Less activist government expects more of citizens, not less
If Canadians were beginning to wonder precisely how Justin Trudeau intended to follow in his father's footsteps, few would blame them.
While Trudeau has enjoyed a middling profile in the Liberal party, he has yet to truly establish himself as a heavyweight in Canadian politics. To date, he hasn't offered much more than the typical partisanship Canadians have come to expect.
During a recent speech in Brantford, Ontario, Trudeau didn't divert much from this trend.
Speaking to a partisan audience, Trudeau insisted that Stephen Harper's Conservative Party won its minority government by utilizing wedge politics and divisive attack ads.
(What he chooses to omit is that it was his own Liberal Party that lost two consecutive elections with ill-conceived wedge politics, and that their 05/06 campaign featured the most divisive attack ads in Canadian political history.)
Trudeau accused Harper's government of disempowering Canadians.
"For the past four years, a government has been convincing us to expect less," Trudeau told his audience, "and worst of all, to expect less of ourselves."
But what Trudeau doesn't seem to understand is that a government that is less active in attempting to mould the country's social order to its own ideology isn't a government that is teaching Canadians to expect less of themselves.
It's a government that is teaching Canadians to expect more of themselves.
One of the great achievements of the Harper government has been to significantly pare back the programs the Liberal party has traditionally used to advance its own ideological agenda.
By cancelling the court challenges program (although the Conservative government has yet to propose a badly-needed alternative) and shifting the mandate of the National Committee on the Status of Women, Stephen Harper eliminated programs that weren't only being used as tools of what Barry Cooper describes as the embedded state, he also eliminated programs that were being used as tools to embed the ideology at the core of the embedded state.
In doing so, Harper replaced a notion of public virtue wherein the basis of public virtue was the government's funding of often-narrow ideological advocacy with a politics of public virtue wherein the basis of public virtue is the government's ability to actually help its citizens when and where needed.
This isn't to say that there isn't a place in Canadian policy for portions of Justin Trudeau's vision of public virtue. In particular, his youth initiative would be of incredible benefit to Canada.
But Trudeau even seems to misunderstand his bill's place within a political order in which citizens have begun to expect less of their government.
"They want to make a difference in the world," Trudeau continued. "But they're not entirely sure that politics will make a difference. Young people have gotten a lot more empowered with information. The problems they want addressed are very big but the capacity of the politicians has not been there."
Trudeau seems to misunderstand that this reflects a growing trend -- one encouraged by Trudeau's colleague Romeo Dallaire -- in which youths are beginning to expect less of their government, and more from themselves.
It isn't a trend exclusive to Canada, either. As Adam Curtis notes in The Power of Nightmares, people in numerous countries have lost faith in ideologies and grand visions such as the ones that the Liberal party has continually sought to offer Canadians (and just as often declined to deliver on).
This has led to the rapid proliferation of Non-Governmental Organizations, wherein citizens take direct and personal responsibility regarding the state of the world, and their ability to effect it.
That isn't Canadians expecting less of themselves. It's Canadians expecting less of their government, and more from themselves.
In any healthy, strong (in the Barberian sense) democracy, that is what citizens do.