BUILDING CANADA - KEEPING THE EYE ON THE BALL IN BUILDING NATIONAL INSTITUTIONS THAT WORK
It is really hard to keep the eye on the ball when the modern world of text messaging and 24-hour cable news creates a collective attention deficit disorder. Democratic politics is about inventing futures and attracting people to be committed to the process of building social institutions. We have to develop a sense of focus in national politics or lose another generation of talent to a belief that urgent issues are best dealt with outside of archaic government structures. The Indian Ocean tsunami showed how much the internet had created channels which can circumvent bureaucracies and create virtual organizations. Similarly, in Canadian politics, activists increasingly turn to the immediacy of local politics and the targeted effectiveness of social entrepreneurship to achieve objectives which people would have assumed to be "political" in an earlier era.
The debate on same-sex marriages is obviously important, but it has taken on an exaggerated life of its own. In the vacuum of national political debate, its significance has become exaggerated, which risks turning a proud and relatively simple moment into Crossfire-style American wedge politics. Most Canadians come up with an appropriate middle position which has nothing to do with Charter rights or the possible erosion of traditional values: What's the problem when a loving gay or lesbian couple adopts an unwanted child and wants to provide a family environment under the protections and responsibilities associated with legal marriage? It is simply a good thing and should be applauded without either excessive self-congratulation or misplaced concerns about societal values.
If we want to have a so-called values debate, we could focus more constructively on issues concerning the renewal of public standards. In an era where civility is declining, where, in the late U.S. Senator Pat Moynihan's terms, we are defining deviancy down, there are plenty of other issues on which we might focus. The increasing toleration of profanities in web-usage and public behavior is worth our attention. We might want to look at the negative impact of bizarre psychobabble like "the person has anger management problems" on issues of public behaviour. We are long overdue a discussion of the corrosive intimidation of political correctness which threatens not only civil liberties but the way dynamic and open societies experiment and innovate.
It is a symptom of the need for renewal in Canadian politics when "national" political debate is allowed to be dominated by one unnecessarily divisive issue.
At this moment in history, we could be debating Canada's role in the radical democratic agenda which requires a major re-calibration of foreign policies around the world, in areas in which Canadians like to think we have a special voice and a unique role to play.
We could be discussing how to prepare Canadian businesses and entrepreneurs for a world of increasingly global competition and asking why there has not been a Canadian strategy for the Chinese and Indian markets, which everyone has known would redefine global competitiveness for at least five years. This will directly affect the prosperity and menu of opportunities of every 20-year old Canadian.
We could be asking what legal reforms are needed to define a Canadian sense of non-litigious civility and use it to create a unique approach to the management of diverse cultures within a single legal framework of commitment to democratic values, including the real equality of women regardless of their country of origin.
We could be discussing an approach to the battle against AIDS and global poverty that used new international institutions to empower women and deal with the corruption which we know causes poverty and underdevelopment even in areas of the world where there is great geologically-created wealth.
The inability of the national political system to focus on issues more relevant to the real lives, concerns and values of Canadians threatens this great experiment in non-sectarian multicultural democracy called Canada. The idea was invented by 19th century Canadians and turned into a socially innovative industrial democracy by 20th century Canadians. Without national purposes, we risk that our national institutions will be seen to be diminishing in relevance. This is the time for 21st century Canadians to be defining the new national purposes which renew the unique idea of Canada.
Last Updated ( Thursday, 23 June 2005 )
© 2008 Jim de Wilde. All Rights Reserved.