Thursday, February 16, 2012

Radical policies for which no one voted

Rowan Williams is the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, an office that dates back 1,400 years. Often outspoken, occasionally radical, Williams served for one issue last summer as guest editor of the New Statesmen, a British publication with a long record of presenting alternative opinions.

In the magazine, Williams posed questions and sought answers about issues fundamental to democracy. These were not matters of partisan politics; the concerns are ones that should be discussed in all parties. Given directions that Stephen Harper's majority government is choosing, I think Canadians need a more active dialog about similar matters.

The Archbishop does not criticize specific policies of government but says politicians must do a more complete job of articulating objectives and creating reasoned debate. He wrote this:
"...With remarkable speed, we are being committed to radical, long-term policies for which no one voted. At the very least, there is an understandable anxiety about what democracy means in such a context. Not many people want government by plebiscite, certainly. ...The anxiety and anger have to do with the feeling that not enough has been exposed to proper public argument.

"...If civil society organisations are going to have to pick up responsibilities shed by government, the crucial questions are these. First, what services must have cast-iron guarantees of nationwide standards, parity and continuity? ... Second, how, therefore, does national government underwrite these strategic "absolutes" so as to make sure that, even in a straitened financial climate, there is a continuing investment in the long term, a continuing response to what most would see as root issues: child poverty, poor literacy, the deficit in access to educational excellence, sustainable infrastructure in poorer communities (rural as well as urban), and so on?

"... But there is another theological strand to be retrieved that is not about "the poor" as objects of kindness but about the nature of sustainable community, seeing it as one in which what circulates - like the flow of blood - is the mutual creation of capacity, building the ability of the other person or group to become, in turn, a giver of life and responsibility..."
In this country, empowered by the parliamentary majority gained in 2011, Harper has shifted government priorities, putting the appetites of large scale commerce before other interests, industrial expansion over environmental stewardship, militarization over diplomacy, autocracy over egalitarianism and authoritarianism over respect for civil rights and freedoms. Traditional values of Canada have been degraded, supposedly to improve national security but certainly to provide gains for economic aristocracies. Most recently, rights to personal privacy are sacrificed allegedly over fears of online smut peddlers.

As Archbishop Williams wrote, with remarkable speed, we are being committed to radical, long-term policies for which no one voted. Nor have we had a broad discussion of issues before moving in this direction. On the contrary, Harper downplayed his moralist aims and spoke of moderate objectives and respect for individual rights.

The new country that Canada has suddenly become was noted recently in SLATE, an online magazine owned by the Washington Post Company, decidedly not an anti-establishment enterprise:
"It’s well known that America’s dependence on foreign oil forces us to partner with some pretty unsavory regimes. Take, for instance, the country that provides by far the largest share of our petroleum imports. Its regime, in thrall to big oil interests, has grown increasingly bellicose, labeling environmental activists “radicals” and “terrorists” and is considering a crackdown on nonprofits that oppose its policies. It blames political dissent on the influence of “foreigners,” while steamrolling domestic opposition to oil projects bankrolled entirely by overseas investors. Meanwhile, its skyrocketing oil exports have sent the value of its currency soaring, enriching energy industry barons but crippling other sectors of its economy.

"Yes, Canada is becoming a jingoistic petro-state.

"OK, so our friendly northern neighbor isn’t exactly Saudi Arabia or Venezuela. But neither is it the verdant progressive utopia once viewed as a haven by American liberals fed up with George W. Bush. These days Canada has a Dubya of its own..."
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8 comments:

  1. I think SLATE sums up Canada at the moment quite nicely. The archbishop is quite right when he says the poor shouldn't just be thought of as objects of kindness, but as integral the well being of the broader community. I don't if that's radical from a theological perpesctive but it certainly seems radical to me.

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  2. Yes Slate paints an accurate, if ugly, picture of Harper's government. In fact, an ugly picture of Canada. That American voice is speaking ideas that our corporate media chooses to ignore.

    In addition to threatening environmental devastation, greater exports of oil will degrade the economy for most Canadians. It will drive up energy prices for Canadians by billions of dollars. it will guarantee that Canadian job prospects are reduced because natural resources that could be put to work in this country will shipped overseas to economies where workers rights are determined by those who hold guns and keys to the prisons.

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  3. I have read and enjoyed your blog for a long time now. This piece stands out for its simplicity and elegance in defining the speeding train we all seem to be riding on. I, for one, would like to see it slow down, let us off for a break, and allow us to choose our own destination.

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  4. Please don't underestimate Slate's statement that "skyrocketing oil exports have sent the value of its currency soaring, enriching energy industry barons but crippling other sectors of its economy."

    Exporting industries such as forestry struggle with the high Canadian dollar yet we don't see lower consumer prices on imported goods because this country's laws enable distributors to fix prices at retail.

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    Replies
    1. Probably, it's less the extra value of exports leaving the country and more the Chinese government and currency speculators driving up the Canadian dollar. China is buying out large pieces of the tar sands.

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  5. It sounds cliche but I really did travel with a Canadian flag on my backpack...now the connotation, as I personally see it, is different....we have excellent people with the highest levels of expertise in so many different areas...we were able to compete and provide for ourselves just fine when we were the "Old Canada"....even the one that had no Sunday shopping

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  6. About 60 years ago tens of thousands of Canadians died defeating a terrible fascist state, saving European democracy from an Orwellian black void of Nazism.

    Today, Canada is governed by a kinder and gentler fascists, propped up by petro dollars and chipping away at the freedoms so dearly won those many years ago.

    Herr Harper = corn pone fascism.

    Who is not afraid to take on this tin pot dictator and his malignant crew.

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  7. "Please don't underestimate Slate's statement that "skyrocketing oil exports have sent the value of its currency soaring, enriching energy industry barons but crippling other sectors of its economy."

    There's a name for this pathology, it is "Dutch Disease." When the wooden shoe wearing folks discovered oil off-shore they went on a binge (the oil is virtually gone now) which through the distortion of becoming a "petro-state" destroyed much, if not most, of their previously mixed economy by artificially inflating their currency, causing inflation and destroying their export markets for products other than oil - just like what is occurring in Canada as I type.

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