Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
October 3, 2005
Give the PM a dose of gumption
Canada faces enormous challenges to maintain its current place in the world. It is reassuring to see that Prime Minister Paul Martin at least acknowledge those challenges in a Sept. 20 speech outlining his vision for the government's future to senior civil servants. But whether Martin's Liberals - or any other political party - have what it takes to meet those challenges is at best questionable.
Martin says the two greatest challenges facing Canada are our aging population and the rise of economic competitors such as India and China. Especially in light of skyrocketing gasoline prices and global warming, he might also have tackled the question of how Canadians will tackle the future with diminished access to petroleum.
None of these questions will be resolved overnight. They all will require Canadians to make long-term sacrifices - not something which any politician who wishes to get re-elected is prone to request.
Birth rates across the Western world have declined sharply just at the time when life expectancy is reaching historic highs. The result, of course, will be a lot more people living on pensions and requiring health and other government-funded services when the workforce paying taxes to support those services has diminished.
The federal government will likely soon sharply increase immigration in order to delay the day of reckoning. But it is loathe to end Canada's policy of abortion on demand and to encourage citizens to have larger families - seemingly obvious first steps to restoring normal demographic curves.
Further, while the government promotes a universal day care program, it shies away from giving financial support to parents willing to raise their children at home. Again, couples where one parent stays home to raise the young children would seem to be better bets to have larger families than ones where both parents are at work.
On the petroleum issue, the government has toyed with implementing the Kyoto Accord and has, so far at least, resisted calls to cut gasoline taxes. But where will it get the backbone to actually raise those taxes to fund development of mass transit in a world where petroleum demand far exceeds expected supply? Few issues are more emotional to ordinary citizens than having immediate access to their mighty internal-combustion steed.
These concerns cut to the core of democracy. People are not inclined to elect politicians who tell them they will have to work longer, live on smaller pensions, pay higher taxes and eventually abandon the family car.
We would much rather hear that our riotous way of life will continue undiminished and have politicians shovel out $400 to every man, woman and child.
We need leaders who will be able to truly lead - to get a resistant population to accept bitter medicine to enable the long-term common good. Once upon a time, Martin did get the Canadian people to accept unpopular cuts in order to balance the budget. The challenge he faces now is an even larger one.
In his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II spoke of the need for global economic development and concluded, "This may mean making important changes in established lifestyles, in order to limit the waste of environmental and human resources, thus enabling every individual and all the peoples of the earth to have a sufficient share of those resources."
But the pope was not running for election. If he had been running for office on a platform like that, he might well not have been elected.
For Canada to avoid turning into an economic cripple, hard decisions will have to be made and lifestyles will have to change.
Better that we should do that voluntarily and gradually than to have it forced upon us all at once on the day the music dies.
- Glen Argan
Letter to the Editor - 10/31/05
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