In this space, it is not uncommon for the editorial commentary to rail about something the government (often the federal Conservatives presently holding power in Ottawa) has done, or not done, or has not done quickly enough (or too quickly) or certainly should do.
We should hasten to point out that although the federal Conservatives have often been the target in recent years, so too have been the federal Liberals, when they held power and provincial governments of every hue in their day in office: successive Liberal, NDP and Progressive Conservative governments at Queen’s Park, for example.
As the paper goes to press to publish this week’s edition, dated for Canada Day, Wednesday, July 1, 2015, it is important to reflect on the fact that, in our country, most of us take for granted our ability to criticize governments at every level as we deem necessary and providing, of course, that our published arguments for better governance hold up to scrutiny and are presented in a logical manner, hopefully without fear or favour.
In our Canada, no matter which party is holding the reins of power in Ottawa, Queen’s Park, Winnipeg, Victoria, Edmonton, Regina, Halifax, Quebec City, Charlottetown, Fredericton, St. John’s, Iqaluit, Whitehorse or Yellowknife we are free to offer constructive criticism of our governments without fear of future intimidation, incarceration, torture or “disappearance.”
Many readers who have just finished this last list of threatening possibilities may think to themselves, “what?!” for the notion of violent response to criticism, by governing parties, is something Canadians do not readily contemplate.
It’s something we take for granted and Canada, like the rest of the western democratic nations, is fortunate in having this as a part of our heritage, ingrained in the way we do politics.
The ordinary citizens of very many other nations, and this certainly includes the news media that represents these citizens, are not nearly as fortunate as Canadians and for them what they can take for granted is the very real possibility of intimidation, incarceration, torture and even being made to disappear should they speak out, whether in person or in print, with a message with which the government (or dictatorship or rule by “colonels”) does not approve.
Russia, ostensibly a modern and somewhat European nation, is a good example of the culture of intimidation and it is for good reason that the other modern nations that comprise the G8 group that meets twice annually to discuss common (usually economic) concerns have decided they will, for now, become the G7 and have fired Russia from the organization, citing its rapid annexation of Crimea from Ukraine just after Russia had hosted the most recent winter Olympic games as well as its fomenting and support of an insurgency intent on disrupting the independent Ukrainian nation. Add to this the incarceration of the all-female satirical band Pussy Riot three years ago (they had invited themselves into a Russian Orthodox church in Moscow where they performed songs lampooning President Vladimir Putin and his government, and we are left with the picture that Russian citizens, even in their post-USSR “independent” country, do not get up in the morning and feel they can criticize their government without the understanding that there very likely will be personal consequences to them. That is what they get to take for granted and this is also the case for citizens of China and of the many dictatorships in central Africa in Egypt, in North Korea, in Iran, to cite a few examples.
So here we are on Canada Day, or you may be reading this commentary at some point during the “Canada Day week” and don’t we have much for which we can be thankful as citizens of our Canada?
We have one of the most prosperous economies in the world, a universal health care system, a large proportion of the world’s fresh water, the ability to travel throughout and also beyond our country at will for both holidays and work- related opportunities. Our country has managed to embrace immigrants of very diverse origins and, in Canada, we’ve made this work in our favour; no small accomplishment.
We have chosen to deal head-on with the shameful heritage of the residential school experience and other similar efforts to strip First Nations people of their culture and language and have and have just finished the important first stage of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on this issue and now face the even more important stage of following through with some of the commission’s major recommendations.
This is Canada. We are a common sense people and we have every reason to expect that our government and our citizens will carry on to accomplish in time many of the significant recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
If our governments are slow to act on these things, then it is our right (and duty) to publicly hold elected officials to account and to demand better for this is the process that, in our Canada, we can take for granted.
Happy Birthday Canada.