Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Sunday, March 06, 2011
When an important voice in this country was silenced this week, I confess I was stunned.
OTTAWA—Identity has long been a Canadian crisis. Living next door to an economic and cultural giant makes we-the-pygmies a little nervous and a lot self-conscious.
Understandable as that entrenched uncertainty is, it masks a more immediate challenge. If the 21st century is to belong to Canada in ways the 20th never quite did, Canadians must abandon the notion that they are merely clients of the state and assert their rights as owners of the country.
The difference between customer and proprietor is pivotal. Customers are content with the timely delivery of pleasing goods and services. Proprietors must safeguard the long-term stability, growth and competitiveness of the enterprise.
Nothing in 2010 better defines us as country of customers than the wanton destruction of the mandatory long-form census. A vital management tool was discarded as carelessly and with as little concern for consequences as a service satisfaction survey.
Like those ubiquitous surveys, the census is now missing a sense of protracted engagement. Leaders looking ahead only as far as the next election find no more benefit in requiring citizens to commit time to shaping the future than casual, one-time dinner and hotel guests see in filling out tell-us-how-to-serve-you better forms.
What’s astonishing is how much is being sacrificed for so little political advantage. Information essential to planning everything from national services to local transportation were tossed away to please a splinter minority encouraged to mistake its collection as yet another threatening manifestation of big government’s Big Brother curiosity.
Worrying as a misconception, the resulting erosion of the country’s database is much more troubling as part of a trend. Federal policies too often respond now to widely-held perceptions rather than to closely-examined realities.
If that pattern fails to move the country forward it at least creates a comfort zone for politicians. Freed from the discipline of fact-based analysis they promise to hog-tie complex problems with simplistic solutions.
So it is that we plunge into a new year in politics full of hope. Escaping shackling deficits requires no painful collective choices, just a tug or two on fat-cat bureaucrat belts. Cutting corporate taxes will somehow trickle down into jobs and productivity. Building super-prisons will make safe streets safer as surely as the threat of merciless retribution will end crimes of passion and desperation.
TV shoppers will recognize the shtick. Anything is possible in a caveat emptor universe where a vegetable chopper puts happy faces on sad lives and just five fun minutes per day stands between obesity and buffed.
Hard as it is to disappoint those operators standing by for calls, truth is harder. Miracle gizmos have roughly the same success rate changing lives as quick fixes have in advancing the lasting interests of nations.
It’s probably true that the natural and inherited blessings of this peaceable kingdom mean we can survive, perhaps even thrive, for a while longer as bargain-hunting consumers instead of concerned proprietors. But it’s also true that, without effort and maintenance, nothing this good lasts forever.
The officially vandalized census is one of many signs of a country no longer willing to make the modest effort needed to maintain itself. Others include our studied silence on what will be required to balance budgets while preserving world-class public health care, ensuring global competitiveness and cleaning up our environmental mess.
Citizens content to be clients can shrug away those concerns. Canadians who remember that they own the place can’t afford to be so complacent.
James Travers' column appears Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
I will miss him greatly.