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Canadian astronaut and International Space Station Commander Chris Hadfield performs his zero-gravity version of David Bowie’s hit “Space Oddity” in this image taken from video, courtesy of Chris Hadfield, NASA and CSA. (NASA/Reuters)
Canadian astronaut and International Space Station Commander Chris Hadfield performs his zero-gravity version of David Bowie’s hit “Space Oddity” in this image taken from video, courtesy of Chris Hadfield, NASA and CSA. (NASA/Reuters)

What we can learn from the 10 biggest wins and losses of the year Add to ...

THE WINS

1. Rob Ford: It can be hard to see 2013 as anything but a year of losses for Toronto’s mayor. But Rob Ford also generated some wins – including one that could secure his re-election next October.

The win: When Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced $660-million in new funding to build a Scarborough subway, Mayor Ford – who has made “subways, subways, subways” his motto – wasted no time in taking credit (even if the idea to build a subway instead of replacing the Scarborough RT came from others). The announcement is expected to give him a huge achievement to brag about in his 2014 election campaign.

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The lessons: Stay on message. For the next ten months, the mayor will be focused on the 2014 mayoral campaign. When asked in the summer about a poll that showed residents wanted him to resign, he responded: “There’s only one poll that matters and that’s October 27.” – Ann Hui

2. The stock market: The financial crisis has left a lot of scars, but not in the stock market. In the United States, the S&P 500 hit a record high in 2013 after rising 25 per cent during the year. Japan’s given-up-for-dead Nikkei 225 surged 45 per cent and European stocks touched five-year highs after 40-per cent gains.

The win: Investors, horrified by the stock market downturn of 2008 and 2009 and the bankruptcy of corporate icons such as General Motors and Lehman Brothers, must be equally amazed by the strength of the rebound. Just as some of the more cautious market watchers had been wondering how much upside was left in stocks after a four-year bull market, the S&P 500 scored its biggest annual gain in a decade.

The lessons: The stock market is a curious thing. It mocks short-term forecasts and often performs best when expectations are low. Now, expectations are rising and investors are moving more money into stocks, which could weigh on returns in the year ahead. Or not. Teams of strategists, analysts and economists are predicting modest gains overall in 2014, with a strong chance of a nasty correction somewhere along the way. Put another way: Anything can happen. – David Berman

3. Finding Mr. Right: This Chinese rom-com – shot primarily in Vancouver – was the seventh-highest grossing film in China this year, beating out blockbusters such as Man of Steel and Gravity.

The win: The film topped the box office for four consecutive weeks party because it had a “fresh look” – urban, westernized – that speaks to younger, more sophisticated viewers, says the film’s Canadian co-producer Shan Tam. But the movie’s success wasn’t all slick surface: Michael Parker, the film’s line producer (and Tam’s husband) says that despite being shot in Canada it also has honesty and depth that resonated with Chinese audiences. “[That’s] what you don’t typically find in a story that’s contrived to be a ‘Chinese film’ written by Westerners for the Chinese market. When it’s written by somebody without a direct or life experience or true understanding, you may be trying to do something, but chances are you are doing it with a very thick accent.”

The lesson: A good precedent for Canadian filmmakers wanting to partner with China to access financing – and the enormous Chinese market. Finding Mr. Right has already sparked interest in shooting Chinese films in B.C., according to Ms. Tam and Mr. Parker. But for box office success it is crucial, they say, that Western filmmakers have a true understanding of their Chinese subject matter. – Marsha Lederman

4. Lynn Coady: Hellgoing, by Edmonton writer Lynn Coady, won this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize – a rare, $50,000 victory for a collection of short stories.

The win: The Giller, like most literary fiction awards, usually goes to a novel. This year’s win by a short-story collection, coupled with Alice Munro’s Nobel Prize in Literature and American short-story writer Lydia Davis’s Man Booker International Prize win last May, made some wonder whether the waning visibility of short-form narrative had been exaggerated. Anansi has rushed more of Ms. Coady’s book into print, and foreign publishers are expressing new interest.

The lesson: “Most literary juries are manned by writers, who love to read, who aren’t affected by the marketplace bias against short fiction,” says Ms. Coady. “They can consider a book of short stories and a novel as two equal works. I feel like short-story collections have more of a chance with literary juries than they do with the reading public in general.” – Robert Everett-Green

5. Yevgeny Roizman: Yevgeny Roizman, the new mayor of the central Russian city of Yekaterinburg, is a long-time anti-drug campaigner who can now claim to be the most powerful opposition politician in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. He is a member of tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov’s Civic Platform party.

