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EDITORIAL: Even bad news inspires some good


News organizations always pick a story of the year and, for 2016, most will readily accept The Canadian Press choice of the Fort McMurray wildfire.

That’s no wonder when we think of the magnitude of damage caused by “the beast,” so called because of its unpredictability, the length it lasted and the number of people in such a huge area affected.

That’s no wonder when we think of the magnitude of damage caused by “the beast,” so called because of its unpredictability, the length it lasted and the number of people in such a huge area affected.

The fire, as it spread in the oilsands region of Alberta, saw nearly 90,000 people forced to flee homes –  and entire neighbourhoods reduced to ashes.

It also had an incredible negative effect on the nation’s economy.

Canadians followed events, incredulous at the power of this fire that came in tinder dry conditions, and heartsick over the plight of people in the area – who suddenly were as dear as next-door neighbours.

But we were quick to realize it touched people in every region, since so many from eastern and central Canada had found work and relocated in the area. Nearly every community across the country could find a direct connection. People from Pictou County, for example, were interviewed by national media about their ordeal. The News carried a feature this week about a young couple from the county who became a part of emergency plans as their baby was born with the fire threatening.

Fort McMurray was an example of a story rooted in disaster that had much good come of it. People across the country rallied to help people hurt by the fire and all its fallout. Relief funding saw the Red Cross raising $319 million between donations and matching government funds in a matter of six months.

A truly significant news story has implications not only for the genesis of the tale, for what’s now in the past, but also for the future. Canadians, municipalities, developers – all will be compelled to put more thought into the siting of housing and industry relative to natural features.

It’s an old bit of wisdom: what doesn’t kill us or defeat us only makes us stronger.

But we’d be happy to have something more lighthearted as 2017’s story of the year.

Just think, in the United States, the top story as selected by The Associated Press – no surprise here – was the presidential campaign ultimately won by Donald Trump. How that one stacks up next to the devastation of a wildfire would be in the eyes of the news beholder.

But, safe to say, that’s another one that will have plenty of ramifications playing out in the years to come.

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