge to official Opposition status placed a close second.
In the Yahoo! Canada voting, however, the Tory triumph earned just nine per cent of the clicks, finishing in fifth place — just one vote clear of the NHL's return to Winnipeg.
Other news events earning attention from readers included the uprising in Libya that toppled Moammar Gadhafi; ongoing allegations of corruption in Quebec; the end of Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan; the wildfires that devastated Slave Lake, Alta.; and the difficulties of BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (TSX:RIM).
Conrad Black's return to prison, Canada's new female premiers and the decline of separatism in Quebec all received less than one per cent of the public votes.
Layton's death and the fortunes of his party have been a fixture of year-end votes all month. But the royal tour and the Occupy protests appear to be curious and contradictory runners-up.
Not necessarily, said Queen's University professor Carolyn Harris, who specializes in the study of royalty.
The grassroots populism at the heart of Occupy clearly resonated with the Canadian people and their values, as did the down-to-earth style the Duke of Duchess of Cambridge displayed during their visit, Harris said.
The royal visit didn't lack pomp or pageantry, but it also featured a more relaxed tone that allowed Prince William and Kate to connect more directly with their admirers.
"They combined both the traditional events, such as military reviews or hospital visits, with active participation in Canadian pastimes — whether it was street hockey or dragon boat racing," Harris said.
"They also spent a great deal of time communicating with ordinary Canadians. Clearly their approach ... really resonated with the public."