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Peter Black

Local Journalism Initiative reporter

This tradition of Time magazine picking a Person of the Year – or, from its debut in 1928 until 1999, either Man or Woman of the Year – is a veritable, er, time capsule of the march of humanity.

The person Time editors choose is typically someone, who, for “better or worse,” has been deemed to have the most influence on world events in that year. Hence, Hitler (1938) and Stalin (1939, 1942), are in the same group of noteworthy humans as liberators like Lech Walesa (1981) and Mikhail Gorbachev (1987, 1989).

The Person of the Year honour has also gone to groups of people, from scientists (1960) to Hungarian freedom fighters (1956), and objects – the computer, in 1982, was named “Machine of the Year.” In 1988, Earth was named Planet of the Year (not sure whether Uranus or Mercury were the runners-up).

The first Woman of the Year was royal abdication-inspiring American widow Wallis Simpson (1936). Her step-niece, Queen Elizabeth, was the next woman so honoured, upon her coronation in 1952.

Retrospective anomalies include Rudy Guiliani (2001), honoured for his efforts as mayor of New York in the wake of the 9/11 attacks; he went on to become a key enabler of 2016’s Person of the Year, one-term president and perhaps future indicted felon Donald Trump.

No identifiable Canadian has been Time’s Person of the Year. Up until 2008, though, Time had a Canadian edition – until Ottawa cracked down on foreign publications grabbing Canadian ad revenue – and for several years named its own Canadian Person of the Year.

Former cabinet minister, Bloc Québecois leader and Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard got the nod twice (1995, 1998), as did former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper (2006, 2008) and former Liberal PM Paul Martin (1997, 2002).

To prove Time Canada editors had some imagination, in 1999, they chose the Supreme Court of Canada, for a landmark human rights decision on same-sex marriage, and four years later named two other Michaels – Stark and Leshner – as the first gay couple to be legally wed in Canada.

The Canadian Press also has a long tradition of naming a Newsmaker of the Year, with a list ranging from Soviet defector Igor Gouzenko (1946), who almost single-handedly sparked the Cold War, to Réal Caouette (1962), the Créditiste leader who was instrumental in the defeat of the Diefenbaker government.

Last year, it was former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould. You would be forgiven if in a few years’ time, you say, “Now, who was she again?” ​

Seems like an eternity ago. It was, in many ways, an eternity ago.

By the time you read this, CP may have already named 2020’s Newsmaker of the Year. Blessed with the current ignorance of whom they might select, this space offers its own suggestion.

Canada’s Person of the Year wore a mask, washed their hands 50 times a day, lost a job, worked at home, kept their distance, stood in line, learned to Zoom (but not necessarily how to mute), learned to be patient, learned to cook or do crafts, got to know the kids better and found clever ways to amuse them, mourned lost family and missed ailing and suffering friends, got closer virtually to friends and family, watched zillions of cheer-up videos or messages online, binge-watched season after season of TV series, discovered the world through binged series, exercised less but walked more, ate and drank more, ate in plexiglass-panelled restaurants, then didn’t eat in restaurants at all, ordered take-out, ordered more take-out, longed for any live performance from sports to theatre, watched pro sports games without fans, watched opera live online, learned perspective on the things we take for granted, was in awe of health-care and education workers, grew weary of months of daily briefings from political leaders, got frustrated by contradictory safety measures, was alarmed by the intensity of the second wave, followed with excitement the incredible brilliance of scientists as they worked feverishly to crush the virus, saw hope begin to glimmer through the terrifying tsunami of cases, saw the first delivery of vaccine like trapped miners seeing light penetrate the darkness, looked to 2021 with hope for a return to a semblance of normalcy. Learned there’s no such thing as normal. Survived.

Who should be Canada’s Person of the Year, a year unlike any other most of us can remember? Easy. It should be you.

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