When things go wrong

There are many examples of how things went wrong in 2001, but for sheer political dexterity one has only to look at the Canadian Alliance. At the start of 2002 West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast MP John Reynolds is the interim leader of the Official Opposition and there’s a transvestite running for leadership of the party.

Considering where the Canadian Alliance came from and how it hoped to change the face of Canadian politics, the populist party now looks like a train wreck in the middle of the prairies.

The Canadian Alliance is not alone in this. Canada as a whole is being forced to re-evaluate its position in the world at the start of 2002, and many are finding us wanting.

The events of 2001 have brought home how complacent and unambitious Canada has become. Not that there are no longer great Canadians doing marvelous things, but taken as a whole Canada and Canadians have become less and less significant to world affairs, although we are understandably reluctant to acknowledge this. Our delusion was perhaps most tellingly articulated by our outcry across the nation when President George W. Bush acknowledged the help of so many countries immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, but failed to mention Canada.

It is not merely a lack of military preparedness that has or should have Canadians taking a long look in the mirror. It’s as basic as considering who and what we want to be. Try to recall the federal election of 2000 and any direction or vision Prime Minister Jean Chretien disclosed for Canada. When was the last time a federal government actually appeared to set an agenda, as opposed to reacting to events and appeasing concerns?

In a long essay on the Sept. 11 attacks and the attitudes we have come to live by, the National Post’s Robert Fulford wrote: "For many reasons, some of them quite benign, we have been playing elaborate games with the truth, as if we were joining unconsciously in a plot to help each other avoid seeing the reality of the world we live in….

"A decade or so in the past, intellectual and social history took an odd turn. In the early 1990s, after the nuclear threat of the Cold War receded, something unexpected happened among us, something we neither anticipated nor knew how to deal with. There fell upon us, every single one of us, a plague of conformity – and with it an epidemic of accusations. In this new and fearful atmosphere it became our habit to purchase social peace at any price – including the price of truth."

And that has been our primary occupation for some time, finding social peace within our relatively peaceful borders. But are we participating in the rest of the world?

Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley acknowledged, after Sept. 11, that Canada does not pull its weight in world affairs. "If you want to play a role in the world, even as a small member of the G8, there’s a cost to doing that," Manley said.

So the 62 cent ($1 CAN) question is what are Canadians, in 2002, prepared to pay? The events of Sept. 11, the horrific attacks and counter-attacks in the Middle East, the refugee crisis in Afghanistan all point to the fact that Canadians can’t afford to sit back and watch the world go by. Canada, as a country, has always provided aid to earthquake victims and food for drought stricken countries, but how many Canadians give more than a moment’s thought to these things? And is it enough to donate wheat and medical aid?

There is a sense among many Canadians that we have enough to do just solving our own problems and trying to keep up with the Joneses south of the border.

Maybe that’s our problem.


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