Canada isn’t the upstanding nation it used to be

Martha Muzychka socialnotes@gmail.com
Published on July 29, 2014

This weekend, as I perused my various media feeds, I came across a story that finally brought a moment of incredible clarity for me regarding the status of women and research here at home and Canada’s reputation abroad.

Don’t get me wrong; there are many things I am grateful for about being Canadian and enjoying the quality of life that I do, especially after following the stories in Ukraine and Gaza.

No, what offered me this burst of clarity was reading yet another series of stories documenting, revealing or analyzing bad decisions made by the prime Minister.  

The first article revealed that in 2010, Prime Minister Stephen Harper decided that the Therese Casgrain Volunteer Award would be shelved and a new award, the Prime Minister’s Volunteer Award, would be offered instead.

For those who may not know, Casgrain was a Quebec feminist who successfully fought to get the vote for women in Quebec, an undeniable right that was finally achieved in 1970.

Even Casgrain’s family did not know of their scion’s demotion and dismissal as an icon of volunteerism. It was under review, but only recently did they learn it was gone.

To add further insult to injury, Casgrain was also removed from the $50 bill, along with the Famous Five, a total of six women who worked very hard to make a difference for women and to ensure social well-being in this country. Yes, adding someone’s face to a piece of currency is symbolic. But it speaks to so much more, leaving us with a nagging, horrible feeling that our very history and heritage are under siege.

The second story reported that the new census, which replaced the involuntary and purportedly super costly long form version, overspent its budget by more than $20 million and produced data so bad, it would be laughable if not for the fact that the interruption and loss of longitudinal data are so tragic.

The census debacle, and there really is no other word for it, continues to astonish and dismay.

Those of us who relied on reliable census data to develop meaningful public policy and programs were appalled when the government announced it was abandoning the compulsory long form census for a shorter, less onerous version. Since it wasn’t long nor required, went the Harper government rationale, more people would fill it out. I’m waiting to hear whether this example of poor reasoning will make it into the chapter on faulty logic in standard philosophy texts.

The data from the new census are so unreliable that Statistics Canada is not releasing much of it.  Statisticians reportedly describe the results as so inferior to the quality previously collected in a properly structured random sample that it will be next to impossible to use with any confidence. The thing that bites the most? The federal auditor general’s report says the new census cost the taxpayers $22 million more for data they can’t use.

The third article analyzed the meteoric fall of Canada’s stature in the international scene. We’ve gone from peacemaker to warmonger in less than 10 years, and the nadir of Canada’s poor standing appears to be our government’s failed bid to get a seat on the UN Security Council.

We are undergoing a sea change in our national identity, and I’m not sure if we are going to like the makeover when we wake up come election time.

What emerges from all these stories of late is a very specific pattern of behaviour that relies on stealth, misdirection and open disdain. The behaviour is clearly condoned, even initiated, by the Prime Minister’s Office.

It reminded me of a conversation I had a while ago. Though we normally eschew political chat, this particular day my friends and I turned to the federal Conservative leader’s agenda.

“It’s been too ugly for too long,” said one. That summed up the situation perfectly.

While we could argue that transparency, as evidenced in the media reports and commentary, will often lead to revelations that are unexpected and more than a little unpleasant, I think it’s better than ignoring best practices, dismissing solid, evidence-based research, and dismantling systematically a value base that has served Canada pretty well.

Martha Muzychka is a writer and researcher based in St. John’s. E-mail: socialnotes@gmail.com.