Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Thursday, February 28, 2013

What Makes Canada Special: Benign Authoritarianism?

It is widely agreed in clever circles that the Harper Government’s decision to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812 was an inept expression of crass base politics and silly British nostalgia.

That war, after all, only kept alive the possibility that, way off in the future, there might be an independent Canadian dominion. Colonists and Britain’s First Nations allies were, in effect, magnificent cannon fodder in another British Imperial enterprise.

Besides, the War of 1812’s authoritarian themes do not resonate with Canadians  in 2013. Right?

Certainly, that’s what we say to each other and to the pollsters. Indeed, Nanos Research just confirmed that 47% of Canadians would rather have celebrated the 30th Anniversary of Canada’s emphatically liberal Charter of Rights and Freedoms, while only 28% supported celebrating the War of 1812a war in which the forces of order and solidarity beat back those self-indulgent libertarians to the south.

Yet almost daily we witness the extraordinary deference of Canadian opinion toward established institutionsespecially the un-elected onesand the competence of those institutions to secure the people’s best interests.

Here are two rather significant examples: keeping an un-elected Senate and abridging free speech.

Liberal America wouldn’t tolerate either; liberal Canada, at its best, is of two minds.

Undoubtedly reflecting the American streak in Western Canadian politics, Stephen Harper has been trying for nearly seven years to start moving Canada toward an elected Senate.  Indeed, he’s the first Canadian Prime Minister yet to try to devolve his Prime Ministerial power to appoint Senatorsto allow voters instead to make that decision. So far, not one Liberal or New Democrat leader in Ottawa has felt sufficient public pressure to support his efforts.

Interim leader of the Liberal Party Bob Rae and his unavoidable successor Justin Trudeau would rather hold Harper accountable for the caliber of his appointments to the Senate than help him surrender that power to the people.

This week, the Canadian Supreme Court unanimously upheld the right of provincial legislatures and the Canadian Parliament to circumscribe free speech, when hateful words could possibly “marginalize” individuals.

The decision was carefully written, and concern for free speech won’t end with one news cycle. However, it is noteworthy that the court’s verdict was unanimous, that newspaper and editorial writers are almost unanimously opposed, and that Canada’s political leaders—the people-trackers who respond in hours when it's an easy questionare silent.

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