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 email@example.com.