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Among the good things in 2009, a blessing for a former PM. (WPA Pool/2009 Getty Images)
Among the good things in 2009, a blessing for a former PM. (WPA Pool/2009 Getty Images)

Lawrence Martin

Good thoughts on this most optimistic of days Add to ...

On Christmas Eve, a day of bliss before the big one, we push aside the dreary thoughts and think of the good things.

From the year gone by, some come to mind.

This was the year when many feared the economy would fall off a cliff and we'd be in the dungeon of depression. It didn't happen. Capitalism survived. Keynesian economics - great, big government - came to the rescue. Wall Street teetered, but didn't topple. Auto companies were saved in bailouts. Consumers receded, but are back at the counters, grinningly loading up.

Over the perilous stretch, some learning was in evidence. Leaders learned not to repeat the mistakes of the early thirties that induced the Great Depression. They learned that when deregulation is dominant, when markets run free, grief follows. They knew from earlier experiences that, conversely, when the state gets too fat, the same can happen. The lesson for engraving is that compressed ideologies of the right and of the left are each to be avoided.

This was the year when swine flu, renamed H1N1, was supposed to swallow populations whole. Combine that with an economic collapse and you had the makings of an orgy of sorrow. But it didn't happen. The pandemic didn't pan out. H1N1 was not much worse than a normal flu season. While not quite in the class of WMDs, it was another hype job.

This was the year that threatened to put Canadians through the tedium of yet another federal election - the fourth in a five-year stretch. Smile, everyone. We avoided that as well.

Other good things transpired. Just when we thought our Prime Minister was becoming too lugubrious to bear, he shocked everyone by taking to the stage at one of those artsy galas he had flayed and did a rousing piano and song rendition of a Fab Four tune. Blood flowed through his veins. It was a sensation.

Past prime ministers did okay, too. Jean Chrétien received the exclusive Order of Merit from the Queen. It was a blessing for him because an overabundance of attention had been paid to the downside of his decade in power - the sponsorship imbroglio. There were other things the little guy from Shawinigan did. Hence the big prize.

His antagonist, Paul Martin, had something to be proud of as well. The G20 came formally into being as one of the world's foremost deliberative bodies. Mr. Martin was a driving force behind its creation. He set up a G20 of finance ministers and then pushed to have the concept broadened to heads of state. Canada's international image as a progressive, honest broker took a lot of hits in 2009. The formation of the G20 was more in keeping with our history.

One of the best things of the year didn't happen here, but its impact is very much felt in this country. The regressive span the United States endured under the gruesome twosome of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney came mercifully to a close on Jan. 20. In his first year in power, Barack Obama wasn't all he was cracked up to be. He was more a compromiser than a reformer. In escalating the Afghan conflict, he failed to move America off its crippling post-9/11 terrorist paranoia. But his administration steadied the economy after its near-collapse and has now, barring some unforeseen development, given his country, after a century of failed attempts, a semblance of a national health-care plan.

More importantly, despite the rabid counter-pressures of the legions on the American right, now led by hillbilly Sarah Palin, he has restored American fair-mindedness and faith in its leadership around the world. The prejudice of his predecessors is replaced by a man of enlightenment, inspiration and global perspective. Barack Obama has put his country back on the high road. He embodies the spirit as expressed in the words of Thomas Paine: "My country is the world and my religion is to do good."

On Christmas Eve, such noble thoughts as that arise. It is the year's greatest day of anticipation, a day when the glimmers of optimism reach beyond the radiant faces of children to all ages. In 2009, we moved past the big scares. It was a year of survival. In 2K10, more is promised. Recovery begins in earnest. New frontiers beckon.

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