Monday, February 14, 2011

The New Mediocracy

An article in the current edition of The Walrus defines Canada's "New Solitudes." Erna Paris writes that the new chasm in Canada is not about language or religion. It is about two very different views of the world. "For a very long time," she writes,

Canadians have spoken of shared social values as a way of bridging our traditional French-English solitudes. Now I ask myself whether we might be morphing into two Canadas, each with a distinct world view. The more familiar Canada has promoted secular, humanist values, expressing them in a welfare society it took decades to build. The newer Canada is brasher, harder, and angrier. You may have guessed that the kinder Canada is the country I cleave to: it has been my heart’s home wherever I have travelled in the world. But I recognize change. And I am beginning to question how, and if, we can find common ground.

She traces this change to September 11th and the rise of the Harper Conservatives. And she worries that Canadians are not aware of the changes which the Harperites are hell bent on achieving. There is "another" Canada being born:

Its organizing principles are a powerful commitment to individualism, and to maximum freedom in every sector. Governments should be small, their powers limited, their taxing capacity curtailed. The market must be free and unfettered. Individuals are uniquely responsible for their failures, as well as their successes, and they cannot expect assistance from the “nanny state.” The critical distinguishing trait of this alternate lens on the world is a lessening attachment to the welfare state, which historically aimed at enhancing the common good — a sine qua non of the Canadian social contract for more than half a century.

But, while it's entirely appropriate for countries to change course, the Harper Revolution -- unlike what happened in Egypt over the last three weeks -- is entirely top down. Paris refers to the preamble of a document released by an ad hoc group which has christened itself Voices:

Since 2006 the Government of Canada has systematically undermined democratic institutions and practices, and has eroded the protection of free speech, and other fundamental human rights. It has deliberately set out to silence the voices of organizations or individuals who raise concerns about government policies or disagree with government positions. It has weakened Canada’s international standing as a leader in human rights. The impact and consequences for the health of democracy, freedom of expression, and the state of human rights protection in Canada are unparalleled…

An unprecedented level of secrecy now shrouds a long list of government activities and decisions, making it increasingly difficult for the public to hold the government accountable across a range of fundamentally important issues…

In this context, Canadian democratic institutions, civil society organizations, and human rights defenders have been weakened, marginalized and silenced. Their capacity to monitor and safeguard the respect for democracy, free speech, and other rights is in jeopardy. The quality and health of democratic life in Canada is under serious threat.

The Harper government only modifies its course when it is faced with defeat -- and the course correction is only temporary. Geoffrey Stevens, who retired from The Globe and Mail to teach at Wilfred Laurier University, writes in today's Straightgoods that Canada needs an election to answer important questions:

Is a Stephen Harper government the best Canadians can aspire to?
Specifically, are we satisfied with a government that preaches accountability and padlocks Parliament rather than face opposition questions? A government in which all power is concentrated in the Prime Minister's Office?

A government that has no foreign policy beyond what it borrows from Washington? A government that can't win a United Nations Security Council seat that would have been a slam-dunk in years past?

A government that secretly negotiates a border-security agreement that will involve some sacrifice of Canadian sovereignty without allowing Parliament to examine its provisions? A government that accepts Washington's dictate to purchase F-35 strike fighter aircraft that Canada doesn't need and, at $20 billion or more, can't afford?

A government that intends to spend billions to build new prisons for which there is no evident demand? A government that believes attack ads are the answer to all criticism?

Are Canadians content for their country to be as mediocre as their government?

For, in the end, the Harperites are devoted to self serving mediocrity. Canada -- and its citizens -- are capable of much more than the Conservatives give them credit for.


sassy said...

Good post.

Owen Gray said...

Now the question is, "Do Canadians buy what the Conservatives are selling?"

Amanda Q said...

Very interesting blog, Mr Gray.

I was delighted to stumble upon your "Northern Reflections." I must say, that in my current career (Professor at Georgian College), I reflect often on the stellar teaching you modelled in Grade 12 & OAC English classes at PECI.

Amanda Quibell

Owen Gray said...

It's good to hear from you, Amanda. It's even better to know that you have joined the profession and have obviously done very well.

It's heartening for us old timers to see former students succeed.

ck said...

Canada -- and its citizens -- are capable of much more than the Conservatives give them credit for.

That's just it. they're really not, and every time someone tries to suggest that 'we're better' or we 'don't give them enough credit', they get insulted--accuse us of being elitist, smug and having a superiority attitude and patronizing them. That's the problem with many--I dare say most Canadians today.

They have the attention spans of 6 year olds, they don't think outside the box, no capacity or a blatant unwillingness for critical thinking. Why do you suppose Harper has gotten away with what he's gotten away with and continues to do so?

These days, attack ads rule the day--the more Americanized and nasty, the better! If the issue du jour doesn't fit on a bumper sticker, forget it!!

Harper appeals to all that. Ignatieff better start getting it. Frankly I think he needs to be replaced by somebody more from the beer & pretzel crowd. Intellectuals don't cut it anymore, in fact, they're considered the bad guys!

Owen Gray said...

Your frustration is entirely understandable, ck. Modern electorates -- in Canada and the United States, at least -- are remarkably misinformed.

A lot depends on the leader. Pierre Trudeau was seen by some as cold and distant -- but he could break into a French patois that every resident of St. Henri understood. And, in English, he could tell someone to "fuddle duddle."

The Liberals and Mr. Ignatieff have not -- until recently -- taken Harper seriously. Only Frank McKenna understood who he was dealing with from the very beginning. "They are," he said, "a bunch of thugs."