The win: In September, Mr. Roizman overcame huge institutional disadvantages – including a lack of access to state-controlled media – to narrowly defeat the candidate from Mr. Putin’s United Russia party and win control of the country’s fourth-largest city. “Because [voters] trust me. It’s my city, I was born and raised here and have lived my whole life here. Everyone knows me. I always worked hard and tried to do something for the good. I was not shown on television. I was not heard on radio. [But] I had over 100 meetings in courtyards and, in each yard, I met people who know me personally, whom I’ve helped out at one point or another … The campaign was conducted with very little money, using a lot of volunteers. Everyone helped.”

The lesson: That Mr. Putin’s system of “managed democracy” – where elections are held but the Kremlin always wins – is not indestructible. Mr. Roizman’s successful grassroots campaign, and the surprisingly strong showing of opposition leader Alexey Navalny in the Moscow mayoral election, gives the opposition faint hope that they could eventually win power via the ballot box, despite the vast resources arrayed against them. – Mark MacKinnon

6. Chris Hadfield: Chris Hadfield takes charge of the International Space Station – and brings his Twitter followers with him.

The win: With the help of social media and his trusty guitar, Commander Hadfield ended up commanding the world’s attention more than any astronaut has in at least a generation.

The lesson: People still can still be wowed by space exploration, especially when it breaks out of its traditional, tightly scripted format and makes us feel like we’re getting a glimpse into a real-life adventure – albeit one that comes with its own music video. That accomplishment will no doubt influence future ISS astronauts looking to communicate with us from on high, and perhaps even more the new wave of privately financed spacefarers who are set to push the boundaries of commercial spaceflight in the near future. As commander, Mr. Hadfield also notched some practical achievements on the station, which, after so many years under construction, may be starting to come into its own as a science facility. Asked by The Globe and Mail what lessons he drew from becoming a celebrity while in orbit, Commander Hadfield replied: “Persistence pays off.” – Ivan Semeniuk

7. Gouda: If you run through the list of Canada’s most talented cheese makers, you’ll find that many of them have been students of Margaret Peters, owner of Glengarry Fine Cheese in Lancaster, Ont. The entrepreneur runs a family dairy, a cheese factory, a cheese-making supply business and can now also boast that she does, in fact, make “the best cheese in the world.”

The win: Ms. Peters drew the international spotlight to Canadian artisanal cheese this fall when her two-year-old Lankaaster – a creamy Gouda-like entry with sweet, buttery notes of pineapple and caramel – took the title of Supreme Global Champion at Somerset, England’s prestigious Global Cheese Awards. Ms. Peters tips her hat first to the cows themselves: Her Brown Swiss, who graze on green grass and alfalfa pastures along the banks of the St. Lawrence River on her family’s farm, produce milk with “a rich, velvet texture and high butterfat, which yields the creamy textures and long finishes on our cheese.” She’s quick to note, however, that the cheese’s success isn’t all nature’s doing. Science, too, played a role in the win (“State-of-the-art aging rooms provided the perfect environment for ripening our cheese to its full potential,” she notes) as did laser-focused vision: “We knew where we wanted to go.”

The lesson: No longer reliant on classic imitations of European recipes, Canadian cheese is shedding its cheddar-centric reputation. Thanks to artisans such as Ms. Peters, Canada’s culinary reputation is broadening, as is the national palette. – Sue Riedl

8. Naheed Nenshi: Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi was adored before the Elbow and Bow rivers ripped through his city June 20. But how he handled the disaster – 10 per cent of Calgarians were evacuated; thousands of homes were damaged; one woman died – elevated his popularity even more.

The win: Mr. Nenshi credits his colleagues at City Hall – and everyday Calgarians – for how they faced disaster. “The city and the province showed the world who we are, and how well we work together, and how well we look after one another,” he says.“I had a job to do. I did it. Hopefully I did it well.”

