It wasn’t expected. Just returning from a meeting, my cellphone rang. The caller ID was blocked, but upon answering I was delighted to hear the voice of a Conservative MP from out West with whom I’d had good relations. I hadn’t heard from him since my election loss. “Glen, I just read the stuff about what happened to you with all that misinformation. Just wanted to say how sorry I am and that I didn’t know a thing about it.” I believed him 100%. “You seem happy,” he noted. I smiled, realizing I was probably more content than him at the moment. “Keep up your blogs,” he said quietly. “We need some clarity.” That was code for the reality that he’s part of the party system and must suffer in silence and isolation. But when he closed off with, “God, it’s like a circus,” I realized he had hit the nail directly on the head, and it stuck with me.
Which brings us back to the American Revolution. It became increasingly clear that the King and his parliament were enmeshed in partisan intrigues that effectively distracted them from concentrating more on the needs of the colonies. Early in his reign the King had favoured certain Tory ministers over others and the partisan battle was joined. Between England’s extensive empire, the government intrigues, and George’s slow decline into insanity, the preoccupation with domestic politics left little time or inclination to deal with grievances from America. It was this distraction that helped the Colonial leaders to start envisioning what kind of land they wanted America to be. It all ended years later in a successful revolution, but the years prior were full of some of the most creative and innovative ideas of that generation, stemming from different colonies.
Canadian communities now look at Ottawa as some kind of theatre, replete with actors, henchmen, scripts, plots, fixed programs, and subterfuge. It’s been like this for years, perhaps even decades, and all parties have bought into it to one degree or another. This recent episode of the possible government interference in the electoral process is just the latest in a string of distractions. And it’s not just the Conservatives that are behaving badly. A quick perusal of social media finds the NDP and Liberals getting digs in at one another when the real issue should be about public trust, not who can gain the most from this debacle.
For communities like London, suffering ongoing hardships in economic bad times, it becomes increasingly discouraging. Citizens used to say about parliamentarians that they should just get along and “fix it.” Today they are more likely to grunt, say nothing at all, and concentrate on the immediate and challenging tasks of rebuilding their own dreams.
And it’s happening. We are living in a pivotal time when Canada is calling out for a new breed of citizen activists who are prepared to take on the challenges our politicians have left undone. I wouldn’t be overestimating when I say this entire development has been an explosion of communal creativity that has little to do with party politics. It has to be that way because no one else appears willing to pick up the challenge that the feds and provinces once worked together to face. Like the early colonialists, we have to be about our business.
We are learning to embrace “activist citizenship,” unlike the “status” version that has now outlived its ability to build a country. For too long we have resided in our legal rights as Canadians as opposed to our “human” obligations to others. This has led to a denial of our responsibilities for privileges like voting, paying targeted taxes for beneficial outcomes, or the refusal to grapple with issues like environmental decline or increasing poverty that plague our communities. Perhaps most revealing of all, “status” citizenship without progressive and responsible governments, actually becomes “stasis” (from the Greek word for “standing still, motionless”) citizenship.
A new generation of character-driven citizenship is moving out quickly into our communities and picking up where politics left off. In some cases it’s crude, a blunt instrument of activism that has yet to achieve its effectiveness; in others it has become an elevation from volunteerism to engaged citizenship at a refined level. Either way, it’s emerging and it’s exciting.
And much of it is coursing through the veins of those that are 40 and under. They have watched as the generation and their children that won a world war, built stable and prosperous societies, and raised equity to more of an art form, have grown distracted and confused as to how to counteract “robo-calls,” debilitating politics, and a love affair with everything corporate. And so they are beginning to take matters into their own hands in ways that could be the curse of politics or its salvation.
The point is not whether such initiatives will work or not. It’s really that there’s no other alternative. Our communities can no longer sit back and wait for structural partnerships with the feds to help us deal with the new financial order that sees cities getting by with less support but more calls for service. Perhaps some day politics will get its groove back, but for now it’s up to us to raise the bar of citizenship from a place of entitlement to responsibility. That process has already begun. Soon enough politics will have to catch up.