In the three months plus since the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, much has been written about how the events of Sept. 11 forever altered us and the world we live in. There is no question the terrorist attacks traumatized Canadians. They brought us closer to our families; made us recognize that Canada cannot shirk its military responsibilities; forced us to look beyond the comforts of our borders; and drove home the fact that the world is, and for some time will continue to be, a dangerous place.

For some, this trauma also has lent new importance to religious beliefs. Others are questioning the wisdom of pursuing the holy grail of more material possessions. Cynical for decades about government’s ability to forge a common good, we now fully support Canadian and U.S. initiatives in the war on terrorism and, while we worry that the hostilities could escalate, we’re prepared to back a long military effort and, if necessary, see it expand into other regions of the globe.

If politicians are sometimes slow to learn from their mistakes, they almost always learn from their successes. Nowhere has this been more true than in the case of Jean Chretien. The Prime Minister assumed the highest office in the land in 1993, fully formed and developed as a politician. In his 32 years in office, he has assimilated a deep understanding of the inner workings of government and a keen sense of Canada and Canadians. This tutelage has taught him that the electorate he serves eschews extremism and instead values order, calm and stability. Over the years, he has adjusted his style and approach to government accordingly.

In a period of growing cynicism about politicians and diminishing expectations of the ability of government to solve problems, he has chosen incrementalism over vision. He does not anticipate problems; he nibbles away at their edges, as they arise. He may rattle his sabre at his enemies in public, but then will bend over backwards to find consensus behind closed doors. His ministers and caucus, who owe their position and victories to him, have marched in time with his slow, tempered drumming and adopted this style as their own. Three successive electoral wins have reinforced the wisdom of his approach.

Few who have observed Mike Harris would describe him as inspirational, charismatic or visionary. The Ontario premier, who announced last week that he will step down as soon as his Progressive Conservative party chooses a successor, is a common, straightforward man of solid middle-class stock who takes pride in a no-nonsense, practical approach to problems. Yet, over a six-year tenure, he changed Canada’s most unchangeable province in a way it hadn’t experienced in five decades.

When Harris assumed office in 1995, his government inherited a $10-billion deficit and an electorate who believed their affairs had been badly mismanaged by Liberals and New Democrats for eight years. While voters were looking for little more than stability and good government, Harris had campaigned on a right-of-centre platform that included a pledge to keep every promise he made. In stark contrast to others who have made similar promises, he did precisely that.

While the details of my activities on Sept. 11 may have differed from those of other Canadians, I doubt my emotions did. Disbelief turned to despair, fear for loved ones and finally a morbid desire to know more — to make sense of a senseless act. The natural response to uncertainty is a desire for closure. Our first-blush instinct of disorientation turned to a hard, cold demand for finality, for retribution; if those who had committed this crime were punished — better yet, annihilated — then the source of our disquiet would be removed and we could return to our previous, blessed lives.

Over the past few weeks, we devoured any morsel of information we could lay our hands on, in the process learning more about the world around us than ever before. And, as we waited for war, we discovered that there was not going to be any quick and easy solution to our unease.

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