The lesson: Mr. Nenshi touts “a robust emergency management plan” for his success this summer. “These are actually very difficult things for politicians to focus on and fund when there’s not an emergency going on,” he says. “I will say that I was guilty. I thought perhaps we were spending too much on our emergency operations centre. But when we needed it, it was really important that it was there.” Willingness to admit a mistake goes a long way in a politician, too. – Carrie Tait

9. Zita Cobb: How do you turn a rocky island with a population of about 2,500 into a headline-grabbing destination? After making millions in the tech industry, Zita Cobb decided to give back to her childhood home of Fogo Island, Nfld., by creating the non-profit Shorefast Foundation and building a retreat that is strikingly contemporary yet reverential of the past.

The win: Since it opened in May, Fogo Island Inn – a 29-suite structure on stilts that echoes outport housing – has won acclaim from every major travel publication, not to mention praise from visitors around the world who pay a minimum of $550 a night to take in views of the North Atlantic Ocean. In its design, both inside and out, Ms. Cobb found a way to elevate traditions – locals worked with international designers to create furnishings – saving them from drowning in kitsch. “We needed to find a way to make Fogo Island relevant in the world, because if it’s not relevant, it’s not going to survive. So we carry the old and the new. When people think of hospitality and luxury so much of it is just fake, contrived, ‘what can my interior designer dream up that yours hasn’t dreamed up’ – and it’s all a pile of bunk. It has no meaning. Whereas this, I think you feel the fact that it has emerged out of a kind of struggle, that it’s deeply attached to a place. If those rocks could talk, they’d express in that way.”

The lesson: It is time we expand our definition of “authenticity,” one of the most overused buzzwords in the travel industry. As a visitor, it is impossible to truly do things “like a local” – and who gets to decide what that means anyway? No, most fishermen do not sleep in custom-made, organic king beds. But it is okay to do so as a traveller if we remain respectful of where we lay our heads. As Ms. Cobb says: “We should be servants of the place.” – Domini Clark

10. Canada’s Davis Cup team: With wins over Italy and Spain, Canada’s top male tennis players delivered the nation’s best Davis Cup result of the Open Era.

The win: Davis Cup team member Milos Raonic says their win was about focus: “I suppose that’s why the celebrations were so big for me personally at the end of the Spain and Italy ties, because I was so focused on the match and on keeping the importance of it out of my mind. Once I knew I had won it, then it was just complete emotion coming out of me.”

The lesson: Focus wins games. Winning – especially on home turf – wins fans. “Winning in front of the Vancouver crowd was like nothing I’ve experienced before. To me, the entire experience showed the growth of the sport in Canada and the support behind us individually. The win against Spain created a bigger fan base for us against Italy, and the win against Italy really helped bring out the crowds for Canadian players at Rogers Cup this year I believe. It’s all connected.” – Rachel Brady

THE LOSSES

1. Rob Ford: Admissions of smoking crack cocaine and driving after drinking. Vulgar language. A police investigation that documented dozens of meetings with an alleged drug dealer. Rob Ford was the newsmaker of 2013 even for those who kept only half an eye on the circus that was Toronto City Hall this year.

The loss: By late year, Mayor Ford was mayor in name only after the bulk of his powers – including his staff and office budget – were handed to Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly. Video footage of his many gaffes, each more bizarre than the next, became fodder for international media and late-night comedians. But the loss that likely hurt the most? Mr. Ford was fired from the high school football team he’d spent years coaching.

The lesson: The Mayor says he’s “receiving support from a team of health-care professionals,” but has so far declined to provide details, except to say that he’s working on losing weight. He’s uttered a few apologies this year – once after admitting to smoking crack cocaine, and again after making vulgar comments on live television about a former staffer – but it’s not clear what, if anything, he’s doing to address these issues. He’s not seeing an addictions specialist, telling reporters repeatedly, “I’m not an addict.” – Ann Hui

2. BlackBerry: BlackBerry Ltd., the company formerly called Research in Motion Ltd., is now best known as a one-time king of the global smartphone business and fallen Canadian tech superstar.

The loss: The Waterloo, Ont., company bet its revival on the launch of the BlackBerry 10 smartphone platform early this year. The product – in both all-touch-screen and keyboard versions – was a flop, leading to huge losses, a big inventory write-down, an abandoned sale of the company, the exit of CEO Thorsten Heins – and an uncertain future under new leader John Chen as the company undergoes massive downsizing.

