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Throwing Cold Water On Progress

November 6, 2009

Talk about a downer. Lawrence Martin at the venerable old G&B has a great, concise explanation of three major institutional changes that many people want to see in Canada in the coming decade in time for Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017 : a re-evaluation of our relationship with the monarchy, electoral reform and a green revolution.

All three of these are important issues that Canadians need have a national discussion about. It is clear there is widespread misunderstanding of the Queen’s role and the Governor General’s role in our parliamentary democracy. Personally, I like having a Queen, it adds a bit of flair that a Republic doesn’t quite have.  On the other hand, the idea that Charles will be on our money as some point in the future makes me feel deeply uncomfortable for some unknown reason.  As for a Green revolution, Canada is missing a huge opportunity by not getting ahead of the curve in developing green technology.  Our politicians are doing our nation a disservice by holding on so tightly to the oil economy. It’s just as insane as investing in telegraph technology, it’s simply not the future.

As for electoral reform, I have no quarrel with Mr. Martin’s description, to wit:

There is widespread agreement that our antiquated system needs reform and that PR has many advantages. Under such a system, for instance, the Greens would now have 17 seats, the Conservatives would be represented in Montreal and Toronto, the NDP wouldn’t have 12 seats fewer than the Bloc while scoring a million more votes than that party in the last election.

Here, here! But his conclusions are overly cynical:

But campaigns for PR in Ontario and British Columbia failed. Canadians are tired of minorities, and PR tends to produce minorities and, worse, coalitions.

Scary coalitions.  I want people to explain why exactly they are scary. As for minorities, Canadians are tired of ineffective government, they continue to elect minorities, and there is every indication the results would be the same if an election were held today.

What we need is creative thinking and people who are not afraid of proposing something beyond the tried and true.  It is obvious that none of our elected representatives are up to this challenge.  He hopefully mentions young Justin Trudeau, perhaps he will follow in his father’s bold footsteps. Perhaps. But surely we should not be waiting for some promised inheritor of past audacity.  The future is ours to make right now, every one of us. Nothing is impossible in a democracy, we set the rules, we can reinvent ourselves, so we should not hesitate to proudly and loudly exclaim what is wrong and how we think it can be fixed. Even if our solution is “not politically expedient” or a “pipe dream” at least its a dream.  At least its a goal to work towards.  You can never reach a destination if you don’t have a goal in the first place.  Why shouldn’t our goals be grand? Grand goals are the only ones that people can believe in.  Lowering the deficit is fine, but protecting the North, saving the environment, giving people a real voice in government, gaining sovereignty for a people, these are goals that motivate large parts of Canada.  These are dreams that they work towards, they know there may never be an end, that their stated goal may not be achievable.  But they keep on dreaming anyways.

Some of the federal parties recognize the importance of these big items to electrify their constituents, the Conservatives and the Bloc use these dreams everyday.  They often, usually, don’t follow through but every once in a while they get a success such as the Conservatives with the long run registry.  But the centre-left seems afraid to take a stand on anything.  We need leaders to admit they have dreams, to tell us what they dream of achieving, something that may be difficult but is really feasible.  Then they can ask voters to follow them, to work with them to achieve that change.  The issues need to be specific such as universal childcare, or electoral reform or a real green revolution. It needs to be firm and inspiring.  And it needs to come from what the people are really yearning for.

Mr. Martin doesn’t believe this is possible:

Canadian power elites are still dominated by aging, boring and adventureless boomers. Unlike days past, risk takers are in short supply. Today, there may well be a will, untapped, among the people for big change. But for the country’s big birthday, there are no trailblazers to light the way.

But I think he’s wrong.  There are dreamers even among the jaded elites.  And if there aren’t, rather than throwing cold water on people’s dreams and telling them to wait another generation we need to tell the elites to step aside for someone who’s willing to take Canada where it wants to go.  It wants to go forward, ever forward.

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