Day 6

Wait, what just happened? Looking back on 2017

2017 began with Donald Trump's inauguration and ended with #MeToo. Somewhere in between, Canada turned 150. Jesse Wente, Paula Simons and Tabatha Southey cut it all down to size.
Photos from 2017: U.S. travel ban protests, Canada 150 and Marion Kelly, who walked in on her father's BBC interview. ((Jack Taylor/Getty Images)/(Chris Roussakis/AFP/Getty Image)/(Ha Kyung-min/Newsis via AP))

The year began with Donald Trump's inauguration, followed a day later by Women's March protests held around the world.

We end the year with the ongoing fallout from the #MeToo movement. And there was a heck of a lot that happened in between — including Canada's 150th birthday.

It was an eventful, turbulent, really weird year.

So we gathered a few smart folks to help us bid adieu to 2017. Paula Simons is a columnist with the Edmonton Journal. Jesse Wente is a writer and broadcaster, and Tabatha Southey is a columnist with Maclean's.


BRENT BAMBURY: Good morning. I want to start with each of you summing up 2017 in just one word.

JESSE WENTE: [long sigh] Exhausting.



BB: OK. My word is Scaramucci, by the way.

It's been a relentless year in terms of the news cycle. Paula, what stories were lost or did not get the coverage that you think they should have gotten in 2017?

PS: Well, there are a few. I think in a strange way the British Columbia wildfires this summer didn't get the attention that I think they warranted, given the size of the conflagration. I don't know whether that was just the summer news cycle, but I think the fires in in B.C., and indeed the fires in California, have not had the kind of coverage that I think they would normally warrant.

And I think the other thread that we've dropped perhaps is coverage of what it's like to be a Syrian refugee. We gave so much back-patting coverage of, you know, Canadian exceptionalism ... There have not been very many pieces about what it's like for those people now that those settlement supports have sort of come undone, and how are they coping now.

TS: To me, the story is — because it's not a sexy story — actually Sears and Toys 'R' Us going under. I mean, Sears alone was 15,000 jobs. That's not going to change ... I'm thinking about those people at this time of year. Those were good jobs and they're never coming back. And we need to plan going forward. Those are our unsexy coal miners.

Lansdowne Place mall in Peterborough is losing its long-time anchor store — Sears Canada. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

A post-shame era?

BB: News and politics has entered a post-truth and post-fact era in 2017. But is there something else? Have we also entered a post-shame era?

TS: I was prepared to say that we'd reached peak shamelessness and we had a good look at what shamelessness brought us. But on my way in here, I checked my phone and we're still there.  

I think in Canada we're still awfully good at public shaming.- Paula Simons, Edmonton Journal columnist

JW: They sort of have to be shameless, otherwise it would ... question some very fundamental things that we've accepted for so, so long. And I think the reality is we're largely unwilling to do that, and when we are it becomes incredibly messy because of that unwillingness to face truth that, quite frankly, has been staring us in the face for so long.

PS: But you know what? I think it's different in Canada, though. I mean, I think it's absolutely true in the United States. I think Donald Trump is the epitome of shamelessness. You cannot publicly embarrass somebody who is a walking embarrassment. And with Roy Moore too — somebody who cannot be made to feel embarrassed for what they've done in the past. But I think in Canada we're still awfully good at public shaming. We think about, you know, Joseph Boyden. This was the year of his public shaming. Think about Kellie Leitch. I mean, I think in Canada we still are pretty good at whipping up a righteous mob.

I think we've democratized shaming so we're starting to shame some of the people that had a bit of a cakewalk before.- Tabatha Southey, columnist,  Maclean's

TS: Well, I'm going to interrupt, because I'm a little tired of the shamer shaming. I'm all for shaming. I'm all for calling people out. And I don't think we're actually shaming any more than we used to shame. I think we've democratized shaming so we're starting to shame some of the people that had a bit of a cakewalk before.

The Boyden story is a story that percolated in another community that we didn't really —you know, white girl — didn't really think about that much. But I'm glad to see these things being pulled into the mainstream and I'm glad to see us shaming. Shame more. I mean, check your facts. Don't shame indiscriminately. But let's call people out on stuff. It's a great thing it's part of what the #MeToo movement is about. And let's do it.

BB: Are you comfortable, Jesse, with the things that were said about Joseph Boyden, in light of what happened with his story this year?

