The whimper of our discontent

Outrage missing as Canadian values and standards trashed
November 1, 2009

I think we have to realize that Canada is not immortal; but if it is going to go, let it go with a bang rather than a whimper.

—Pierre Elliot Trudeau, testifying before the Canadian Senate in opposition to the Meech Lake Accord (1988-03-30).

Where is the outrage?

We watch as, one by one, in small increments, the very things we as Canadians thought were integral to the society we built together slip away. Not accidentally, either—but as part of a deliberate campaign to lower our expectations of what we, collectively, are capable of—and what, collectively, we are able to accomplish.

Rather than demanding that our federal government enact meaningful change to improve our record on key issues like human rights, the environment, child poverty and unemployment, we seem more than happy to be pacified with tax-break soothers or distracted by shiny photo-op rattles.

Canadian citizens stranded in foreign countries, trying desperately to return home, but thwarted by government inaction or outright interference? Why care when you’ve got a Home-Renovation Tax Credit that will allow you to write off a portion of your new granite countertops?

A shameful number of families continuing to live in poverty? Can’t talk now—I’m looking for receipts for my kid’s soccer lessons so I can claim the sports tax credit.

Spiraling child care costs and an ongoing shortage of regulated child care spaces? Sorry, I’m cashing my $100 a month (taxable) so I can pick up extra diapers.

The PM taking a pass on attending a meeting of the United Nations and discussions with other global leaders about nuclear proliferation, climate change, and world peace? Shhhhh... he’s grabbing a double-double at Timmy’s—just like a regular guy—and looks like he has something he wants to take credit for.

The feds a no-show at the International AIDS Conference, right here in our own country? Come on!—how cool is it that Steven Harper gets to pal around with Brent Butt while doing a guest spot on Corner Gas instead?

Millions in cuts to arts and culture? But he’s jamming with Yo Yo Ma and singing Beatles tunes with the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra. Surely a guy who can carry a tune can’t be all bad.

This summer saw the U.S. neo-cons launch a major offensive against Canadian-style health care, aided by Shona Holmes and the Canadian Constitution Foundation (an organization that has also launched attacks on Canada’s federal and provincial Human Rights Tribunals). And not a peep from our federal government over this blatant campaign of misinformation designed to stymie health care reform in the U.S. by using Canadian Medicare as a convenient whipping post.

And to add insult to injury, at the recent meeting of the G-20 our PM waxed eloquent about Canada’s enviable position in the world, culminating in a somewhat mind-blowing claim: "We also have no history of colonialism. So we have all of the things that many people admire about the great powers, but none of the things that threaten or bother them.”

Really? No shameful legacy of brutalization when it comes to our First People? Residential schools? Reneged land claim agreements? Kelowna Accords torn up? No? Not ringing any bells?

Is the bouquet of tax cuts being waved under our noses really a substitute for a better quality of life for all Canadians — for access to efficient, high-quality, publicly accountable programs based on rights and needs, not on our pay-cheques (or whose riding we happen to live in)?

We were once—and not that long ago—perceived as an honest broker in the world. A country to be admired for its attempts to develop social programs that allowed for a degree of equality and equity, a basic standard of living, and a commitment to moving forward on these principles. It wasn’t perfect—far from it. And there’s no question that racial, economic, and social injustices were (and in many cases still are) being perpetrated. But much of what is happening under Steven Harper’s watch represents the deliberate chipping away of the things we as Canadians hold close to our hearts and to our sense of ourselves as a country.

The irony, of course, is that while this has been done by stealth under previous governments, this time little attempt is being made to conceal the Neo-Con Agenda. It’s almost as if they know we’re otherwise occupied—looking for our receipts to claim on our income tax forms, perhaps, or watching Steven Harper guest judge on Canadian Idol (okay, I made that one up, but it’s not inconceivable).

Where is the outrage—at the governments foisting this spectacle of what passes for progress on Canadians who should know better; and at ourselves for being so easily appeased by the baubles of tax credits and photo-ops?

We are on the brink of losing what took generations to build. Surely this debasement and decay deserves more than merely the whimper of our discontent.

(Erika Shaker is Director of the CCPA’s Education Project and editor of the CCPA’s quarterly journal Our Schools/Our Selves.)