John Ibbitson is a writer for the Globe and Mail and in 2005 he sent a valentine to Canada. He placed it in and red-and-white envelope on which he wrote The Polite Revolution: Perfecting the Canadian Dream. He sealed it with the Maple Leaf. It was basically an entreaty to look past the meagreness of politics and to think big. He also asked Canadians to think of themselves as a great people.
Obvious in Ibbitson’s message was the evidence that dysfunctional politics shouldn’t hold citizens back from what they were capable of. And yet, sadly, it does, over and over again. One of the interesting developments of this federal election is the growing fear of decline that’s more prevalent than we realized. It’s not merely about our current economic struggles but transcends into areas where Canadians used to feel a deeper sense of national pride. Somehow we feel we are underachieving when it comes to our political system and that leads us to believing we are underrepresented.
Endemic in all this has been the growing desire for something different in this election, some kind of change befitting our capabilities. Canadians have always felt that they had something important to add to the world, even if that wasn’t exactly true at times. If we occasionally went overboard with our belief of an important destiny, we always did so with a kind of humility that endeared us to others.
It’s tough to find that kind of confidence now. Instead we sense that our value to the world is at a low ebb, at the same time that we are forced to concur that our economic woes and other domestic responsibilities just don’t seem to be aligning in ways that assist us in overcoming our challenges.
Canadians have always been at their best when maintaining the belief that they can create the change they require when obstacles stand in our way – our history is full of such examples. Why is it, then, that we hear so little of this in the run-up to the federal election in October? How will politics fashion us so that we can play our important part in this relatively new century? Or would the better question be how can we as citizens fashion our politics so as to us assist us in reaching our potential?
Political campaigns likely use the word “change” more than any other because politicians and their handlers have to somehow instill in the electorate that they “get it” when it comes to a citizen’s desire for something better. And yet for all our wealth, we are being informed that we can’t afford our shared prosperity. For all our compassion, we are reminded that we can’t pay for solid welfare, a robust healthcare system, or regional equalization. With all our ingenuity and industriousness, we are reminded that we will never have the secure employment we had in previous decades. And with all the love we have for our grand open spaces, the rivers, mountains, and every sacred natural resource, we are again reminded that we can’t afford to protect such treasures through an effective plan for sustainability.
Despite our wealth, we are poor in spirit. With all of our compassion, we nevertheless don’t feel the love. With all our skills, we are feeling underused. And with some of the greatest natural riches on earth, we are left to feel as though we are poor stewards. This is the politics of underachievement and low expectations, even of ourselves.
We require change, but it keeps getting undersold to us in this campaign. We require policies and challenges worthy of who we are in our best moments, not merely in our safest ones. We want change – the political kind – that reminds us that Einstein’s adage still holds true:
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
It’s time for a campaign that doesn’t merely tempt us with small adjustments but changes us by challenging us. This shouldn’t be a campaign of mere rhetoric but of revolutionary change. Somehow our politics isn’t giving it to us and we are failing to demand it. We still have three weeks left to turn that around.