Thursday, January 27, 2011

'This vision of Canada is being dismantled'

Erna Paris, in The Walrus (March 2011):

The New Solitudes
Canada was once defined by the schism between English and French. Today, our divide is increasingly ideological. Can it be bridged?

Most Canadians can recite our traditional values by heart, even if we no longer embrace them in identical ways. They are, in a nutshell: moderation in civil discourse; toleration of dissent; support for human rights and the institutions of civil society; respect for the rule of law; a commitment to mutilateralism abroad and pluralism at home; and a dedication to the public good, which includes a sensitivity to our uniqueness as one of the world's most ethnically diverse countries... Now this vision of Canada is being dismantled...

Errol Mendes, a professor of constitutional and international law at the University of Ottawa, thinks that what drives [Prime Minister Stephen Harper] is not traditional libertarianism, which may be socially progressive because of its core commitment to unfettered personal freedom, but rather a version of hard-right, US-style Republican politics that might be termed the modern 'Night Watchman.' The Night Watchman is a nineteenth-century theoretical construct in which government assumes only minimal responsibility for the citizenry. Its role is limited to protecting individuals from crime, and the country from foreign aggression: in other words, it is responsible only for the police, the judiciary, prisons, and the military...

The underlying question is what constitutes a good society. Across millennia of human history, philosophers, political leaders, artists, and ordinary people have debated the social order of their respective eras. What matters is public engagement... We need a reasoned and, above all, courteous discussion about what we want Canadian society to look like in ten or twenty years. The language of insult is intended to intimidate and silence. Without courtesy, we cannot talk to one another.
Image source here.