Monday, October 26, 2009

Michael Ignatieff: Valuing Differences While Living as Equals

Did you know that the blueprint for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written by a Canadian - John Humphrey? And did you know that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights helped to form the model on which the Canadian Charter of Rights was founded in 1982?

And did you know that at their last convention, the Reform-Conservatives voted 98% in favour of scrapping our Human Rights Commission?

I am a natural born sceptic, a gift from my dad; so never follow anyone blindly. When I made the decision to back Michael Ignatieff, it was not based on an impulse. I've only voted Liberal maybe twice in my life. But I read Mr. Ignatieff's bio, and then read several of his books, so knew that he got 'us'. The Ref-Cons can say what they like about his time outside the country, but he understands Canadians far better than anyone in that party.

I thought I'd just share a bit of his insight into the Rights Revolution. As a baby boomer, like myself, he came of age during a time of a rights crisis. All too often those rights are now taken for granted, but as Canadians we have to hold on tight to our reputation as a unique rights culture.

For neo-cons and theo-cons, they feel that their freedom of speech is being violated. They want to publicly denounce those they feel are inferior. I am a defender of freedom of speech to a point, except when it incites hatred. It is not always an easy job for the CHRC to draw that line, but we should not destroy one of the things that Canadians hold so dear.

If there is a feeling that the CHRC is being arbitrary, infringing on our ability to debate issues or speak freely, then maybe we need to amend some of the clauses; especially number 13; which seems to have everyone crying foul. But we must be careful about dismantling the office that upholds our rights as Canadians, to live, and be respected as equals under the law.

Excerpts from the CBC Massey Lectures: The Rights Revolution, by Michael Ignatieff.

"When I first delivered the Massey Lectures on CBC Radio in 2000, I was a professor at Harvard University. Looking back now, I can see that the 'Rights Revolution' began the process that led to my entering public life here at home in 2005. Like every Canadian, I carry within me a certain idea of Canada. This book outlines that idea.

"As Canadians, we have managed to create a single political community of equal citizens out of Aboriginal peoples, francophones, anglophones, and all the people like me whose families came here as emigrants from other countries. Out of those different languages, traditions and culture, we have forged a political system that holds us together and keeps us talking through our differences peacefully. We have also succeeded in maintaining a distinctive culture and tradition of proud independence next door to the most powerful state in the world. All of this is no mean feat....

"The fundamental problem facing humanity is political: how to create stable political order among people of difference religious, cultures, and economic classes. As long as states can cohere as viable political communities, all their problems can be managed. But if they cannot maintain order and freedom, they cannot solve any of them. Here Canada has shown the way: maintaining freedom among peoples who value their differences, yet desire to live as equals in a political community.

"Being Canadian, we do not shout our achievements from the rooftops. We know we still have a long way to go before the achievement is complete. Many of our peoples do not share in the promise of Canadian life; many of our regions feel left out of the prosperity; our national unity is a permanent work-in-progress. But we know what we have to do. The rights enshrined in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms exhort us all to narrow the gap between the Canada we actually live in and the Canada we know we can build together....

"What makes Canada's achievement distinctive? While all modern democracies protect rights, our system is special in the way it reconciles individual and group rights...

"We have also established the most progressive political culture in the Americas. Our laws protect the equality rights of all Canadians regardless of sexual orientation, including rights to marriage. Our laws guarantee a woman's right to choose. The Canada Health Act commits the federal and provincial governments to guarantee equal rights of access to health care for all citizens.

"Unlike the United States, Canada does not recognize a constitutional right to bear arms. Canada does not practice capital punishment. In these and other ways, our rights culture entrenches our national identity as a progressive people."

When I hear people say that Michael Ignatieff is no different from Stephen Harper, I want to scream. He is the exact opposite of this Reformer with narrow minded views of Canada and 'Canadian values'. Our real values are the way we see each other as equals. Mr. Ignatieff respects our uniqueness as Canadians, and that's who we need leading us.

I don't want to go back in time to the Reform Movement's view of the nation. It is a fabricated image, that does not reflect who we really are. A wonderfully flawed and diverse nation. Leaders not followers. We must take our country back, because Leo Strauss has no place here. Neo-conservatism is not a good fit for our nation.

Mr. Harper may call us a "Northern European Welfare State in the worst sense of the term", but we're damn proud of it, eh?

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