30 June, 2012
SOME THOUGHTS ON CANADA DAY WEEKEND
We Canadians are a nation blessed with a rare, precious and distinct advantage. We have an egalitarian worldview woven into the very fabric of our social, cultural and legislative institutions.
In contrast to the radical individualism that defines neighbors to the south, our Canadian worldview emphasizes social justice: the protection of the weak by the strong, the frail by the healthy, the impoverished by the wealthy. This “just society”, combined with our natural wealth, our work ethic, our public education and health systems, and our multicultural civility gives us a real shot at being the best place in the world to live a good, if not lavish, life –- at peace with ourselves, and our neighbors near and far.
So is it really true that we can’t have the society we want because we can’t afford it – or is it because we have allowed too much political influence over it?
It cannot be denied that our Canadian society has been steered in the direction of the republic south of our border. That’s an economy that tolerates sharper divisions between rich and poor, and what we perceive as injustices in the distribution of social benefits to the wounded, sick, unemployed and elderly. It’s a culture with a large segment of the media environment that celebrates what we see as intolerance.
It’s a society whose democratic institutions have become even more corroded than ours, by political attack ads, hyper-partisan tactics, and systematic voter suppression. And it is a population with higher rates of fear and incarceration, where (as so vividly illustrated in the so-called “stand your ground” law and the Trayvon Martin case) social order is descending into bloodshed, not just in spite of the law, but because of it.
To the extent that Canadians have a different experience than Americans, that experience rests, in no small part, on decades of federal policies and budgets that institutionalized priorities reflecting the centre of the Canadian political perspective. And as Paul Martin showed, it is difficult, but possible, to rein in spending without discarding those priorities.
Back to my original question: I sense a determined governmental march in our proud land that communicates a central, false assumption that our treasured “just society” – that geopolitically distinctive aspect of our values and national identity – is unaffordable.
There is an alternative view though, and that is, if we are to have the Canada we want, we cannot afford to give so much power to government. What we cannot afford is ... a government with priorities which are wildly out of line with the priorities of the vast majority of Canadians. What we cannot afford is ... any government which is prepared to run roughshod over what should be two traditional, non-negotiable Canadian ideals: unswerving respect for democracy, and the pursuit of a just society.
I believe that Canada is resilient enough to survive the aforementioned dangerous influences of a march in a southerly direction, providing that enough of us remember what it means to be "Canadian” and to maintain "the Canadian way" that is just (and affordable) for all.
Only in Canada, you say?...You're damn right! And we need to keep it here.
Make no mistake about it, governments do not necessarily make countries great. It is the will of the people that ultimately deserves all the credit. Rank and file Canadians hold the power and we should never forget that fact. Our collective voice counts and we should express it loudly and clearly, especially when carefully marking our "X" on the election ballot.
On this weekend, above all others, we need to sing "O Canada, we stand on guard for thee..." with as much ghusto as we can muster so that it resonates in every corner of this unique and wonderful country of ours -- province to province, the Atlantic to the Pacific.