Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
February 12, 2001
Creating a new national dream
It's all about choices. In the 1870s and 1880s, Canada's federal government pushed to build a railroad across this country so that our nation could span the northern half of the continent. It was a remarkably expensive and bold endeavour. And it succeeded.
During the 1990s, a time of unprecedented prosperity, the Canadian government had a golden opportunity to vastly reduce the amount of poverty in this country. Instead it chose to cut social programs and health care in order to eliminate the deficit and to keep inflation at extremely low levels. There were other ways to eliminate the deficit, ways the government chose to ignore even though it would have meant sharing the burden more equitably.
In their Feb. 2 open letter to members of Parliament, the bishops of the social affairs commission call the 1990s "a squandered opportunity for social justice." A decade after the House of Commons had unanimously approved a resolution pledging to eliminate poverty among Canadian children, the number of children living in poverty had grown. This, despite our unprecedented prosperity.
The bishops also express one of the Bible's main principles for a good society: "The goods of the world are meant for everyone, with no one having the right to take more than they need at the expense of others." They also note the results of a major public opinion survey: "A large majority of Canadians continue to worry about moving toward a more divided society of haves and have-nots."
The obvious question arises: Why, if the principles of justice call for greater economic equity, if the vast majority of Canadians want to see such equity and if the House of Commons unanimously wants to eliminate child poverty, are we going in the opposite direction? Why is there a growing gap between rich and poor?
We may find an answer starting with the newspaper article that says corporate donors are pressuring the Canadian Alliance and the federal Tories to unite into one federal party. During the recent election campaign these two parties treated each other with disdain and had significantly different platforms. When the now-defunct Reform Party was pushing the Tories to form a "united alternative," Tory leader Joe Clark scorned the entreaties.
What has changed is that now corporate donors are threatening to withhold campaign contributions until the two parties unite. That seems to have been enough to bring Clark to do an about-face. And, more importantly, it shows the extent to which big corporations control the Canadian political process.
It is evident that if we want a government that respects the interests of the majority of the people, rather than those of Bay Street, we will need major election financing reform. We might also do well to move towards some form of proportional representation in Parliament so that all votes cast in an election are represented in Parliament and political parties of markedly different views are not coerced into uniting on the basis of their lowest common denominator.
In short, we need a government that treats corporate interests in proper perspective and not as an overwhelmingly dominant special interest that tends to cancel out the will of the people.
Poverty in Canada is a shame. We do not have the same baggage of ethnic or tribal warfare, an entrenched landed aristocracy, or a lack of education or natural resources that have produced poverty in other nations. Canada has no excuses. Indeed, we can even believe that MPs were sincere when they voted to eliminate child poverty. Unfortunately, we have an economic system that, left to its own resources, will create poverty and a political leadership that is all too beholden to its economic masters.
But . . . we can choose to change that. Just as Canadians built a railway from sea to sea, so too can they complete a project that ends child poverty. This, indeed, would be a far nobler goal. All we need is the leadership to make this national desire a reality.
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