A licence not to care

Russell Wangersky
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Stephen Harper might be right. We might not care. But that’s not necessarily good for us, or good for this country.

We’ve been told by Harper that the majority of Canadians don’t care if Afghan detainees were handed over by Canadian troops to Afghani forces who later tortured those detainees. We’ve been told that Canadians don’t care that, when his government was in danger of falling, Harper twice arbitrarily shut down Parliament to suit the base political ends of his own party. In other words, that he suspended the properly constituted government of the land to protect his own job and salary.

We’ve been told that Canadians don’t care that a Harper cabinet minister — Bev Oda — was caught lying to fellow parliamentarians, and that we don’t care that his government was the first government in the history of the Commonwealth to fall as a result of the government being found in contempt of Parliament. The nature of that contempt: refusing to tell parliamentarians the true costs of programs the Harper Tories wanted passed, essentially cost unseen, into law.

We’ve been told that we don’t care if our government is unethical or secretive. That we don’t care if the Tories spend tens of millions of public dollars on government advertising designed solely to laud the incumbent Tories. That we don’t care about government ethics or the dismantling of statistics research agencies or any other host of issues where the tried-and-true response has become “the majority of Canadians don’t care about …”

Just think back about the number of times you’ve heard those exact words attached to an issue by either Stephen Harper or one of his ministers.

That we don’t care about means, only ends. Over and over, we’ve been told that there are a whole host of things we can’t be bothered with paying attention to.

In fact, the baseline message from the Tories is that Canadians care only about the performance of the Canadian economy, and more particularly, that we care primarily about the state of our own personal incomes. (Ask yourself the blunt question: is Canada in better fiscal shape now than it was when the Tories took over?)

It may well be that, in fact, Stephen Harper is right. The majority of Canadians might have that one particular concern. It might also be that he only hopes we don’t care about those sorts of things — because if we do, that signals trouble for his particular style of government.

But buried deep within that message is something else — something far more disturbing.

It’s almost as if part of the message is one that gives Canadians permission not to care.

“Don’t worry if you haven’t given (insert issue here) much thought — no one else in the country cares, either.”

Sure, it’s the nature of the world to be most concerned about whether you can pay your bills, hold down your job, and keep a roof over your family’s heads. It’s a fact that takes up most of our days. But it’s not the only issue people normally think about. Normally, citizens in a country care about how it directs its foreign aid, where it uses its troops, how its government behaves, and how that country is seen in the rest of the world.

Usually, there’s also a small part of us that’s ashamed we care first and foremost about our own jobs and wallets.

Harper is pandering to that most venial part of us, while at the same time offering us all a licence not to care.

Essentially, he’s suggesting we can comfortably exist as a country that can’t be bothered to have something as troublesome as conscience. Don’t worry, the message is, no one else really has one, either.

So, while you’re out there, caring about your wallet and the economy and little else, ask yourself this: regardless of how you’re going to vote, is that the kind of place you really want to live?

It’s certainly a different country than the one I grew up in, and treasure.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s editorial page editor. He can be contacted by email at rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Geographic location: Canada

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Recent comments

  • Eugene from Town
    March 31, 2011 - 21:54

    Unfortunately, people from Muslim-majority countries have been vilified for decades in our media and popular culture, so the common disregard for the welfare of Afghani detainees, while it may be exagerrated by Harper et al, remains a sad fact. On a more trivial point, but one I couidn't avoid: Are you sure you meant "Venial" –adjective 1. able to be forgiven or pardoned; not seriously wrong, as a sin ( opposed to mortal). 2. excusable; trifling; minor: a venial error; a venial offense. I'd venture that you intended "Venal": –adjective 1. willing to sell one's influence, especially in return for a bribe; open to bribery; mercenary: a venal judge. 2. able to be purchased, as by a bribe: venal acquittals. 3. associated with or characterized by bribery: a venal administration; venal agreements.

  • MBC
    March 31, 2011 - 15:21

    Great article...another thing we don't care about is coalition of political parties. If a coalition is what is required, and it is legal, then if that is what it takes to move Harper out of the PM's office, so be it. With a three party system, with each having respectable support, then a coalition will be the only way to remove incompetent governments from power. If a party cannot obtain enough votes to exceed the total votes of the other 2 major parties, then it really does not have the confidence of the people of Canada. That is why a coalition government is a legal government and must excercise it's power to ensure good government.

  • mark
    March 30, 2011 - 09:37

    It's a nice read but when I think of the history of the big two I'm always reminded of the liberal spending scandals of the past. Harper may be an a-hole but at least he's not spending millions of tax payers money to further his own businesses or buy off Qubecers. And I fear it will be a long time before we see change away from the big two so the choice is a lesser or two evils or no choice at all. I prefer the guy who isn't dipping into my back pocket and trying to get away with it.

