“Canada is at a critical moment, an inflection point where all of us have a responsibility to try to bend the arc of history in the right direction so that our children and their children enjoy the same quality of life and equality of opportunity that we have had. That will not happen if, collectively, we keep going for bronze.”
One of the more crass elements of elections is how political parties seek primacy while frequently feigning that it’s all about the public good. That has always been the pattern, and the expected “pandemic” election will show elements of it as well.
There’s a lot at stake during this political season, however. In the quote at the beginning of this piece, Anthony Lacavera and Kate Fillion talk of how the time has come to comprehend the seriousness of our situation in their book How We Can Win. To be the first generation where our kids won’t fare better than we did is a clear indication of how we have lost sight of the more meaningful goals that once drove this nation.
COVID has had a mixed effect on Canadians. On the one hand, there has been a temporary sense of empathy, a feeling that “we’re all this together” and that our health systems require better supports. Conversely, the trust citizens have for politics and institutions is in decline, as Canadians increasingly focus on their own lives in a time of the pandemic.
The story is there in the polls and surveys from the past year. Canadians are trusting less. The Edelman Trust Barometer noted that only 53 per cent of citizens trust core institutions like business, government, media, and non-governmental organizations.
Two years ago, a Donald Savoie article in the Globe and Mail was titled: Canada’s political institutions are failing. The next parliament must save them. That “next” parliament is almost upon us, and if it’s like what we have at present, the opportunity to renew this country for the post-pandemic future will be lost.
Twenty years ago, there was a clear sense that the world, and Canada, were heading to a better place. The economy was solid and technological development convinced us that we now had powerful tools to drive the change for the better. There were problems, but we were in the process of overcoming them.
No one is sure of that anymore. Rightly or wrongly, increasing numbers of Canadians believe this country is in decline and that elections just don’t seem capable of fixing the problem.
Robert Menzies termed times like this as the “twilight age,” and it resonates with Canadians. Consider his insight:
“Periodically in Western history, twilight ages make their appearance. People feel like they are in a vacuum. Human loyalties, uprooted from accustomed soil, can be seen tumbling across the landscape with no scheme of larger purpose to fix them. There is a widely expressed sense of degradation of values and corruption of culture. The sense of estrangement from community is strong.”
This is troubling stuff, but it drives how increasing numbers of Canadians think at this moment. Something isn’t right, and we are constantly struggling to know what it might entail. It’s moments like this that populism strides onto the stage in an attempt to capitalize on people’s anger and alienation. But what it offers is just as incapable of solving our problems than what it seeks to replace.
And it’s not just about our politics. It also speaks to a declining sense of citizen responsibility. It is easier for us to get peeved than to plan, target blame rather than seeking a time to build. Everybody must have their opinion-whether or not it is correct or even effective. We find it easier to blame our politicians than to accept some of the personal blame for the weakening of our communities.
This is the backdrop that the next election will be set in. The days of hope, while we still wish for them, seem somehow to be moving out of reach. We have numerous causes but no cause, millions of voices but no voice. Every viewpoint counts for something, but if it can’t respect those it opposes, or seek to find common cause for building something better, then millions of voices can merely become a din.
These are hard days, even for Canadians. Whatever it is that is ailing us is not the reason why this election will be called. All parties will be vying for prominence when they should all focus on how to fix the dysfunction and disillusionment that presently ails us. We require a new era of collaboration to confront what is eroding our sense of hope. We need citizens to stop targeting and shaming each other, but that’s tough to do when your politicians do the same thing.
If this coming election can’t carry a different tone, a more heartening sense of cooperation, then it won’t matter who wins if they can’t put this country back together again on a common path. Make this election about that, and it will be an election that truly matters.