When you wage an ideological war, lies are necessary weapons.
We are familiar with the saying that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics. These days, we might consider adding hyper-political spin to the mix.
And now another kind of lie: creative accounting. We can thank the Conservative government's F-35 fighter jets fiasco for introducing Canadians to something normally found in the circles of corrupt, white-collar business crime.
National Post columnist Andrew Coyne has said that the government kept "two sets of books" on the costs of the F35s: one used internally and another used when speaking to Canadians in Parliament and during an election.
The $10-billion "accounting" mix-up referenced by Defence Minister Peter MacKay, who has yet to do the honourable thing and resign over the F-35 mess, is now an acceptable kind of lie, at least according to the governing Conservatives.
How relieved Treasury Board Minister Tony Clement must feel. His little G8 scandal is so much smaller on the scale of scandals.
Goodness, it is no wonder so many Canadians are so politically disenfranchised. Obviously, there is more than one path to voter suppression.
Are Canadians so used to political doublespeak that we need to be really knocked over the head with a lie to realize we should be paying particular attention? That this is such a special lie that it deserves our special attention?
But then, who can keep up with all the things we need to be outraged and angry about? There are so many.
Costs of war
That is what happens in times of ideological war. The weapons of mass destruction are 20,000 pink slips, weakened environmental safeguards, self-regulated safety and a legislative attack on civil society organizations.
We must not and should not have to depend on industry to regulate itself. Not when it comes to our food. Not when it comes to our water. Not when it comes to our transportation.
Because no matter how many times industry says safety is its No. 1 priority, the truth is something else. Making money is the No. 1 priority. We need independent and well-resourced oversight as well as strong laws and regulations to ensure our safety.
As this newspaper pointed out in a recent editorial, government does have a clear and definitive role in protecting Canadians. Too often when governments cut in areas of public safety it then takes a tragedy before arrogance is replaced with attention. Only then is it obvious how critical the person working in the government lab was; or how crucial the aviation inspector was; or how important the co-ordinator at the maritime search and rescue centre was.
The safety of citizens is the very least of what we should expect from our governments.
On our own
And yet in this ideological war, we are told that Canadians are a resourceful bunch and can look after each other as good neighbours do. But no matter how resourceful, we can't police food safety, we can't save our friends when they are in trouble in the North Atlantic and we cannot, on our own, figure out whether oil or mining companies are doing what they should to protect the environment.
Alex Himelfarb, Canada's former top civil servant (clerk of the Privy Council until 2006), pointed out in a recent blog that this ideological war is also about changing Canada. He says the most recent budget was not about building, but dismantling, rolling back the progressive state. Ripping up the social contract.
The federal deficit, a manufactured deficit created from unaffordable tax cuts, is one of the weapons wielded in this war to bring about a different kind of Canada.
"What is clear even now is these cuts imply a different view of our shared citizenship, of what ties us together as Canadians across language and region and community" says Himelfarb, who is currently the director of the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs at York University.
Less and less
A Canada, he notes, where less will be asked of us and less will be provided or given in terms of services. Himelfarb has expressed his increasing concern over the direction in which the Conservatives are taking our country.
Like most progressives, he remains an optimistic at heart, noting that there is an alternative to "the relentless decline of the progressive state."
Canadians, he says, must demand a more robust democracy, more public education and information, not misinformation and deception, more citizen engagement, not voter suppression, more diversity of views, not the chilling of dissent.
But even the optimist admits that this can be a tough sell to Canadians, especially as we are told over and over again that government is bad and must be removed from our lives.
"In many respects, this choice - more democracy rather than more markets - is a far more demanding path. It is much easier to say 'let the market do its magic' or leave things to each community than to come up with policies that help shape our future. It is a hard sell to get people to believe that we can act together to achieve something better, that government can be a positive force if it is balanced by engaged citizens and a vibrant, independent civil society."
Like Himelfarb, millions of us believe another Canada is possible, a better Canada. But first we must stop the dismantling and start the building again.
(If you are interested in reading more from Alex Himelfarb, his blog can be found at http://afhimelfarb.wordpress.com)
Lana Payne is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by email at email@example.com. Her column returns May 5.