Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Oh, But So Much Has Changed Already!

Lawrence Martin misses the forest of change for the trees

Writing in an op/ed column in Metro News, Lawrence Martin decries the current state of Canadian politics, and blames it all on the leaders.

Canada's political leaders, it seems, just aren't young, vibrant, hip, or inspiring enough. And the only way that Canadians will ever see any kind of meaningful change in Canadian politics is for Canada's youngest politicos -- individuals like Justin Trudeau and, uh... Justin Trudeau... -- to take over the reins of leadership.

But Martin seems to be overlooking the myriad of ways that things have changed already. And it didn't take the young, vibrant, hip and inspiring Trudeau to change things.

In fact, many of the most significant -- and constructive -- changes in Canadian politics have been effected by a fifty-year-old man "about as cool as a Toyota Corolla". Stephen Harper.

Of course, if one were to listen to individuals like Murray Dobbin, Judy Rebick, Michael Byers, Heather Mallick, Antonia Zerbisias or any number of other commentators, one would hear them insisting precisely the opposite. They would insist that Harper has been nothing but poison, not only for Canadian politics, but for Canada itself.

Each of them, in turn, would have their own complaints -- complaining Harper dismantled the court challenges program, hamstrung the Status of Women, is dismantling gun control, and has declined to fight climate change in any meaningful way. This isn't the full extent of their complaints, but it does effectively scratch the surface.

This is their view of reality, but many Canadians don't share it. Many Canadians see some of these actions as taking the government out of the business of taking sides in matters related to social activism, setting the Status of Women on a better course, dismantling cosmetic legislation disguised as gun control, and reevaluating a "crisis" for which the scientific evidence is erroding, and increasingly looks as if it were trumped-up in the first place.

And while many Canadian conservatives would argue that Harper hasn't gone nearly far enough -- and many Canadian progressives are insisting that Harper would go further if he won his dreaded majority -- it's difficult to overlook the specific character of this change, notably that Canadian government has finally gotten back into the business of good governance.

In doing so, the Canadian government is slowly moving away from an era in which its chief order of business was not good governance, but its own particular method of social engineering.

The government is moving away from an old era in which the politics of public virtue dictated that the government use its power to mold society according to the designs of a select group of architects, and back to an era in which the politics of public good simply entails managing the country's affairs.

Whether one credits Jean Lesage for this old concept of the politics of public virtue (as Brian Lee Crowley does), or John Diefenbaker (as Barry Cooper does) is actually largely immaterial.

What is important is that many Canadians are waking up to the notion that it isn't the government's job to promote any one particular ideological view of Canadian society. Rather, it's the role of government to stay out of the affairs of others as much as it can, and simply focus on providing people with the opportunities to build the kind of society they wish to see, without government picking sides.

Many left-wing ideologues look at the Harper government and they decry what they call the "death of Canada". In its own small way, perhaps it really is -- at least for them.

Grown accustomed to the state favouring their particular conception of the politics of public virtue, these ideologues have come to think of Canada as an ideological construct. So long as that ideology was theirs, they were entirely comfortable with it.

In many of his actions, Stephen Harper has begun -- not yet finished -- to rebuild Canada as a non-ideological construct. As a country in which the citizens will decide the character of its society.

That, in itself, has been a wonderful change over the previous state of affairs.

It didn't take Justin Trudeau to change Canada after all. And if Trudeau ever does get his opportunity to change Canada, many more Canadians may, in time, come to wonder if it actually would be for the better.


  1. Great post.

    The respect for the division of powers is evident. The cooperation for EAP, negotiating an improved Free Trade Deal with the US (fighting protectionism) is an indication of the trust in the current government being a trusted negotiator by the provincial premiers.

    In 2010-11 with the largesse ending will the federation be as united or will it revert again to the Ont-Quebec provinces bashing the smaller provinces?

  2. Well, in the comments of Jean Charest and Dalton McGuinty, bashing the Alberta oil sands while they collect revenue from it, I'd say we might already have the answer to that question.


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