The lesson: It’s hard to stay on top in the rapidly evolving tech world, particularly when BlackBerry’s competitors were two of the savviest Silicon Valley giants, Apple and Google (maker of the Android smartphone platform) and it was slow to catch up. Sometimes the toughest decision for a company is to make a hard, quick turn away from what made it successful in the past. BlackBerry could have done that earlier by lessening its focus on handsets, and instead leveraging strengths in other areas, such as managing all types of mobile devices for institutional users and building up its instant messaging service across all platforms. But that would have threatened handset sales, which Mr. Heins fought to protect. Device sales went south anyway, and by the time BlackBerry did launch “cross-platform” versions of its services this year, it was too little, too late. – Sean Silcoff

3. The Canadian Broadcasting Corp.: The CBC will still air Hockey Night in Canada for the next four years, but starting next September, so will more than half a dozen TV channels belonging to Rogers Communications Inc. after that media behemoth struck a $5.2-billion deal for 12 years’ worth of NHL rights last month. “CBC was not, candidly, in a position to spend taxpayers’ money in this game of high stakes,” said the broadcaster’s president, Hubert Lacroix.

The loss: CBC has been cut out entirely of advertising on hockey broadcasts, translating into a loss of as much as $175-million in annual revenue. (Last year, the broadcaster’s English- and French-language conventional TV operations took in about $372-million in advertising, according to CRTC filings.) And without hockey in the portfolio, it’s going to be a lot tougher to sell ad time on other programs.

The lesson: The CBC is bigger than hockey. For years, hockey has been a gravitational force for the broadcaster, forcing it to juggle its schedule and play nice with the NHL. With a guaranteed ratings winner, it has been able to paper over the other cracks in its TV programming. Now, it will need to double down on its public-service mission, and focus on producing high-quality Canadian content that informs, enlightens and entertains. – Simon Houpt

4. Mohammed el-Morsi: On July 3, Egypt’s president Mohammed el-Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, was ousted from power in a military coup, barely a year after winning the country’s first democratic election for president.

The loss: The Brotherhood lost much more than power, says Kamal Helbawy, 74, who held a prominent position in the organization until 2012, when he resigned in an effort to prevent it from running a candidate for president. Because of the Morsi administration’s dictatorial policies and its intimidation tactics, Mr. Helbawy says the Brotherhood lost the people’s respect and its prominent place in Egyptian society.

The lesson: The Muslim Brotherhood are beginning to realize they have only themselves to blame, says Mr. Helbawy. They learned that, in politics, slow and steady wins the long-term race, that power corrupts, and that the army still rules Egypt. The Brotherhood must now take “a 10-year break from politics. It will take that long to recover from the damage these people have done,” says Mr. Helbawy. “We have to return to the path of [Brotherhood founder] Hassan al-Banna: Help the poor, fight for justice, and win back the people’s trust.” – Patrick Martin

5. The Senate: Questions about several senators’ expense claims ballooned into a front-page political scandal this year after Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s top aide became involved. Nigel Wright gave then-Conservative Senator Mike Duffy more than $90,000 to repay expenses, and worked with others in the Prime Minister’s Office to try to subvert a potentially embarrassing audit of Mr. Duffy’s claims. His involvement was eventually made public through media reports and court documents.

The loss: The controversy struck a major blow to the Senate, a legislative body that’s meant to serve as a chamber of sober second thought but has long been criticized for its lengthy terms and political appointments. It also hurt Mr. Harper, who was forced to defend the appointments of three of the senators called out over questionable claims.

The lesson: The Supreme Court of Canada is reviewing options for reforming or abolishing the Senate after hearing arguments from the federal government and the provinces this fall. At the same time, all senators’ expenses are under review by the Auditor-General, in a process that is sure to uncover additional concerns. Senate reform is hardly a new topic of conversation on Parliament Hill. But after the events of the past year, 2014 should be an opportune time for change. – Kim Mackrael

6. Barrick Gold Corp.: Barrick faced unprecedented shareholder anger when it awarded incoming chairman John Thornton a $11.9-million (U.S.) signing bonus. This happened as the price of gold slumped nearly 30 per cent this year, exposing huge problems with Barrick’s mines and projects.

The loss: The fallout for Barrick was a major loss of shareholder confidence. The company’s stock dropped 51 per cent to $18.40. The miner also had to write down nearly $14-billion in assets, the bulk of which stemmed from its Pascua Lama gold mine in South America and its decision to expand outside of gold and buy copper company Equinox Minerals Ltd. at the height of the commodity boom in 2011.

