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Monday, September 15, 2008

Canadians Stuck in Groundhog Day Nightmare

With the federal election now finally underway, Canadians must demand civil, constructive political discourse on how to meet the serious challenges that lie on the horizon. Let us have a debate about ideas and policies, not of personalities and organization.

We need national politicians who will speak forcefully and clearly about governing in the best interest of all Canadians, our children and grandchildren. We need national government that is innovative, that works for Canadians, not against us.

Above all we need bold, vigorous national leadership that can accelerate the pace of change in critical areas. We need inspiration and imagination, to pull together for the common good in the uncertain times that lie ahead.

For almost three years, our prime minister’s unrestrained partisanship and petty politics have betrayed a serious lack of national leadership and had a corrosive influence on our national fabric.

Instead of urgent national action on climate change, our prime minister seeks to stifle intelligent debate by childishly characterizing the Liberal Green Shift proposals as “insane”, “a tax on everything”, and an “attempt to screw everybody”.

Harper has dissipated serious national effort or initiatives into divisive discussions of whether this or that province needs a special side deal, or whether this or that premier needs more powers. Our federal government is risk averse and indecisive. Canadians too often resign ourselves to mediocrity.

Instead of urgent national action to address our massive infrastructure deficit and lack of adequate public transit, we have a series of à la carte political deals to transfer bits and pieces or money and projects to compliant provinces, together with useless boutique tax credits.

Instead of national action to bring Medicare into the 21st century and provide for comparable medically-required services for all Canadians, our prime minister and his acolytes continue the tired-out mantra that Medicare is a matter of provincial jurisdiction. Tommy Douglas must be turning in his grave at the timidity and lack of national vision on the part of those who purport to carry on his legacy.

Instead of a strong coherent effective Canadian presence on the international stage, we have foreign and trade policy veering off in 10 different directions, with provinces establishing more and more international initiatives and missions abroad to promote, not Canada’s interest, but the province’s.

We are trapped in a “Groundhog Day” nightmare — like Bill Murray, the frustrated weatherman, condemned to repeat the same old debates about provincial powers and autonomy, over and over and over, until what remains of a common national purpose is worn down and worn out, by men and women of no vision.

Canadians are Canadians when we face the challenges of the 21st century, whatever our province or territory. We should be demanding national action and national standards, not denouncing them.

Of course we have multiple levels of government. But it is the same Canadians who elect all the politicians at the different levels, and we are entitled to insist that they work together for Canada, and not engage in petty power plays.

The only way out of our Groundhog Day nightmare is to elect national politicians who will once and for all speak on behalf of all Canadians, not the premiers or provinces — politicians who can see Canada as a nation with a purpose, and not just as a nice place to live. We must put some energy back into Ottawa. A collection of provinces and territories is not a country.

If it makes sense, as it does, not to have 10 different climate change policies, our national politicians must say this and not be immediately accused as being heavy-handed centralists by those who would keep us trapped in our Groundhog Day nightmare. We need strong national action on the environment, and a minister of the environment on a par with the minister of finance.

If it makes sense, as it does, to have strong national action to invest in critical infrastructure and public transit, our national politicians must say this, and not be accused of intruding unacceptably into provincial jurisdictions.

If it makes sense, as it does, to have a coherent Canadian presence on the world stage in the multiplying areas that require global cooperation and effective global action, then our national politicians should be able to make this assertion without hysterical reactions from small-minded provincialists.

We are Canadians without borders, with bridges and bonds to many countries, looking forward to an exciting future. We have enormous potential to contribute to the global challenge of climate change and planetary survival, and to show the world that the most diverse, cosmopolitan nation in history can function successfully and effectively as a liberal democracy with full respect for rights and responsibilities, and be a significant leader in the global community. Our next national government must be up to the challenge.

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