Monday, August 13, 2007

Another Inconvenient Truth

I just finished reading Al Gore's latest book, The Assault on Reason. The book is about the deteriorating state of democracy in America, how it got that way and how to fix it. It is an excellent, thoughtful read.

There are a couple of things from the book that are relevant to Canadians. The first is that the political system that was created for America was very intentional, thoughtful and deliberate. This is in contrast to the Canadian system which was created on the basis of "that's the way they do it in (sigh and look heavenward) England". It was like, at least until Tommy Douglas, Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau came along, we didn't need our own kinds of institutions, because, after all, "that's the way they do it in (sigh and look heavenward) England".

When I read Nelson Mandela's autobiography, The Long Walk to Freedom, I remember he thought South Africa should have a Westminster style of government, not just because he was, at some level, an Anglophile, but also because he thought it provided a fair and equitable form of governance, necessary for the new, democratic government he wanted to create for South Africa. The example there shows some thought about the type of government the country should have, not just "that's the way they do it in (sigh and look heavenward) England".

That said, I love Canada and Canadian institutions, like, for example, the Westminster style government, the RCMP, the NHL and watching the same American sitcom on three different TV channels. Five if you have cable. Twenty-six if you have satellite. Okay, the CRTC is not one of my favourite Canadian institutions, I mean, can somebody explain to me why all the major American networks are part of basic cable, but the BBC isn't? Sorry, that was a tangent. The point that I was trying to get to, before loosing my mind in a tangent, was that I think we are well served by our institutions despite the haphazard manner in which they were bestowed upon us, we acquired, accepted the great benevolence of, inherited.

The second thing, which I think is far more important for Canadians, and even others with representational forms of governance, is the way in which America's democracy became dysfunctional. It wasn't a matter of one day "we the people" and the next day warrant-less wire tapping, it was slow and gradual, and I think Al Gore's book suggests that it was not part of some overarching conspiracy, which was a bit disappointing, because I love a good conspiracy. Would you like to talk about JFK some time with me? It was a long road from FDR's New Deal, through World War II, internment of American citizens of Japanese descent, the abuses of both J. Edgar Hoover and Senator Joseph McCarthy, the end of official segregation, the Vietnam War, the impeachment of Nixon, the stolen 2000 election to come to the point where America now has a president who thinks he is quite literally above the law.

We have a statement of rights in Canada, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and we need to be aware of what they are and engaged with the process by which they could be changed or abrogated. It means we need to be literate about what our rights and our obligations are, and we need to make sure that those who come after us, and those who immigrate are also educated about their rights and obligations.

The Harper government has tried to pull off some of the same limitations of public debate that the current American administration has been successful with. For example, attempting to ban the media from repatriation ceremonies: read, read and read. If we are going to send good men and woman into harm's way, and if they should die as a result of our choice, shouldn’t their sacrifice be publicly acknowledged? Shouldn’t this be part of the debate of the legitimacy of the Afghanistan mission? Doesn’t this take away a family's choice about what they think is the best way to honour their loved one?

The Harper government has attempted to limit media access: read, read and read. This improves political discourse how? This makes government operate more efficiently how? This makes you better informed about your government how?

One last thing, clearly, I have no idea what "light summer reading" really means.
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