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A year when politicians step up?

The New Year is typically a time of optimism, for renewal and a resolve to take on new challenges. Canadians, however, may be forgiven if they’re a little hesitant about 2009 given the economic outlook.

That’s not to say 2008 has been a banner year, one we really can’t let go.

While we’ll have the usual crop of resolutions on tap for Jan. 1, most of us know the real pledge for change has to come from our so-called leaders. The economy will test the mettle of politicians and businesspeople. As 2008 winds down, we’ve found them lacking. It’s hard to be optimistic the turning of a calendar page will bring any improvement, but the New Year’s celebration is about nothing if not hope for the future.

Perhaps there’s an endless optimism that we can change, that we can be better – which, of course, recognizes that we all have something in our lives that we wish to alter. Psychologists tell us this is normal human behaviour, adding that the tough part is actually following through on the impulse for self improvement. In other words, fantasizing about a better you, about an idealized version of you – most of us can actually picture ourselves that way – will remain just that: a fantasy. Unless, that is, we are willing to work hard to make the dream a reality.

As individuals, we’ve been performing this ritual for centuries – for some of us, resolving to do the same thing, such as exercise more, is indeed a yearly ritual, but that’s another story. Can this sense of renewal be extended to a wider venue – say, to a community as a whole?

We head into 2009 with a recession looming, a situation Prime Minister Stephen Harper has finally acknowledged, largely due to the threat of a Liberal-NDP coalition. With new Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff talking tough, perhaps we’ll see some real change for the better in Ottawa.

Optimism, at least in part, is at the root of the decision every time we elect a new government, a chance that something will actually change. That politicians seldom make a difference doesn’t seem to completely eliminate that sense of “maybe this time” when we go to the polls.

This is perhaps the same hopefulness that gets us to put down some money on lottery tickets: we can dream of what we’ll do with the riches – a one-in-a-million chance – until the results come in and dash those hopes … but there’s always the next draw.

Unlike the winning lottery numbers, however, we have control over our resolutions and whether we stick to them. To a lesser extent, especially given the decreasing voter turnout, we have some control over our politicians – at least enough to throw the bums out. (That they are replaced by a new group of bums is, again, another story.)

Many of us make resolutions casually only to just as easily break them. We then rationalize our actions. In our jaded age, we’re equally blasé about the same lack of follow-through from our elected officials – in fact, we’ve come to expect them to lie, cheat, break their promises and to otherwise act in a self-serving manner (see this week’s Senate appointments by Harper). That doesn’t mean, however, that we just accept the status quo.

Maybe this year’s resolutions should include expecting more from our politicians (are you listening, Stephen Harper, Dalton McGuinty?). Maybe our political leaders should resolve to do what’s right, to make our lives better, if only once in their current term.

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