Good Government And Good Citizenship (April 2007)

Notes for remarks to the East York Kiwanis Club

We need bold and visionary national leadership to encourage us to self-limit, to sacrifice, to live intelligently and frugally, not wastefully.   We need national leadership that redefines wealth as well-being, not well-having….We need to build a Canada where achievement is measured by our commitment and responsibility to our fellow citizens, not by our level of consumption.

Canadians are encountering the future much faster than we ever have before.  The internet has drawn us into global affairs in ways that were unimaginable even 20 years ago.   Instant messaging, “skyping”, Google-talk, podcasts, blogs, all allow Canadians to connect with one another and with people outside Canada to an unprecedented degree.  PhD students with laptops run private broadcasting productions over the internet.

Much of what globalization involves may be exciting and innovative and, in any event, is unstoppable.  Yet globalization is equally unsettling and generates great insecurities, financial and otherwise.   When jobs are phased out because production of some goods or services is shifted to a country with lower costs, workers and their families suffer.   When yet another head office leaves Canada, we are diminished individually and collectively.

We all care deeply about this country.  We care about what we are building together, and what kind of world we are leaving for future generations.

We should all be concerned about the current state of our nation.  We need to reinvent Canada for the 21st century.  To expand our role around the world and to redefine the way we do things at home.

We must imagine Canada as a vibrant, multi-national democracy in which our diversity is our greatest strength.

We must imagine Canada as the greenest country on the planet where our children and grandchildren have clean air, clean water and clean energy.

We must imagine Canada with a bold and vigorous national government able to pursue greater equality of opportunity and an end to poverty and unemployment, a Canada that is the best country in which to raise children, the best country in which to grow old.

We must imagine a Canada that plays a strong and respected role around the world in all areas.

Together Canadians have built the most fascinating, cosmopolitan multiethnic society in human history, of which the riding of Toronto Danforth is a perfect example.

Justice, equality, diversity – these are the core values that have driven national policies and underpinned a progressive, dynamic Canada since World War Two.  These values do not change and must be defended even more forcefully in our rapidly changing world.

The Liberal Party has a great history of bold and vigorous national leadership in building up our country and implementing policies that unite us in our diversity.  The Liberal Party governs for all Canadians, for a Canada that is more than a sum of its parts, for the common good.

Liberals know that the true test of a progressive compassionate national government is our ability to achieve social and economic justice for those on the margins of society, to take care of our most vulnerable.  And only if we implement effective domestic policies which attract world-wide respect, will we have the credibility and knowledge base from which to act internationally to promote peace and humanity.

Unfortunately, the Harper government is taking us backwards.  The Harper government is in the business of putting the national government out of business.  The Harper government is not defending our core values and a progressive, dynamic Canada.  The Harper government is clearly failing the test of helping out those on the margins of society.  And if Stephen Harper’s “open federalism” takes root, Stephen Harper will simply divide up Canada’s assets among the provincial premiers and close up shop.

Take the Harper budget for example.  It illustrates very clearly the Harper strategy of transferring more and more power to the provincial governments, especially Quebec, and promoting initiatives that divide us rather than unite us in moving forward.  Provinces have been set against other provinces, Canadians against other Canadians.

Instead of a meaningful Working Income Tax Credit, we have a minimalist credit that will not even benefit the many Canadians working full-time on minimum wage.

Instead of a principled equalization formula to enable us to achieve greater equity across provinces in the delivery of public services, we have multiple-choice equalization with provinces being able to choose which formula they prefer.

Instead of building in a coherent way on the refundable national child tax benefit that would actually put more money in the hands of parents of children at the lowest end of the income spectrum, the Harper budget introduces a new and separate non-refundable child benefit which pays the most, to those with the most.

The Harper budget appeals to the worst in us instead of the best in us.  It increases the incoherence of our tax system and results in less transparency and accountability, at a time when Canadians are demanding, and deserve, much more transparency and accountability.

Indeed, we have reached new lows of cynicism in politics with Stephen Harper.

News reports regularly state very matter-of-factly that:  “it remains to be seen” if a certain proposal is or is not enough to buy off the provinces or certain persons or groups.

Since when do we so easily accept that politics is no longer about principle, vision, the national interest, national purpose, and is simply about pay-offs?

As proud Canadians, we must now stand up clearly to those who would drag Canada down, those who would abdicate the federal government’s critical role in protecting and promoting justice, equality and diversity.

Where is the bold national leadership to help those on the margins of society, and to once and for all establish a standard of fundamental decency for all low-income Canadians?  Where is the meaningful assistance for our children, our working poor, aboriginal Canadians, our disabled? Where is the national child care program, expanded parental leave, greater expenditures on education, a national disability benefit, a federal minimum wage?  Where are the national standards for healthcare services, a national housing strategy, expeditious recognition of foreign credentials, and effective provision for workers who lose their employment due to global forces?

Where is the bold national leadership to help build a strong sustainable social economy?  Where is the national sales tax that consolidates the GST and provincial sales taxes, the end to interprovincial trade barriers, a national securities regulator?  Where is the national ban on lawn and garden pesticides, accelerated steps to remove toxic chemicals from ordinary exposure, strong fuel-efficiency standards for the North American auto manufacturers?  Where is the national electricity grid, the establishment of national parks in each of Canada’s 39 natural regions, a Canadian Research Council for the best and the brightest in scientific research?

And where is the bold national leadership to make Canada the greenest country on the planet?   Stephen Harper only continues his pretend greenery.  When his initial proposal with the Clean Air Act flopped, he shuffled a minister, repackaged some Liberal programs and called himself green. But despite nice-sounding initiatives like EcoTrust Fund and EcoEnergy, Harper is as incoherent as ever on the critical issue of the environment.

