Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Michael Ignatieff and the Canadian Dream of Social Decency

"Canadians may not realize it, but along with all the other things we export to the world, we also export our rights talk. It was a Canadian law professor, from Montreal's McGill University, John Humphry, who helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"Humphrey was a democratic socialist and one of the founders of the League for Social Reconstruction, which campaigned for the creation of the welfare state. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for all its formidable abstraction, is actually an attempt to universalize Canadian social democracy as it stood in the bright dawn of victory after 1945. Many of the provisions of the declaration - including those for medical insurance, unemployment compensation, and paid holidays ... encapsulate (s) a very Canadian dream of social decency." (The Rights Revolution: CBC Massey Lectures, Michael Ignatieff, Anansi, ISBN: 978-0-88784-762-2, Pg. 10)

The Welfare State: Where Did we Go Wrong?

"The test of serious moral commitment to the family is a willingness to spend public money. Effective child protection, universal access to health care, affordable child care, first-rate primary and secondary education - these are the building blocks of the protective arch that society must raise over its families. This institutional arch doesn't come cheap, but those exponents of family values who won't stump up for it are just engaging in cheap talk." (The Rights Revolution: CBC Massey Lectures, Michael Ignatieff, Anansi, ISBN: 978-0-88784-762-2, pg. 111)

Wikipedia describes the welfare state as; ... a model in which the state assumes primary responsibility for the welfare of its citizens ... and (benefits that are) universally applied to citizens as a "right".

By now most of us know of Stephen Harper's claim that "Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it." This from his famous speech delivered to the Council for National Policy, but what does that mean exactly? Though there was certainly no Canadian pride in that speech, the statement was merely in line with the neo-conservative ideology. That is, the tearing down of the welfare state and the dismantling of government institutions.

But what is wrong with taking care of a nation's citizens? In a country like Canada, with it's vast natural resources; why shouldn't those resources go to the benefit of all Canadians?

Unfettered Capitalism isn't working. The disparity between rich and poor is at it's highest, and the promised trickle down affect from a free market economy is not trickling down.

In Part Three of Mel Hurtig's lecture series; Who Killed Canada? he discusses how our increasing poverty rate coincides with increasing corporate profit. And though these 'free market' gurus try to convince us that we should throw in our lot with corporate Canada, they have done nothing to advance Canadian interests or protect our country's citizens.

I've noticed on many blogs and in comments at the end of online articles, people are saying that there is no difference between Michael Ignatieff and Stephen Harper. However, I would challenge that statement. They are not even remotely the same, and their ideologies are completely opposite.

Now if we take the welfare state in it's purest form, the NDP are probably the closest in their desire to create a Utopian society, but in today's world how realistic is that? If the sharp right turn gave us whiplash, a quick snap to the left could be devastating, especially given the state of the economy.

And besides, we need to create a system that can be palatable to the majority of Canadians. We are not a right wing country, nor are we a left wing country. Our comfort zone is in the middle so we need a leader who can be a consensus builder. One who is willing to work with industry to make us competitive in the world markets, without neglecting our citizens; especially those most vulnerable.

Neo-conservatism is not a good fit for Canada. It's not who Canadians are. But how can we get our country back on track?

1. Vote - The first thing we need to do is to restore democracy. Neo-cons fair best when they drive people away from the polls.

2. Pick a team - If you decide you want to vote Conservative, and believe that we should be free from all government intervention, than that's who you should vote for. However, make sure you know exactly what that means. However, if you feel that our citizens should have a social safety net, than choose a party from the centre to left of centre. The Green Party is actually probably the party most in the centre, followed closely by the Liberals. The NDP of course are left. But vote. That is critical. No excuses.

3. Know your issues when choosing a party - There are so many single issue groups now, that lobby government, but few who will take that issue and work on behalf of a political party. That is one of the strengths of the neo-conservative movement. They narrow in on single issues like the gun registry, promising the gun lobby that they will scrap the registry. That lobby not only votes but votes Conservative; and uses it's resources and membership to promote the Conservative Party. You need to do the same if you have any hope of having your voices heard.

4. Be reasonable in your demands - Every election campaign we wait to see whose going to promise the most. In today's economic climate with so many challenges facing us, we need a party and a leader who will be honest. Taxes will have to increase, and any party or leader who promises no tax increases, obviously has a slash and burn agenda, because we are broke. It's not rocket science.

5. Move Forward - Regardless of our economic situation, we still have to demand that our politicians are willing to move this country forward. Social conservatism is about going back to some imaginary land of the 1950's. We are a progressive nation and we need to look to the future for answers to today's problems.

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