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In Defense of Reasonableness

January 20, 2010

What make’s us Canadian? Its an oft asked question. Its unavoidable that whatever it is will be cast in some way relative to our neighbours to the south.  But there is a core quality that Canadians have, that permeates our history and explains why we chose to structure our society and our democracy differently than Americans did. The quality is an overriding tendency towards being reasonable rather than emotional or idealistic.  Its what makes us great, its what will save us, but we need to defend it.

Here’s why.

America is going crazy

This can be taken in many different ways, but here’s how I mean it.  The United States is on its way to becoming a failed democracy. Even with the most hopefull and exciting president in a generation the gears of US government cannot be made to move for the perfectly reasonable health care proposals that were put forward last year.  These measures were much less ambitious and universal than almost any other western nation, it was a very conservative step forward towards universal health care as these things go.  The fact that it was pulled apart as some kind of fascist attempt to enforce a socialist agenda on America is evidence that reasonable discussion has completely collapsed in America.  Last night, another setback, Democratic Senate candidate Coakley in Massachusetts lost her bid to win the seat of Ted Kennedy.

A wakeup call for Democrats to not take their voters for granted, sure. But also a wakeup call for anyone who thought the American Voter make their choice based on reason and the big picture. No, democracy in America is about emotion, likability and locally issues.  That’s a bad thing in case I’m confusing you. Democrats seem to be unwilling to use the mandate they have been given to act in the public’s interest even if they take some partisan flack for it.

What is lacking is the ability to have a reasonable discussion between the different sides.  Discussion appear to happen and then Lieberman changes his mind and demands that another line be dropped from the bill.  How can they move forward if they can’t even have the discussion.

Don’t Let It Happen Here

I am a proud Canadian. What am I proud of?

I am proud of my country, and of what the government has achieved over the years in the name of its citizens.  I am proud of the Chart of Rights and Freedoms. I am proud of Universal Health Care, our education system. I am proud that until recently Canadians voted in much higher numbers than our neighbour to the south.  I am proud we put people before profits and regulate some important industries including the banking industry. I am proud we have enough pragmatism about the free market to say, sometimes, it doesn’t work, and support Canadian art and culture instead.  I am proud my tax dollars fund the CBC which does what a publicly funded broadcaster should do, informs and educates the public about the issues of the day. I am proud my country allows gay people to marry and that this came about because our laws said it wouldn’t be fair not to.  I am proud that people accepted that even if they didn’t agree. I am proud that our political discourse is not dominated by religious language and proclamations, religion is a personal, protected right that has no place in politics and Canadians recognize that.

I think all these things and more are what make Canada great.  We are great because we are a nation of good people, of reasonable people.  We understand that not everyone has enough to get by or pay for healthcare so we make it universal. We understand that we are not fully in control, that Nature is always waiting outside, in the cold to take us to our grave. So we remain vigilant and pragmatic. We build a safety net so that others don’t fall, because we would want it there if we fell.

We do what we need to do survive and to keep our community and our country together. We can handle disagreements, even big disagreements remaining unsettled and still work together. We’ve survived for almost 150 years with two languages and cultures fighting for their own place. Yet we continue. What else can we do? I wouldn’t be reasonable not to.

Canada has a parliament, where our elected representatives are meant to sit and debate in a reasonable manner to come to reasonable solutions for our country.  There will be grandstanding, there will be intrigue, there will even be corruption. But all this should be kept to a minimum and not impede the progress of our nation.  Prorogation happens, parliament need not sit 365 days a year, that is not the point.  The point is that reasonableness is giving way to partisan bickering and strategical. The machinery of government is being used not for progress but for hoarding of power and avoidance of oversight.

Where am I going with this? I want Canadians to stand up for reasonableness.  We may all argue about what it means to be Canadian but surely that is one quality we can agree on.  With poor nations around the world needing help and leadership from those of us lucky enough to be able to help, with the environment collapsing, with our great neighbour losing sight of the very values upon which they were founded it is more important than ever to take a deep breath and remember to say “Can’t we all just be reasonable and work this out?”  There are reasonable solutions to all our problems if only we can discuss and work together.

We can do it. We’ve done it before, that’s why this country is so great.

Lets do it again.  Come out this saturday and make sure the discussion doesn’t stop before it gets started.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 20, 2010 3:25 pm

    I don’t necessarily agree with all your points here.

    For example, your bemusement at the idea of a “fascist plot to implement socialism” is ill-fitting. Try Googling the “National Socialist party” some time.

    That being said, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for a country that is trillions of dollars in debt — a debt racked up by Democrats and Republicans alike — to be concerned about implementing a universal health care program that will inevitably cost them hundreds of billions of dollars more per annum, putting them further into debt.

    That being said, the amount of hyperbole being spewed on both sides of that debate has harmed it, and the United States, in a fundamental manner.

    I don’t agree that the United States is on its way to being a failed democracy. After the debacles that were the 2000 and 2004 Presidential elections, the Americans have run two back-to-back elections that were largely devoid of corruption. The closest example to a 2000-esque stolen election was Al Franken’s election in Minnesota, in which all the irregularities were investigated and, where necessary, corrected. Franken’s victory in that election was legitimized by that process.

    • January 20, 2010 4:36 pm

      Thanks for your response Patrick.

      Regarding their enormous amounts of debt, duly noted. They really can’t afford Health Care, but I also believe they can’t afford not to have it and remain a competitive and humane country. What they could afford is to build less aircraft carriers and fighter jets since their real enemies don’t use those anymore and they have more than enough to last them a while. Ratcheting that back a bit would help pay for much more important programs like Health Care and improved education.

      As I tried to point out, I’m not concerned with hyperbole or grandstanding, I am concerned with action. If after all the sound and fury you enact reasonable laws that help people and build your nation then fine. But what they are getting it hyperbole, grandstanding and weakened actions that signify nothing.

      As for being a failed democracy I think you miss my point. I don’t mean that America technically corrupt or that there is widespread fraud and buying of votes. That may happen anywhere when humans are involved, but it doesn’t seem to be widespread in the US. What I mean is that democracy is not functioning to actually serve its purpose. Just getting people elected isn’t the end of democracy its the beginning. Whats more important is that when they get into parliament or congress that they debate and pass effective legislation that creates a fair and productive society that is consistant with the wishes of the people. In the US they seem unable to pass even reasonable reforms because people refuse to debate with anything other than hyperbole with the goal of stopping all change. I just don’t see how the current level of discourse in the US can ever lead to the changes that are needed. So, in effect, they’re democracy isn’t working anymore even though the machinery is humming along fine and making it look like they have democracy.


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