From the editors: The year Canada really went global

The year of 2011 shows Canadians what it means to be global citizens.

(Photo: Anna Lisa Sang)

It was once said that you should be able to spread out a year’s worth of magazine covers and get a sense for the life of the country. It’s a reasonable test of a publication’s relevance and timeliness—did it spend its year talking about the issues that mattered, or were its editors preoccupied with trivia and flotsam? Judge for yourself how Canadian Business fared in 2011. Among the events we deemed cover-worthy: the Arab spring (and its effect on the price of oil), the earthquake in Japan (and its effect on the nuclear industry) and the eurozone crisis (and its effect on, well, everything). We had covers about successful companies (Target and Lululemon) and companies in peril (Research In Motion). We tackled anxiety about housing prices, parental leave and the job market. One cover warned of the possibility of an “economic apocalypse.”

Taken together, what do these covers say about Canadian life in 2011? They speak to an atmosphere of instability and uncertainty, no doubt; but perhaps more important, they reflect the undeniable and mounting links between our national interest and the state of the rest of the world. Canadian business people could once afford to treat their own country as a primary concern, the United States as secondary and the rest of the world as inconsequential. Five years ago, it would have been laughable to suggest Canadians should worry about Italian budgetary policy; now it seems foolhardy not to.

Our magazine reflected this widening focus. Two years ago, we dedicated only one cover to another nation’s economy—that of the United States. This year we had four. If anything, 2011 taught us the dangers of a myopic world view. After decades of using it as a vague—and vaguely smug—buzzword, Canadians have come to understand what it means to be global citizens (and as Jeff Beer explains, why globalization as we’ve known it is over).

The global tumult so often featured on our covers is also reflected in this final issue of 2011, when we offer this year’s round-up of winners and losers. Nothing better encapsulates today’s overwhelming sense of unease than the Occupy Wall Street movement. For months, its merits and mistakes have been debated at dinner tables and on cable television programs. Its ability to maintain the public’s interest—despite an unclear purpose—has been remarkable. But 2011 was not the year “the 99%” triumphed.

Despite the protests and publicity, the supremely wealthy saw their bank accounts swell once again, pulling even further ahead of the rest of us. Joe Castaldo explains how this year belonged to the 1%, despite all the protestations. We’ve deemed them this year’s Big Winner. This is not necessarily an endorsement of unrepentant wealth accumulation (although money is a handy way to keep score when you’re a business magazine). Rather, we see it as a fair assessment of the world we all occupy. If it is a magazine’s job to reflect the life of a country, we must be honest in our appraisals. We can survey the past year and find morals to the story, like the importance of a global outlook. We can acknowledge the myriad issues that combined to create the Occupy Wall Street movement. What we can’t do is pretend the 1% had anything but a very good year—whatever the 99% say.

James Cowan is interim editor of Canadian Business magazine.