Campaign 2015 forced Canadians to face hard truths

Posted on October 14, 2015 in Governance Debates – Opinion/Commentary – Canada’s long electoral contest holds up an unforgiving mirror to the nation.
Oct 14 2015.   By: Carol Goar, Star Columnist

This election campaign, more than most political races, has held up a mirror to the nation.  In the past 10 weeks, we have learned as much about ourselves as our political leaders. We have examined our values, taken a hard look at our principles, and struggled to reconcile our collective behaviour with our self-image as a just and compassionate people.

Some of the lessons of Campaign 2015 have been disquieting. Some have been affirmative. Some have laid bare what we knew but did not admit.  Everyone will draw different conclusions. Here is my perspective:

The racial and religious harmony on which we pride ourselves is more tenuous than many of us realized.
If the polls are right, eight out of 10 Canadians find it “offensive” that a few Muslim women wear niqabs when they take the oath of citizenship. Have these people ever attended a citizenship ceremony? Have they ever spoken to a woman who wears a niqab? Are they affected in any way by what Muslim women wear?
Casting judgment on minorities has somehow become acceptable in Canada. How did we let this happen? Why aren’t we standing up to the perpetrators?

– We still haven’t recovered from the 2008-09 recession. We are willing to settle for “economic stability” rather than growth.
We don’t expect our children to do better than us. We don’t ask our political leaders to use the tools of the state to temper the harsh discipline of the marketplace or marshal the talents of a diverse, highly educated, globally connected population.  Are we as powerless as we believe? Is our lack of confidence impeding our performance?

– We have embraced the notion that strengthening the middle class is the role of government.
All three national party leaders are offering tax cuts, deductions, credits and giveaways targeted at the broad swath of the population that identifies itself as middle class. None of the parties has specified who they mean. The vaguer the definition, the larger the pool of potential beneficiaries.
Politically, the idea is appealing. It makes self-interest seem respectable, virtuous even. But it marginalizes those who truly need help: the poor, the homeless and people with disabilities.

– Our humanitarian instincts remain strong.
We entreated Ottawa to welcome Syrian refugees the same way Canada took in 37,000 Hungarian refugees in the 1950s, 7,000 Ugandan refugees in the 1970s and 60,000 Vietnamese refugees in the 1980s. When the governing Conservatives did not rise to the challenge, we rolled up our own sleeves and worked through our churches, community groups, service clubs, schools and universities to sponsor refugees privately.
We could have done more with national leadership and federal funding. (Both Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair have promised to revive Canada’s tradition of government-sponsored refugees).

– We’re becoming a do-it-yourself nation.
We organize, fundraise and volunteer to sponsor refugees, protect the environment and provide relief to people in natural and man-made disasters. We no longer look to Ottawa as the guardian of medicare. It’s up to us. We no longer expect our national government to set pan-Canadian standards or build public consensus. We do what we can ourselves.
Admirable as is our willingness to pitch in, there is only so much citizens can do. We don’t have access to public funds. We can’t deploy the machinery of government. We can’t speak for the nation. We can’t narrow the growing gap between rich and poor. We can’t assume every responsibility Ottawa vacates. Neither can sub-national governments.

– We haven’t figured out how to keep our priorities — health care, the environment, our children’s future — on the election agenda.
How did Senate malfeasance, terrorism, bogus refugees and the niqab sideline issues that affect millions of Canadians? Why didn’t we push back? Why couldn’t anyone — the provincial premiers, the media, elder statesmen, citizens’ groups — steer the conversation back to what Canadians wanted to talk about?

Campaign 2015 has brought out our best (our generous response to Syrian refugees) and our basest (our eagerness to stereotype Muslims). As the long race nears its end, there is plenty to ponder.

We will know in six days which is stronger: our desire for a fresh start or our aversion to risk.  It will take longer than that to sort out what we learned about ourselves and what we are prepared to do about it.

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