THE SUBJECT ABOUT WHETHER AMERICA has peaked as a nation consumes much of the airtime south of the border in the run-up to their election. Repeatedly in Canada’s long election campaign the subject is being heard from various voices as well.
We’ve already referred to former Conservative Prime Minister Joe Clark’s current book outlining how we’ve lost our national and global prestige, but there is a chorus of others from across the political spectrum pointing out our tragic slippage, including a book released just yesterday by former Ontario premier and MP Bob Rae, titled What Happened to Politics?
One would expect former Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis to be concerned about our national direction over the past two decades, but lately it’s become clear that he’s upset, not merely worried. Lewis has his reasons and they’re compelling.
He took the gloves off recently and it would be intriguing to witness this 77-year old champion of public life take on our present political class while in combative mode. Lewis focused on five key areas to make his point and they formed a powerful narrative concerning how we have fallen in collective and international stature.
He opened up by reminding his audience that Canada’s image on the global stage is in free fall, then moved effectively to how the Harper government has denigrated Parliamentary traditions in a fashion that is has caused serious damage to the public spirit. He recalled his years as an opposition leader in Bill Davis’s Ontario Conservative government, when respect emerged from the top-down and how Davis built on that trust by providing solid government.
It was then that Lewis jolted the audience by reminding them that this country’s behavior towards its aboriginal communities has been merely benign and paternal, but outright racist. Climate change was his next subject, one he wasn’t required to dwell on because our loss of effectiveness both domestically and globally on the file as been a matter of record.
Finally, Lewis talked about how civil society itself has been humiliated by a government that neither seeks public partnership nor transparency our accountability in its dealings with the electorate.
There will be those who will say, “What do you expect? It’s Stephen Lewis, a socialist, and an NDP to boot.” Well, it’s not just Lewis. Add to the list the likes of Conservatives like Joe Clark and other former ministers from the Mulroney government, former Liberal PM Paul Martin, NDP lion Ed Broadbent, and scores of public service leaders who are emerging independently in an effort to remind Canadians that not much time remains before Canada itself becomes irreparable.
When Lewis says his emotions run “from rage to rage,” he’s hardly alone. Upon adding that all this, “does us damage. It does us shame,” there was a loud chorus of assent and concern from all parties and civil society.
Lewis wrapped up his speech with a compelling urge that an increasing number of Canadians are attempting to voice:
“Somewhere in my soul, I cherish the possibility of a return to a vibrant democracy, where equality is the watchword, where people of different ideological conviction have respect for each other, where policy is debated rather than demeaned, where the great issues of the day are given thoughtful consideration, where Canada’s place on the world stage is seen as principled and laudatory, where human rights for all is the emblem of a decent civilized society.”
These are powerful words, made more pungent by the growing state of unrest within the Canadian citizenry and a concurrent desire to “return to a vibrant democracy,” as Stephen Lewis phrased it. But before we return to such a place of meaning we must first detour by the ballot box in October and claim through our rightful ideals the kind of politics we want.