As we get set to ring in the new year, let us count our blessings: thank goodness for Canadian politics. No, we aren’t being sarcastic. Nor have we been into the eggnog at an unreasonable hour. We are serious.
Canadian politics is, to be sure, frequently a miserable spectacle. We expect much comedy in the coming year and not in a good way. But it will all happen without assassinations, riots, sudden disappearances, opposition newspapers mysteriously running out of paper or any of the things that plague so much of the world.
Somewhere on the Internet, someone called Nicki Minaj is in trouble for getting $2 million to perform for Eduardo dos Santos, who has been president of the unhappy, impoverished country of Angola for 36 years.
In nearby Zimbabwe is Robert Mugabe, a villainous Marxist who has so ruined his once-prosperous country with the aid of a thuggish political machine and violent, unreasoning supporters, that it literally had to abandon its currency six years ago. The tribulations of the Canadian dollar are minor by comparison. It is not to say we should ignore our troubles. But we should keep them in perspective.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, for instance, is not to everyone’s liking. And others may have felt that former prime minister Stephen Harper was in office for far too long. Before that, an esteemed Canadian pundit wrote a book on the Chrétien years called The Friendly Dictatorship. But Jean Chrétien was no dictator. Nor was Harper. Canada has never had a dictator and there is no prospect of it ever having one.
No one is afraid to vote for an opposition party or to declare loudly that they did so
We have free, fair elections. Much nonsense is spouted on the stump, and occasionally childish shenanigans distort the outcome at a few polling stations or, very rarely, a whole riding. But they don’t get away with it. Moreover, the police are not politicized. The courts are not politicized. No one is afraid to vote for an opposition party or to declare loudly that they did so.
Many members of this editorial board did not vote Liberal. The newspaper endorsed the Conservative incumbents, a decision some members of the board also did not support. But no one is going to be found hacked to bits by a machete for it, have their child vanish or even find their tires slashed.
Canadian politics is also blessed in another way that it is easy to overlook because we are so used to it: it is not corrupt. Canada regularly ranks near the very top of Transparency International’s surveys of corruption perceptions, along with Scandinavia, Switzerland and Australia, ahead of even Britain and the United States. Both our political and our economic life are mercifully free of the taint of bribery; those rare occasions when money does change hands under the table continue to shock us.
We should not take these things for granted. There is a deep streak of decency and restraint in Canadian politics. And it takes more than a few decades of increasingly vulgar, stupid electioneering and insultingly manipulative spin control to undermine it. But it is a great blessing and if we do not cultivate it, denounce deliberate idiocy even more resolutely than the accidental kind and refuse to accept a debasement of standards, it is possible to drift into cynicism, anger and one day into genuinely unsavory politics.
To avoid even starting down this road, there is one rule we would strongly urge on political practitioners, commentators and supporters to follow: apply the same standards to your own “team” as you would to the others.
If something would be wrong if your opponents did it, it’s wrong if your guys and gals do it, too. If it’s OK when you do it, it’s OK when they do. And if you realize, in opposition, that you’re scandalized by conduct you engaged in while in office, have the decency to state frankly that you did it too and now you’re sorry.
We may be laughed at for that suggestion, especially by the hard, clever, shallow people who dominate the infamous backrooms. But it seems to us that Canadians are increasingly fed up with the cynical, “that’s how the game is played” spin. And we’re glad of it.
Canada is a great nation because of what our governments and politicians don’t do to us
Canada is one of the greatest countries in the world. Not only because it is prosperous. And not only because we are fortunate to live next door to the greatest power the world has ever seen, not merely in its military or economic might, but in the fundamental decency that makes annexation or invasion a prospect even the paranoid scorn. Canada is a great nation because of what our governments and politicians don’t do to us.
Clearly there is much room for improvement. Government is far too big in Canada, far too expensive, far too arrogant and politicians are too cynical, mean-spirited and smug. We cannot afford to be complacent. But it would be foolish, also, to succumb to cynicism and apathy given what great good fortune we have enjoyed, continue to enjoy and, if we are vigilant and determined, will continue to enjoy.