Without a doubt, the biggest news story of the year comes from Washington, D.C. with the historic inauguration of a woman as the vice-president of the United States.

Well, that could have been the news. But the inauguration of Vice-President Sarah Palin never happened. Nor did Michael Jackson’s legendary “comeback” tour. Or Michael Ignatieff’s dream of destroying Stephen Harper’s Conservative government to become Canada’s 29th prime minister.

As they say, ‘the best laid plans of mice and politicians often go awry’ and a lot of things that could have happened this year—or were expected to happen—never did. But some of these nonevents may have had an even greater impact on us and our world than the real events of 2009. Here’s a brief look at some of them:

The worldwide flu pandemic . . . that didn’t happen. In June, Dr. Margaret Chan, director of the World Health Organization, called a press conference to announce, “The world is now at the start of the 2009 influenza pandemic.” It was going to be the “big one” that had the potential to devastate our economy and overwhelm our hospitals and medical resources. It may have been this very warning and resulting actions by medical officials (such as the creation and widespread distribution of a new vaccine) that saved us. Or it could be that H1N1 never was going to be “the big one.” Either way, the sales of hand-sanitizers were the only thing that reached pandemic proportions and H1N1’s impact on how Canadians live our lives has been, so far, relatively minimal. Things could have been very different.

The federal election . . . that didn’t happen. One year ago, our country was in a parliamentary crisis and the political pundits (with the exception of Herald editor Licia Corbella who predicted an election-free year) were certain an election call was just around the corner in January. And then in May. Or September. Or not.

A global economic depression . . . never happened. Nor did every worst-case scenario that economists predicted for Canada’s economy. Instead, worldwide economic disaster was apparently diverted by the investment of gazillions of taxpayer dollars. In Canada, it turned out that we had sound economic policies and we didn’t follow the U.S. into high levels of unemployment, a collapse of the housing market and the insolvency of major banking institutions. Think about what our year might have been like if governments hadn’t been so willing to spend all our money.

The U.S. finds Osama bin Laden? Never happened. OK, it’s doubtful that he could have been found, since the U.S. seems to have stopped looking for him and David Letterman has stopped poking fun at him.

Iran ‘unclenches its fist’ and makes nice with the United States, as so politely requested by President Barack Obama. Ha! Never happened. While it’s interesting to muse about how this might have changed world dynamics, the fact remains that Iran is creeping closer to becoming a nuclear power and has no intentions of unclenching its fist. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad just recently declared that Iran “will continue resisting” international deadlines for its nuclear program until the U.S. gets rid of its 8,000 nuclear warheads. So much for Obama’s great plan to seek “a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”

A declaration that the war in Afghanistan is over . . . never happened. Instead, our will to win is wavering as the loss of life and economic costs grow. The possibility of victory seems increasingly unattainable. The only way to win is to have the will to get the job done, and that means an increase in troops and a willingness to utilize the West’s superior firepower. It’s time to stop viewing the Afghan war like the board game Risk and return to the “shock and awe” that can get the job done. Taking away this haven for terrorists could have an immeasurable impact on the world’s security.

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