The Francis Report: Life in a Global Context, is a monthly column dealing with globally significant, locally relevant topics by Millstone columnist Arnie Francis,
In my part of the country Canada Day was as hot and hazy as I remember it to be since my coming to this land over 40 years ago. The fireworks were a counterpoint to the understated red and white patriotism the day evokes. And, 5 years shy of her 150th birthday, Canada continues to stand in waiting at the gate of national self-actualization.
We share a week of national pride with our American neighbours yet we must keep reminding ourselves that our country was founded later, and on very different core principles:
Canada: Built out of a focus on the capacities, skills and gifts of individuals as they interact via institutions to ensure “peace, order and good government.”1 Former Canadian Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin sums this up as a common purpose to share deeper values and basic principles such as the “inherent dignity and equality of all…. equal freedom of all citizens,,,, equal access to goods and benefits under the law,,,, respect and accommodation…, care for those less advantaged…, essentials of a life of dignity (with) basic education, basic food and housing, health care…, rule of law and justice…”2
America: Founded on a focus on rights, privileges and the self-sufficiency of individuals as they interact via non-institutional groups to protect each other’s inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.3 As one conservative American think-tank sees the mission,” to establish a limited and accountable government that respects natural law, private property, promotes a stable family life, and maintains a strong national defense.”4
The US Independence Day celebration on July 4 launched an already too hot Election Season south of 47. An American friend pointed me to the Claremont Institute to demonstrate the importance of educating children on the principles and values of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence for a return to the prosperity of yesteryear. A worthy mission at first glance, but “in 2009 … nearly two of every three students who started college did not graduate from that same college in four years, and that more than 40 percent did not graduate in six.”5There’s a more fundamental educational challenge at hand, methinks.
Still, clearly there is a new breed of American rising – intently ideological, contentedly subversive and unabashedly spoiling for the upcoming American Civil War, Part II. The Right is led primarily by a mind-numbing array of “think tanks” pedantically called “Institutes”, such as the Ayn Rand Institute6, the Claremont Institute7, the Ludwig von Mises Institute8, the Cato Institute9 and the American Enterprise Institute10. These are well funded by a round-table of rich Right-minded philanthropists, such as David and Charles Koch, John Olin, Claude Lambe and a suite of others. Today – as the US Presidential Election looms in November 2012 – America is in a state of class conflict, with political perspectives lodged in deeply divisive ideological camps funded through SuperPACs11. For example, on June 28, 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld President Obama’s controversial health-care law, requiring uninsured Americans to purchase health insurance, while Republicans immediately vowed – upon election as a majority in the House of Representatives and Senate – to rescind The Affordable Care Act12.“A number of right wing organisations, including Americans for Prosperity, which is funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, are attacking Obama for his support for solar and wind power. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which also has financial links to the Kochs, has drafted bills to overturn state laws promoting wind energy.” 13
The Right refutes the obligation of government to enact a social development agenda while the Left is apologizing for not moving to the right too fast. The Left in America is less well organized, funded or formally represented, obvious only by race, economic status and age perhaps. Civil wars everywhere most often start with class conflicts.
In our home and native land, we Canadians seem somewhat smug with the institutionalized metronome of the public service that keeps the beat one Canada Day after another. But here too the seasons are changing. Quieter and less cantankerous, for sure, but the clash of values is building. Canadians are having to choose between the newly-empowered Right and the homeless Left. The Centre now exists only in the rhetoric of political speeches. It’s obvious that Canada’s leaders have begun to lose sight of our Confederation as a coalescence of values, as envisioned by the Fathers of Confederation. Rather Confederation now seems like a consolidation of financial priorities. At all levels of government policies are narrowly focussed on financial and economic indicators that are intended to trickle down into a more equitable and enriched social order. How is that working for us? Canada risks becoming a more violent and anti-social place if it allows income inequality to worsen, says Richard Wilkinson, one of the world’s leading experts on the subject14.
Canada’s Economic Action Plan is propping up our bond ratings. We are governed by a focus on building markets, shoring up trade arrangements and reducing financial barriers. American-styled omnibus federal and provincial budget bills cover multifarious program and policy areas including environmental policy, cultural policy, immigration and refugee policy and who knows what else.
It’s hard to not be somewhat sceptical when governments point to an “action plan” – it implies that the subject item (e.g. economic planning) is absent. Or perhaps it is code for the very opposite – economic un-planning? Return to unregulated enterprise? Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand? American think tank-ism? And, by the way, if we believe we have “open government” in Canada, why then do we need “Canada’s Action Plan on Open Government” 15?
The move to a republican vision of narrow self-interest, regional economic classes and libertarian objectives is at hand in the True North. While Americans ironically need the power of institutional change to stop the catastrophe of a protracted class war, Canadians need the collective power of communities to restore the integrity of our nationhood.
At the gate of self-actualization as a nation, will we Canadians stand on guard for those traditional, core values of openness, fairness and tolerance? Our glowing hearts deserve it.
- Section 91, Constitution Act 1867. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/peace-order-and-good-government
- Declaration of Independence, http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/
- Claremont Institute, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claremont_Institute
- The New York Times, June 28, 2012 http://thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/05/education-secretary-targets-colleges-with-low-graduation-rates/?ref=educationdepartment
- A political action committee (PAC) is any organization in the United States that campaigns for or against political candidates, ballot initiatives or legislation. SuperPACs spend tens of millions of dollars on specific campaigns. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_action_committee
- CBC, http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/2012/06/28/healthcare-ruling-supreme-court.html?cmp=rss
- The Guardian, May 8, 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/may/08/conservative-thinktanks-obama-energy-plans
- The Huffington Post, May 2, 2012: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/05/02/canada-income-gap-richard-wilkinson_n_1470939.html