JW: Well, that's quite the question. I think there's nothing about those discussions that isn't uncomfortable, especially for the communities that are impacted most on a daily, from birth experience, that these are extraordinarily difficult discussions — ones that are have not always been held publicly. This country really struggles to have these conversations adroitly. Just like we see in the United States, they … struggle so much to have a honest conversation about race in their country. And it's led to a president, and an agenda, that is so regressive that one fears for the very nation that elected it. And one of the primary reasons is because they are unable to have a truthful honest conversation about race and the ongoing pressures it puts on their society and culture. And Canada struggles with the exact same thing.

in 2017, writer Joseph Boyden found himself defending his Indigenous heritage.

Canada 150

BB: One point of pride for Canada this summer was the country's 150th birthday — or at least it was supposed to be. Do you think that Canada's 150th was the success that the government hoped it would be?

The parties you remember are where a fight breaks out, and I felt good.- Tabatha Southey, columnist, Maclean's

JW: No, to use a one-word answer. I mean, I don't see how it could have achieved what anyone would have thought. I mean, I think what's been more interesting, or what I would hope, is that I think the problems with celebrating a colonial birthday on Turtle Island like that maybe were more apparent this year and maybe that can spurn some, not just conversations, but actual actions so that you alter that.

Because I think there is a desire. Canadians love a good party. We all know that. So there's a great desire for us to all celebrate. There were more people maybe in the audience to hear some conversations. I don't know if they totally listened. Some were absolutely in the bathroom, you know. And some were getting beer or whatever. But I think more people were at least present in the room to have these conversations than have ever been before. And you hope that will lead to progress to fix the very real problems that are still very present.

PS: And I would say, in that sense, that Canada 150 was a huge success because I think that it was an epiphany for a lot of people. I think it was an amazing moment to talk about reconciliation and to talk about the legacy of colonialism.

A teepee stands on Parliament Hill during Canada 150 celebrations in Ottawa on Saturday, July 1, 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Justin Tang)

TS: The parties you remember are where a fight breaks out, and I felt good.

This has been brewing a long time. Let's get it out there. I walked around on Canada Day and I wished everyone I met "Happy Canada Day," and a lot of people asked me where the big duck was. And I told them. And towards the end of the day I came across two guys in my neighbourhood sitting on a bench having a beer. And I said "Happy Canada Day," and they said to me, "Until we start dealing with this as a country, I won't feel right about celebrating Canada Day." And I thought that it had come down to these guys on the street, that they were having that conversation on a very basic level, and I thought, "OK, so this isn't just a certain group on Twitter." I felt like it was time we had this conversation. You picked a wrong radio guest here because I thought this was the year I should just listen. And I feel like I'm starting to learn.

Canada celebrated its 150th birthday in 2017. (Stephen Wilkes)

The good news from 2017

BB: I want to end on a happy note — Paula, were there any stories that made you smile in 2017?

PS: Yes. I would just like to say that when I'm sad I go to my happy place, which is to watch Marion Kelly. And if you don't remember who Marion Kelly is, she is the little girl in the yellow sweater who interrupted her dad's interview on the BBC by entering like a boss, with her little brother in the walker behind her. And then gave the fabulous press conference with the trench coat and the lollipop.

When I think who I would like to remember and cherish from 2017, I would like to thank Marion Kelly for being the place that I can retreat and just watch that video over and over again.

BB: Jesse, how about you? Any stories or events that made you happy?

Filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin celebrated her 85th birthday in 2017. (Scott Stevens/National Film Board)
JW: For me, it's a personal one and it's absolutely my happy place for the year, which was I was at Alanis Obomsawin's 85th birthday.

I think you had her on the show, the legendary Abenaki filmmaker here in Canada, and that was absolutely my happy place that night.

BB: Tabatha, for you?

TS: For me it was the solar eclipse. I walked around that day and what I loved was seeing everyone crowded out on the street watching it. And I think any kind of solar event is humbling for all of us. And so many people, as I walked through downtown Toronto, time after time, they just saw me and offered me their viewing device and they were all passing it around. And I thought they wanted to experience it, and they wanted everyone to experience it equally, and if I can be sappy, is there anything better in humanity than that?

BB: That's a celestial happy moment. Thank you very much for that. Tabatha Southey, Paula Simons, Jesse Wente — Happy Holidays.

Carrie Gentes was at the Ontario Science Centre to witness the solar eclipse. (Grant Linton/CBC News )