Comment: Whither (Wither?) Canada? The 2015 Federal Election
- Paul Chartrand | September 14, 2015
‘Whither’ is an adverb that asks where is Canada going? ‘Wither’ is a verb that tells us something is drying up; in a state of decay and decline. The 2015 election calls out the meaning of both words for Canadians generally and for Indigenous people particularly. Where is Canada going under the present government? What are Canada’s values and how are they being upheld by the national government? Are state institutions doing what is right for Canadians?
For all Canadians, it must be realized that Canada has been changing into a dictatorship for decades, a process that has been accelerated by the rule of Prime Minister Harper. You do not have to believe me. Donald Savoie, an experienced federal bureaucrat and acclaimed political scientist concluded in his 1999 book, Governing from the Centre that the central agencies, Privy Council office, Treasury Board and Finance that were created to smooth federal planning processes have now been used to galvanize power in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and have weakened not only line departments and ministers, but Parliament itself, without contributing to more rational and coherent policy-making. We all know that we can now add the Senate to that list. Savoie recently wrote a scathing indictment of the current centralization of power in the PMO, an issue that regularly makes the headlines of national media outlets. In the interests of non-partisanship I mention Jeffery Simpson’s book “The Friendly Dictatorship” about the Chretien Liberal government.
As a recent participant in Facebook which I call ‘Faceoff’’ I am bombarded every day by denunciations of everything that Mr. Harper, who has been given a wide and interesting list of nicknames, says and does. A political commentator called him the loneliest PM, one who takes no advice but his own and muzzles scientists. Never mind central agencies in such a case.
I know that Canada’s image as an international boy scout has been tarnished by Harper’s disdain for the United Nations and disregard for international human rights including the international human right of self-determination of Indigenous peoples in Canada which the government acknowledged in Geneva in October 1997.
Now we have a campaign to enlist the voting power of First Nations to dislodge the Conservative party from government, realizing that this vote can make a difference in the number of seats gained or lost. I had mentioned this option for change at a major conference in Prince Albert a few years ago in light of the expression of frustration by First Nation leaders at the non-cooperative response to attempts to garner respect for the Treaties and other constitutional rights.
The challenge for change in our federal system is the archaic electoral system that we have. Governments can gain a majority in Parliament and rule as they please, as have both Harper and Chretien, where over sixty (60) percent of the voters do not want them. What party will agree to change that? Whither Canada indeed.
Every vote will count nevertheless. Our voices must be heard at the election because we will all be voiceless after that.
Little Boy Dead on the Beach
The heart-wrenching photo of that little refugee boy in Turkey that everyone saw early this month surely made every parent and grandparent hug their children a bit tighter that day. It calls to mind the iconic 1972 photo of the 12 year old Vietnamese girl, severely burned by napalm running on the road naked and screaming in pain. That was the Vietnam war. Will this picture of a little boy, who according to his aunt in Vancouver, wanted to have a bicycle, change anything other than the temporary focus in federal electioneering? By the way, the little Vietnamese girl became a refugee in Canada and now lives in Ontario with her family according to online reports.
We all know in the abstract that innocent people die from horrible causes every day. But it seems that there is something very personal about our humanity and how we express it. Seeing a photo of an actual person, or meeting strangers who become friends has a deep effect upon the way we see others. In everyday life folks tend to like and favour their own people and their own ways. Humans tend to favour what is familiar and regard the unfamiliar with unease. This I believe is the basis for community formation. Racism, on the other hand, is the dark side of community formation. Is it not better to acknowledge our humanity and its frailties and deal with it rationally?
Whither Canada? A little boy who wanted a bicycle has touched our compassion and helped us to think about the kind of country we want.