The lesson: Barrick had to learn fast how to stop the hemorrhaging – of trust and cash – in the company. It cut jobs, slashed its dividend, suspended Pascua Lama, raised funds and replaced long-serving board directors. Under Mr. Thornton, who will succeed Barrick founder and chairman Peter Munk at Barrick’s annual shareholder meeting in 2014, there’s also a new M.O. – “operational excellence.” Mr. Thornton will not consider acquisitions until the company has put its house in order. – Rachelle Younglai

7. Cronut burger: The year’s must-have junk food phenom left 223 people with food poisoning after they scoffed them down at Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition. Blame the offending burger topping: staphylococcus aureus bacteria was found in the maple bacon jam that capped the beef-and-pastry sandwich.

The loss: The cronut burger’s creators, Le Dolci (a bakery that had been riding a wave of adulation for perfecting a copy of the croissant-donut hybrid invented in New York) and Epic Burgers and Waffles (known for such previous concoctions as the Krispy Kreme burger) both took a hit to their reputations and bottom lines. Production of the $10 burger, which had kicked off the fair by selling out every day, was halted. Epic’s staff was trained in proper food handling, while Le Dolci shut down for weeks, citing a previously scheduled vacation.

The lesson: The health department’s investigation found inadequate refrigeration at both Le Dolci’s preparation site and the Epic stand at the CNE, which suggested both could shoulder some of the blame. The two companies didn’t see it that way, however: Epic said it would no longer “do business” with Le Dolci, whose owner, Lisa Sanguedolce, said the bakery will never work with meat again. – Hannah Sung

8. CGI Group: The company behind heathcare.gov is a quiet, Montreal-based firm that wins long-term IT contracts from governments and big businesses around the world. Though lucrative, it is a somnolent business to outsiders – until this year, when it became known as the company that screwed up Obamacare.

The loss: After great difficulty, U.S. President Barack Obama pushed through his signature healthcare reform. But Healthcare.gov, the marketplace at Obamacare’s core which allows Americans to pick their health coverage, was completely glitch-ridden: It kicked people offline, displayed faulty data and confused spouses and kids, as well as applicants’ ages. CGI was the main contractor working on the project – and took the brunt of the anger.

The lesson: Head down. Play the long game. From the beginning of the imbroglio, CGI dodged media requests and refused to utter the word “sorry” – most poignantly in congressional hearings where the firm was caught between furious Republicans trying to tear the law down and aggrieved Democrats defending it at all costs. “You don’t panic,” Michael Roach, CGI’s CEO, says. “You don’t react.” Media, he adds, unlike shareholders, clients and employees, are not his concern. Did he feel bad, at least? “I don’t think whether I feel good or bad is relevant to what went on there,” he said. – Iain Marlow

9. Math: Canada fell from 10th to No. 13 on international rankings of student tests in math.

The loss: When the OECD released its triannual survey of international student tests in math, reading and science in 65 countries, Canada’s scores in math were called a “crisis” by some observers. The country has fallen in the last two surveys: we ranked seventh in 2006, tenth in 2009. Provincial governments are now puzzling over how to bump scores back up, in particular whether to scale back more “creative” components of math curricula.

The lesson: Singapore’s approach to math is a hot trend right now. But closer to home, early lessons on better math outcomes are coming from Quebec, which posted the country’s highest math scores. Like the rest of Canada, Quebec favours a problem-solving approach to math education – but unlike the rest of the country, math teachers are put in intensive training. Not only do they train longer overall than elsewhere, they have to complete hundreds of hours of specialized courses. And Quebec’s math students must show a solid knowledge of fundamentals, such as memorizing multiplication tables, early on. – Simona Chiose

10. Milos Raonic in the Roger’s Cup final: The tennis star had a magical run up to the Roger’s Cup final – the first Canadian player to get there in 55 years – before being outmatched by much more experienced Spanish superstar Rafael Nadal.

The loss: At last summer’s Roger’s Cup in Montreal, Mr. Raonic had put our brand of tennis on the map and upset No.7 Juan Martin del Potro en route to his first Masters 1000 final. The loss in this year’s final (purse: $3.49-million U.S.) was lopsided – 6-2, 6-2 – but didn’t change the fact that he had given Canada a real thrill.

The lesson: “The main thing for me was to learn how to manage a tournament of that level and to see the level of play needed match after match,” says Mr. Raonic. “I want to put myself in that situation many more times and it taught me how to deal with it and do better next time.” – Rachel Brady

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