The days and weeks since I started this thread of blogs has led to much soul-searching. It hasn't been easy. Some of the feedback I've received has criticized the rather negative tone of the offerings. But, truth to tell, I haven't set out to be negative in all of this. I have tried to gain insight from all of these readings.... and, also truth to tell, the accumulated negative insights have been nothing more than coincidence. It just so happens that the writers I have picked up lately have found not much good to say about our home and native land. I have merely co-ordinated their thoughts into the summaries in parts 1 and 2.
For myself, I have been wondering how it came to be that we have shrunk so dramatically in the world. I am aware that we are still a large, wealthy, productive country, and that our society, by and large, is still civil and safe and functioning. But I can't help sharing in the pessimism of all the writers I have come across lately. Why, despite our apparent wealth and affluence, are we such an irrelevance in the world? I have some theories:
1) Navel Gazing
Over the last 30 years or so, there has been one over-riding political issue that has shaped our efforts: the so-called National Unity issue. This is really a code word for Quebec: what should we do about them, and what do they want? In the mid 1970's, the spectre of Quebec separation was as horrifyingly real as any nightmare on elm street, and the prospect of Canada breaking apart was unthinkable. As the years unfolded, we have endured provincial and federal elections which placed this issue at the core of how the federal government thought, planned and operated. We have endured referenda in Quebec, the most recent of which almost achieved the ultimate goal of sovereignists in that province. The issue now seems to be on a type of back burner, but if you carefully observe the way power has slowly and almost deviously devolved over the last few years, you come to realize that Quebec is now a member of Confederation only when it benefits them to be so, and only when we choose to mention it. It would not take much to re-kindle the passions associated with this issue, and fan it into a full-blown inferno again.
Similarly, although on a smaller scale, the provinces have been chipping away at the authority of the federal government. Now, instead of having formal first ministers' conferences to deal with co-operation on large issues, the premiers converse with each other and reach agreements with each other, sometimes in groups of 10 provinces, most times in much smaller groups, and enact legislation in their home provinces that resemble that in neighbouring provinces. A strong central government? Where? And what's more, Ottawa seems content to let it happen: the less the federal government has to deal with, the better.
Because of our fixation with "dealing with", or perhaps more accurately appeasing those who threaten the unity of our confederation, we have been paralyzed and unable to do much with asserting our place in the world. We cannot assert who were are to others until we know who we are ourselves.
2) The Economy
Most Canadians, over the last two decades, have become more aware of and intent in creating wealth for themselves. We invest, we pay more attention to markets and trends, we worry about employment and taking care of ourselves and our families. We have become pre-occupied with having our governments act more responsibly with our public finances, while we, as individuals, have wracked up more personal debt than ever before. We consume greedily and believe it to be good. Accountants have taken on more of a controlling role in how institutions make decisions. There is nothing wrong with being fiscally repsonsible, but the trend seems to be going to the extreme. Fiduciary interests take precedence over doing things for altruistic or other reasons. The bean-counters rule, and we seem to like that, as long as we can get some of the money ourselves.
Similarly, in the area of trade, we really have only one significant trading partner: the United States. This makes sense, until you realize that the only reason we are content with the US is because they are large and they are close: we really don't have to work very hard to become wealthy as long as we are attached at the hip to the Americans. Despite a few much-trumpeted trade initiatives with other areas of the world ( China, India, Europe ) we seem to be content to do business with our American cousins. Fine, this has made us rich. But it has also made us fat, lazy, complacent, dependent, and willing to let our big cousin run things.
Or, perhaps, the lack of it. After Pierre Trudeau, or even Brian Mulroney, can you name a Canadian leader who has actually stood for something grand, some large idea of ourselves and our nation? Can you even name one? Ironically, one man who comes close to espousing a vision of how things should be done was none other than Mike Harris, the devil incarnate. Although I disagree and oppose everything he stood for, he at least stood for something. So did Ralph Klein, Rene Levesque, and Peter Lougheed. Is there no visionary leadership which espouses a type of liberal-democratic philosophy which could shape our nation the way it needs to be shaped? None is present, and none seems to be on the horizon.
I may be a cynical old man now, but I can't help thinking what kind of a society we would be if we actually cared a bit more. We do care about things, of course. Watch what happens if our cable TV rates go up, or if we have to pay a new form of tax, or if we lose Olympic hockey. Watch us when it's Roll up the Rim time, or, God help us, if the Leafs ever win a Stanley Cup. On more serious notes, we grieve whenever one of our soldiers dies in Afghanistan, or if a child goes missing, and we like to contribute donations to earthquake-ravaged nations. But, overall, we seem to be content to sleep walk through national life: as long as we have our iphones, twitter and facebook, a job, a car, flat screen HD TV's, nice clothes, a vacation, and sports, we're happy and who cares what comes down the road? The World? It's opinion of Canada? Our place in it and how we can shape it? What's in it for me?
This is why things are the way they are, at least to me. So, it's easy to complain and be cynical and wring hands. How to solve it? Well, I feel that I am closer now to offering some solutions, but they will arrive in my fourth and final post in this thread.