Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Happy Canada Day

As you are all no doubt aware, today is our nation's 142 birthday. Unlike most posts that have me focusing on a single political issue from the news, today's post is going to be a little different. Rather, it will be a treatise of sorts that allows me to talk about this nation we call Canada, and the things that make me proud to be a Canadian.

First, allow me to say that there is a fine line between patriotism and egotism, a fine line that one must be sure they never cross when talking about their nation. So many people like to claim that their nation is the 'greatest' on earth, but never provide valid proof for their argument. There is no criteria that exists to measure the single greatest nation on earth. Does having a democracy make one great? Is it a certain quality of living? Certain rights and freedoms? Clean drinking water? No one really says, but everyone likes to claim it.

Canada certainly is a great nation based on those examples I've listed above; but it is not without its flaws. Our democratic system allows the minority to elect a Member of Parliament by less than 25% of the vote in a riding, rather than allowing the true majority of Canadians to have their votes heard. Our quality of living is fairly high, but the gap between rich and poor continues to grow each day, with the rich often calling themselves 'unfairly taxed' and the government sometimes agreeing with them. Our rights and freedoms certainly do come in handy, and are likely second to none, but each day we learn of shocking abuses of power that infringe our rights and freedoms. And as for the drinking water, well, depending where you are in the nation you may or may not want to drink straight from the tap.

But does any of this truly hinder us? Do we become less competent a nation for having our flaws? No, we do not. No nation is without its flaws, and any nation that claims to be flawless is either delusional or lead by rulers who simply try to placate their citizens through random slogans and claims of superiority.

What makes Canada great, in my humble opinion, is something we are in fear of losing: The ability to have an open dialogue. In 1993, when Kim Campbell and her Conservatives were running for re-election, they launched what is likely one of the most memorable attack ads in Canadian History. The ad attacked then Liberal Leader Jean Chr├ętien, seemingly mocking his facial paralysis.

Needless to say, most people remember how the election went for the Progressive Conservative Party, which was demolished to a two-seat representation and lost official party status. What am I meaning by bringing this up? Allow me to answer that.

I've always seen Canada as distinct from the United States in the way we run our elections. In addition to the fact that we are able to count all our ballots in a matter of hours, I always saw our campaigns as a cleaner, nicer form of politics. One would think that after the disaster of the 1993 Chr├ętien attack ad, Canadian politicians would pay attention to the fact that Canadians find the ads distasteful and don't want to see their politics sway into a public mud battle.

Rather, however, under the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper we have seen Canadians subjected to attack ads...even when we're not in an election. Instead we're subjected to attack ads that feature birds defecating on party leaders, likening electing others as 'gambling', and then of course, suggesting that some politicians are just in it for themselves. Not only are the ads themselves distasteful, it's further disparaging that the ads themselves are so cheaply produced.

So, am saying I wouldn't be offended if we had better attack ads? No, I'm not saying that at all. What I am saying is that in a country such as ours, we expect better of those we chose to represent us. Everything now a days is spin this, or spin that, with no real regard to the truth. Instead of a having politicians who can have an open dialogue with each other, we see 'party lines' that demand parliamentarians to vote against legislation just because it was proposed by the other party.

Now, I've seen photos and video of party leaders outside of debates and the House of Commons. And you know what, sometimes they're smiling and possibly joking with one another, or even congratulating each other on something the other one said. Now, where is this attitude when the cameras are rolling?

I understand that most people believe that we now live the in the age of the soundbyte; it's not important to get a full 30 minutes of screen time, but rather a snappy 15 seconds or so to present your point. As such, attacks sound better than genteel conversation.

But what are we losing by having our politicians acting in such a manner? We are losing the freedom of debate, and the open flow of ideas. We are losing the ability to look at all sides of the political coin and go, 'You know what, they actually have a good point on that issue...Maybe we should pursue that option.' We are losing the ability for co-operation within the House of Commons, and instead making it a House of Elitists. We are losing the common flow of ideas and instead a stuck listening to only the ideas of the party in power, an elite of sort that refuse to compromise on anything.

Furthermore, in this system, we create a system of hypocrisy amongst our politicians. Stephen Harper constantly says that he wants Parliament to work, that he wants the parties to come together...Then he blames all the other parties for not wanting to come to the table. Well, Mr. Harper's pants are on fire on this issue. I'm not saying that the blame rests solely with the Conservatives, rather pretty much all the parties refuse to compromise and listen to the free exchange of ideas.

But it is pretty low to blame others, while not looking at oneself as part of the problem when you clearly are. This is where I may become a little bit bias, and I'd apologize for that, but I feel that it is an accurate representation. The Harper Conservatives preach about co-operation and working together, yet they very clearly refuse to do so. The only thing the Harper Conservatives seem to be able to compromise about is power. When their power is directly threatened, they will do anything to prevent the loss of that power.

For example, the proroguing of Parliament after the last election when it became clear a Liberal, NDP, Bloc coalation was close to being formed. Harper closed Parliament, and then proceeded to condemn the actions as trecherous, decitful and even perhaps treasonous. Let's look at the facts though:
Canadian Parliamentary rules state that the largest party in the House of Commons has the right to rule, especially given that we do not directly elect our Prime Minister. As such, Stephen Harper only has rights to be PM as long as he controlled the most seats in the House of Commons. If a coalation formed, they would control the most seats and legally be entited to form a government. So, not treason at all.

Furthermore, Harper and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff came close to pushing a summer election, but Harper buckled and allowed a commission to be formed to look into reforming the Employment Insurance system, in exchange for the Liberals not to vote him down. As such, it seems Mr. Harper is only willing to compromise on confidence issues, not on anything else.

Well, I've rambled enough against the Conservative Government for now, and will instead come back to what I was talking about before diverting on this tangent. Canadians expect better of their parliamentarians, and of all elected officials. We want to see co-operation between the parties but it becomes more and more clear to us that very few parties are willing to ceed that much authority, all in the sake of re-election.

Canada is a great nation, but we can be better. The only way to better ourselves, is to better our political system. And the best way to do that is to demand better of ourselves, but more importantly, to demand better of those we've chosen to represent us.

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