In case you had any doubt, the Harper Conservative you’re-on-your-own ideology came into sharper focus just in time for the Christmas season.
It started with Industry Minister James Moore’s blunt and blasé comments on child poverty. It’s not the government’s problem, he pronounced.
“Is it the government’s job, is it my job to feed my neighbour’s child? I don’t think so,” said Mr. Moore.
After a firestorm of shocked responses from Canadians, Mr. Moore apologized for his “insensitive comment” uttered days before Christmas. What he did not apologize for or reassess was his belief in the kind of fend-for-yourself country his remarks support.
The apology came likely because this is the season of goodwill and it is no time to remind Canadians what drives the current federal government, begging the question of why it is tolerated any time of the year.
Yet despite the outrage, despite their unending troubles, this government marches on towards its goal of building a country where we no longer truly care about the plight of our neighbours.
It is why this government continues, undeterred, to dismantle important institutions designed to encourage collective responses, created to promote the public and common good.
It is why the federal government has given the provinces a take-it-or-leave-it deal on health care. This prime minister knows full well that his government’s neglect will erode universal medicare: Canada’s most outstanding commitment to collective action.
It is why following Mr. Moore’s brutally honest views on child poverty, Mr. Harper had no qualms about stating the real reason his government has refused to agree to expand and improve the Canada Pension Plan, another outstanding Canadian commitment to collective action.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty had claimed the problem was the economy was too fragile to act — which has been the federal government’s standard response when they wish to do nothing or when they want to quash basic trade union rights. It is also a complete contradiction to their talking points on their economic record.
Mr. Harper’s reply regarding his refusal to expand CPP in an interview with Global TV was that retirement is an individual responsibility. In other words his government’s failure to act with the provinces to expand CPP has nothing to do with the economy and everything to do with his personal code of conservative beliefs and ideology.
But Canada was not built on an individual, fend-for-yourself ideology. This was never our ethos. Instead, we are a country built on collective values, collective solutions and collective action.
Even our country’s name, taken from the Huron language, means village.
Former Conservative Canadian prime ministers believed in the role of government as a force of good. But Mr. Harper has abandoned their version of progressive conservatism.
This notion that government has a role to play in building a nation is why we have important social programs like universal health care, a public pension system and unemployment insurance. It is why we collectively fund important infrastructure in far flung regions of this vast land.
They are all a collective response to a basic understanding that economic growth and expansion does not lift all boats and that to ensure some semblance of fairness we must build it. Fairness does not just happen, it is an action.
Now government is about dismantling, eroding. It is about finding the things that divide Canadians and exploiting them, rather than building bridges between and among Canadians.
It is no longer about collective and community values, it is about every man, woman and child for themselves.
This is Mr. Harper’s Canada, and sometimes it takes the season of goodwill and hope to really start thinking about what is so wrong with that view of the world.
In my Canada, we not only care about poor children and homeless adults, we do something about it. Together.
In my Canada, we not only dream about what’s fair, we act in the interest of fairness. Together.
In my Canada, charity is needed, but social justice and equal opportunity must be our goal.
In my Canada, we remember that it is indeed our responsibility to care for each other. It is the humane and right thing to do. And we do it together.
In my Canada, we build bridges — a place where hope thrives.
In my Canada, we absolutely consider it our responsibility and indeed our obligation to feed children.
The great Nelson Mandela said overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. “Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”
My tiny hope is that we act to ensure prosperity is better shared in 2014.
Lana Payne is the Atlantic director for
Unifor. She can be reached by email at email@example.com.
Her column returns Jan. 11.