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Media Bites: All the Many "Valuable" Lessons We Learned in 2013

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With less than a hundred hours remaining in the year 2013, the clock is fast ticking on our ability to wallow in memories of the previous 365 days without looking like a soggy nostalgist. Fortunately, the Canadian press has been offering no shortage of year-in-review columns as of late, a phenomena I am entirely sure has everything to do with this being a very interesting topic readers just can't get enough of, and nothing at all to do with lazy journalists trying to extend their Christmas vay-cay by pre-writing date-neutral filler material.

Unsurprisingly, there seems to be a general consensus among the Canadian commentariat that the Senate mess was the nation's biggest deal of 2013. Indeed, says Tim Harper in the Toronto Star, it wouldn't be a stretch to claim that basically every other thing that happened in Canadian politics this year was a mere "afterthought in the face of the Senate story," and by "story" we of course mean the "shady deal-making and ethical transgressions taking place right under Harper's nose."

At the National Post, good ol' Rex Murphy agrees, calling the terror inflicted upon the Conservative government by Conservative-appointed senators conspiring with a Conservative-run PMO an "awkward and hypocritical spectacle" that led many Conservatives to ponder "what was the point of being Conservatives?"

More like what's the point of being anything, piles on acclaimed former Mulroney cabinet minister of something-or-other Barbara McDougall in the Globe and Mail. She's declaring scandal-plagued 2013 to be the year "Canadians turned against their political institutions" with unprecedented "cynicism," not to mention a "heightened level of malice." That's a powerful and provocative thesis to be sure, but unfortunately Babs feels the need to smother it under a lot of pointless padding about the Pope and European free trade and stuff. Be happy I fished out the best words for you.

Of course, not every backwards-looking pundit shares this obsession with Senates and cynicism. Lorne Gunter at the Toronto Sun, for instance, picks Justin Trudeau's ascension to the Liberal leadership as his top headline of 2013. It's a conclusion he draws largely through the process of elimination, after dismissing the comparable merits of the Calgary flood ("that's weather," he shrugs) the Lac-Megantic explosion ("unlikely to have lasting impact on the nation"), Rob Ford (being "the lead gag on all the late-night American talk shows doesn't make your story the most important of the year"), and the Idle No More protests (his reasons for dismissing this one are unclear -- perhaps because it's a story from 2012?).

No, says Lorne, the year 2013 clearly belonged to Justin, and all signs indicate this nation "will be battling the new Trudeaumania for the foreseeable future." And right he is -- though if the last few months are any indication, I'd say a lot of 2014's battling will be done by Justin himself.

The Globe and Mail editorial board meanwhile, demonstrating once again that they are a Big, Serious World-Class Newspaper concerned with Big, Serious World-Class Issues, picks NSA "snooping" as the year's top story, a thing that didn't really involve Canada at all in 2013. (In fact, the biggest Canadian spy story of the year -- the CBC's spectacular claim that the NSA was snooping on world leaders at the 2010 G8 summit in Huntsville, Ontario with the full assent and collaboration of the Harper government -- ultimately proved itself one of the year's biggest media goofs). But still, no one should be surprised that a paper with such ostentatious ambitions for global relevance considers Edward Snowden a more compelling man of the year than some petty parochial character like (ugh) Mike Duffy.

By the way, what's my pick for top story of 2013, you ask? I don't know if I have a headline per se, but I do have a theme: the decline of Brand Canada.

If there's one thing Justin Trudeau, Rob Ford, and the Senate scandal have in common, after all, it's that they all prove, in different ways, that Canada is not nearly as serious, respectable, and mature of a country as we often like to believe.

While the damage done by Rob Ford -- who I will remind the jury, is the democratically-elected mayor of Canada's largest city -- to our reputation as the Ned Flanders of nations can't be understated, 2013 was also the year the Washington Post ran an editorial entitled "Think our Senate is horrible? Wait 'til you see Canada's," the New Yorker was sniggering about our "Trudeaux," and the Economist declared us officially "uncool."

It was a year Canada proved itself unable to unseat a municipal politician spectacularly unfit for office, spent eight months toiling under a scandal wrought by the predictable corruption of the First World's worst-designed legislative body, and embraced the hereditary principle as a reasonable method for picking the country's next ruler. And worst of all, everyone noticed.

Regardless of what 2014 has to offer, it'll have to offer an awful lot to overshadow the dark legacy of all that.

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