Letter to Sheenagh

Lying as Heather Mallick has said in the Toronto Star has become a core value of the present government, but I wish the problem was as simple as dishonesty.

The democratic problem we are faced with is more profound, more fundamental to our soul as a nation. For many years now, Canadian citizens have been treated by all parties little differently than a Home Depot customer.

“Step right up, folks. Step right up! Have I got a deal for you! A tax cut here. A tax cut there. A tax cut just about everywhere!” Each party jockeys to produce a better Home Depot deal garnished with a Tim Horton’s double-double with a gun registry side order – or not.

Building a great nation is more than an accounting exercise. It’s more than a consumer adventure – you vote for our box of goodies and you will be happier than with their box of goodies. Great nations are first and foremost dependent on great citizens. People who care about their country in all its dimensions.

I saw that in my father’s generation. They came home from the Second War to go to university and colleges, to educate themselves, courtesy of a government program and then when they got to run things themselves, they built universities right across the land so their children and grandchildren could be educated at higher levels also. They invented the National Health Care system so that no one would have to be bankrupted if they were unfortunate enough to suffer ill health. They built the Trans Canada highway and the first rail systems in our cities. They turned Canada’s formidable armed forces into the world’s premier peacekeeping force. For a long time, wherever the U.N.’s blue helmets were, there were Canadians under them.

What do we have now? A nation so diminished in prestige that we cannot find a rotational place on the U.N. Security Council. A nation that on almost every international policy defence, environment, trade, time defers to our southern neighbour . Norway is much smaller country than Canada. I don’t see Norway saying they can’t have different environmental standards than the United States. And Norwegians are still regarded as peacekeepers , still carving out their own place in the world as we used to do.

What do we do at home? We build no more universities. We have slashed the funding for them so extensively that they resemble private institutions. We charge students more than many can afford and those that can must incur large debts. All the great public institutions that my father’s generation put together have been privatized – Canadian National is now, American National. It’s owned by our southern neighbours and has more lines in that country than this one. Air Canada is a misnomer. It has been privatized. We have no national housing or transit policies. Our cites slough around from one impoverished budget to the next doing little. The leader of the opposition calls it ‘dreaming’ to think we could have a modern, fast intercity rail system as other nations smaller than we do.

The word Canadian citizen should be our proudest reference, our most important title. It is a term rarely used now and it fades a little more with each sterile, manipulative debate as our principal politicians seek new ways to buy our votes and diminish each other. Your letter calling Canadians to ‘defend democracy’ gives me hope, but we need to do more than ‘defend ourselves’ against deceitful behaviour. We need to start imagining our country differently, so we can recapture what came to our parents instinctively as Canadian citizens as they built this country through their lives – honest, brave and caring.

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