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The Annual Proof Countdown of Political Hits (and Misses) for 2021: It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken Edition

Greg MacEachern

With files from the Proof Strategies Government Relations team.

2021. It was a year we all desperately hoped would be more normal than the last. And — for many Canadians, for a decent chunk of the year at least — it largely was. 

With the Omicron variant a reminder that the pandemic is not fully behind us, let’s — for a few minutes at least — turn to the scattering of snow, heart-swells of goodwill, and the annual countdown to the new year that inevitably conjures up a sense of wistfulness as we all look back on all that transpired over the last 12 months. Spoiler alert: it’s a mixed bag.

In that spirit, the team here at Proof Strategies invites you to pour yourselves a festive beverage, get cozy by the fire, and show off some living room dance moves as we spin some wax to help us look back at the political hits (and misses) of the year that was. Enjoy!

Politicians Abroad / Jon Batiste — “Freedom”

Freedom is what we all craved, for better or worse — and under the glare of the national spotlight, nowhere was that collective discomfort more evident than amongst the country’s leaders. The chafing of pandemic isolation spurred all kinds of weird wobbles amongst the country’s political class. 2021 started off with an odd sort of confessional — the “How I Spent My Christmas Vacation” essay, which showed the rule-makers not always following the rules. Think awkwardly timed vacation breaks, with chaser exits from cabinets and caucuses. Yes, we all wished for just a little more freedom this past year. Hopefully we can weather the current storm and soon enjoy a carefree boogie down together to Jon Batiste’s rump-shaker “Freedom” sooner rather than later. 

Vaccine Rollouts / Arkells — “Years in the Making” 

The last 18 months saw an incredible feat: the creation and delivery of vaccines to tackle the freshly emerged novel coronavirus. Never in the recorded history of humanity has such an innovative medical and operational feat been achieved. The accumulation of human progress culminated at just the right time for us to devise efficiencies, shrink timelines and ultimately save lives — a triumph literally “Years in the Making”. In Canada this calendar year, it resulted in one of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the world — a subject that came up on the campaign trail once or twice (ha!) this past federal election. So, let’s celebrate the shared accomplishment by blasting this fresh banger from Hamilton home-towners (and 2021 Grey Cup halftime performers) the Arkells — and just maybe the fun had by those shaking their tail feathers will rub off on folks who haven’t opted for the jab just yet. (Get vaccinated!)

Election Call / Kacey Musgraves — “Justified”

“It was a fun, strange summer,” sang Kacey Musgrave in August — and politicians and reporters might have agreed with half of that statement. Despite most minority governments in Canada lasting about two years, and rampant pre-election speculation, the big early issue of the election was… the election. As in, why did the Liberals call one? Unfortunately for the Liberals, this question, as well as the rapid fall of Afghanistan, knocked the Liberals off their game, leaving it to the Prime Minister to recover their footing with his French debate performance. The lesson? Whatever you’re doing in politics, it better be justified.

Post-Election Waiting Game / Justin Bieber — “Lonely”

November and December after the election saw a raft of appointment announcements from every single federal political party. Cabinet ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries, Opposition Critics, Shadow Ministers, Deputy Shadow Ministers, committee chairs… For observers, it felt like an avalanche of titles, congratulatory messages, and humble thank you posts on Twitter from across the political spectrum. But for all those Parliamentarians who were waiting by the phone for nearly two months post-election awaiting news about their own appointments, loneliness was their watchword. Same goes for Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, who — in the wake of a disappointing result for his party on election night — had to address questions about whether there was enough support in caucus for him to remain leader. For all concerned, Bieber’s “Lonely” was an apt soundtrack. And for those who were tempted to stress eat, Bieber thought of that, too (hello, TimBiebs).

Reconvening of Parliament / The Anxiety — “Meet Me at Our Spot”

When the bulk of the votes were counted following September’s divisive federal election — and it was clear Canadians were sending back a Parliament that looked a whole lot like the last one — we were all left feeling uncertain about next steps. Our top question: when Parliamentarians all reconvened again in Ottawa, would they be able to find common ground and work together for the best interest of Canadians? We got a hopeful signal early on during the fall sitting: MPs gave unanimous consent to fast-track Bill C-4, a revised version of legislation to ban conversion therapy that had died at the finish line when Parliament dissolved for the election. In early December, it passed the Senate — and is now the law of the land. There are some lingering signals that not every Parliamentarian is happy with how it turned out — but we’re choosing to look on the bright side: that when Canadians called on their leaders to head back to the nation’s capital (“Meet Me At Our Spot”, as it were), they got to work and got important tasks accomplished. Here’s hoping there’s more of that coming when the House resumes in 2022.

Bonus: The Tragically Hip and Feist — “It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken”

Before we wrap, we wanted to single out a beautiful bit of Canadian music and history. At this year’s Juno Awards, The Tragically Hip were honoured with the Humanitarian Award in recognition of their years of philanthropic work, especially late singer Gord Downie’s Indigenous work. While “iconic” is perhaps an overused word, given the band was introduced by Gordon Lightfoot, and was performing at the legendary Massey Hall (which recently finished a three-year renovation) the word seems more than fair when describing this moment. And having Feist front the band for “It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken” meant Canadians were treated to a truly beautiful and rare experience.  

On behalf of everyone at Proof Strategies, all the best for the coming year.