We are nowhere near having a Minister of the Environment on a par with the Minister of Finance, so that ecological principles are integrated every step of the way into our budget, investment and planning processes.  We are nowhere near having effective policies to ensure that environmental protection coincides with economic prosperity.

The Harper government is failing to provide us with good government.  It is failing to inspire Canadians and encourage good citizenship which is the essential counterpart to good government.

Good citizenship requires engaged committed citizens working together in the public interest, exercising the responsibilities that go along with the rights of citizenship.

Good citizenship means asking at least as much of ourselves as we do of our governments.

As citizens of a country with so many resources and opportunities, we all need to be responsible and contribute, whether we are preserving the environment, ending the gun and gang violence and the scourge of drugs that afflicts our cities, helping those on the margins of society, and ultimately contributing to greater peace and humanity around the globe.

It is a testament to the strong and compassionate character of so many Canadians that we resist the temptation to retreat, to cocoon ourselves.  Just look at the thousands of Canadians, like yourselves, involved in everything from operating food bank and nutrition programs at schools, to finding shelter for the homeless and more affordable housing for those living in poverty, and taking care of seniors and disabled Canadians.

It is unfortunate that when citizens are willing to contribute so much to the future of the country, we have a federal government offering so little national leadership and inspiration to Canadians.  We have a federal government that is dismantling the national government and buying off provinces and persons and groups with our own money.  So much for national standards.  So much for pulling together for the common good.

We need bold and visionary national leadership to encourage us to self-limit, to sacrifice, to live intelligently and frugally, not wastefully.   We need national leadership that redefines wealth as well-being, not well-having.

We need to build a Canada where achievement is measured by our commitment and responsibility to our fellow citizens, not by our level of consumption.

If our destiny is to show that a progressive, vigorous, multiethnic democracy can thrive in the 21st century and be a model for the world – a world increasingly challenged by religious and sectarian friction – then there is much to be done.  Too often we sit back and think that diverse cultures and languages will simply come together without effort, that there is no threat to liberal democracy.

Our ability in Canada to accommodate our diversity, to respect justice and equality, is the central issue of our time.  Our diversity as a society is a great source of strength, but also a source of great responsibility.

It is the responsibility of all of us to fight to ensure that our diversity does not lead to exclusion, and to ensure that equality of opportunity exists in practice, not just in theory.

It is not enough to provide rights, although rights are the bedrock of our society.

It is not enough to be tolerant, although tolerance is essential. Tolerance is not an end in itself.  We owe each other more than tolerance.

The kind of society we must build is based on responsibility, our duty to each other – to respect each other, to help each other.

The time is long overdue to take action into our own hands.  In the recent and not so recent past, too many Canadians have settled for mediocrity in national politics by joining the 30% to 40% of those eligible voters who do not vote in federal elections.  We must find and turn out to vote for those leaders and representatives who are sincere and authentic promoters of good national government and who want to get things done.  These are the politicians who are driven by what is right, and by genuine commitment to public service, to good government and good citizenship.

Real leadership means doing the right thing, which is often difficult.  Real leadership must be about a search for truth and knowledge, for civic courage, for creative thinking and free thought to help find answers to the dilemmas and complexity that confront us.

We have to grasp the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.  We must call on all Canadians to pull together in the national interest, and promote a new wave of political activism by ordinary citizens. We must demand that our national leadership boldly develop a blueprint to make us the greenest country on the planet, to ensure we have a respected voice in global affairs – whether concerning the environment, peace and security, global poverty – and to ensure that we build a coherent sustainable social economy that is the most diverse and cosmopolitan in human history, with real equality of opportunity for all.

In the face of the Harper challenge, it is now critical for all progressive-thinking Canadians to cooperate and coalesce to the greatest extent possible.  Bob Rae knows this and that is why he has abandoned the NDP, and joined the Liberal Party to stop the Harper manipulation and machinations. The Liberal Party is the only national party which can bring together progressive-thinking Canadians to build a strong Canada.

Too often Jack Layton and the NDP like to take the easy irresponsible way out on issues – for example, bring our troops home from Afghanistan, negotiate with the brutal Taliban.  Even well-respected former NDP Director, Robin Sears has said that the NDP position on Afghanistan is “ludicrous and embarrassing to the ghosts of David Lewis and Tommy Douglas.”  Jack Layton’s demand to end Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan perfectly illustrates the superficiality in politics – denying reality in favour of wishful thinking about the world.  Layton’s approach ignores unrealistically the tough reality that war or conflict may be a necessary precondition to peace and security.

The Liberal Party is the national party able and willing to defend our core values of justice, equality and diversity, nationally and internationally, to move beyond petty politics, power plays, seducing voters with ill-conceived tax cuts, outdated ideologies.  The Liberal Party is the national party able and willing to promote good government and good citizenship, our rights and our responsibilities of citizenship, and a sincere commitment to public service.

We need to assure the best representation possible for Canadians from the one truly national party that can and does say the same thing from the Atlantic, to the Pacific, from the Great Lakes to the Arctic Ocean.  The party that has, can and will elect MPs from all regions.  The party that can elect MPs from cities, from farms, from the outports, and from the small towns that make up Canada, not just from one region or province.

In the forthcoming election, I am confident that Canadians will choose sincerity over shallowness; authenticity over plastic; principled commitment over manipulation; honesty and integrity above all else.

And I can assure you that if I am elected, I will fight for our core values of justice, equality and diversity, and for bold and visionary national leadership that will move us toward a future of which we can all be proud.