  • odderin
    March 29, 2011 - 22:21

    An excellent article, and thank you for asking the right questions! I had a chance to look at the test for Canadian citizenship earlier this year - I wonder how many Canadians know it's our civic duty to pay attention to elections and vote... just like doing jury duty if required, canadians are required, by our citizenship, to CARE.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    March 29, 2011 - 15:47

    And now Preston Manning is in town saying how they want to set up a "training" centre for new PM's so they can perform better in the House. Harper 'clones' --- I guess. I thought that what we needed was MORE 'independent thought ---- not less. But then again, less independent thought (or even NO independent thought) is right up Harper's alley. A democratic dictatorship here we come.

  • Sharon King
    March 29, 2011 - 14:59

    I agree with Russells view on this. Will Harper also say -we don't care about Health Care because - it's not being talked about by him? Will Harper say we don't care what they do about CPP and OAS because he's not talking about it? Canadians do care - He's not listening!!! All of us who do care, need to send a strong message to him. First and foremost, Canadians need to let him know by just getting out and voting! I fear that if he ever gets a majority government - he will continue to say Canadians don't care - if he's not listening now - he definitely won't listen with a majority. He will view his majority as his right to change our health care, and other benefits that makes us Canadian. There's a reason he's not talking about any real issues - if we don't make them issues in this election - he will think - we don't care and then do what he wants with his majority. God help us!

  • Too Funny
    March 29, 2011 - 12:28

    Must be a boring column for people to comment on other's comments rather than the column. I always find that funny, do they think earlier commentators actually come back? Nobody is that insecure to revisit their comments are they?

    • shtdstrbr
      April 06, 2011 - 08:21

      Did you find it boring? C'mon, be insecure.

  • Kris Drodge
    March 29, 2011 - 12:04

    Ask yourself how the Conservatives have done in the past years? Look at the tally sheet of "accomplishments". The Emerson Defection Income Trusts (even the bankers hated this one) The Cadman Affair (bribing a dying man) The Lukiwski Tape (homophobia at it's best) The "In and Out" Scheme (and you thought the Sponsorship scandal was bad, have a look at the way they moved money for their own campaign) The removal of the Veterans Ombudsman (for speaking for veterans of course) Appointment of former MP's (who have lost their respective elections) to the Senate Bev Oda and the "not" Proroguing Parliament (to avoid an election and a non-confidence vote) G8 and G20 expenses (remember the pool - how about the $40,000 in light sticks) Armed Forces untendered Contracts (yes sir, I'll have 20 of those) The loss of the Security Seat at the UN (The Liberals fault apparently) Jaffer/Guergis ( we still don't know much about this one) Add this to refusing numerous accounts of freedom to information requests and the such and you have quite the sheet. Ask yourself - does a decade old sponsorship scandal really hold a candle to this? What about the "evils" of a coalition? Common sense should tell you were to put your mark on May 2nd.

  • Robert Taylor
    March 29, 2011 - 10:12

    How Harper has managed to increase his support while doing all the undemocratic things his goverment is synonamous with is truly amazing. I shudder to think what will happen when this individual gets a majority It just goes to show that Canadians are oblivious. They obvoiusly don't care about democracy. And how bad are the Liberals to keep losing support to Harper. Canada's economy has remained relatively strong because of all the natural resources we have and the recent price increases in base and precious metals and oil. This is due to Mother Nature endowing this country with a tremendous wealth of resources, not to Mother Harper.

  • YUP
    March 29, 2011 - 09:09

    Would another party act any differently? Yes they would. No government in the history of Canada has shown more contempt for the democratic processes of this country. Give Harper another minority, and it will be more of the same. Give him a majority, and we will see a lot worse. It's time to put someone else in the driver's seat. These contemptuous Cons have got to go.

  • YUP
    March 29, 2011 - 09:07

    Would another party act any differently? Yes they would. No government in the history of Canada has shown more contempt for the democratic processes of this country. Give Harper another minority, and it will be more of the same. Give him a majority, and we will see a lot worse. It's time to put someone else in the driver's seat. These contemptuous Cons have got to go.

  • Josh
    March 29, 2011 - 08:50

    "Most people know that there is no difference between parties." No DUH, most people know there are differences between parties. In fact, the Conservatives on-going contempt for the principles of democracy is pretty much unprecedented. The only other thing that is unprecedented is the willingness of so many Canadians too lazy to engage their brains and shrug it off... often with a absurd excuse like ' they're all like that.'

  • Huh
    March 29, 2011 - 07:34

    'So, while you’re out there, caring about your wallet and the economy and little else, ask yourself this' do you think the other parties would behave any differently? Most people know that there is no difference between parties, no party has a monopoly on honor or ethics or scandal. That's why so many people don't care. It has always been, and always will be, them (politicians) against us (taxpayers).