On Tuesday Canadians go to the polls to vote for their federal representatives and elect a new government to run the country… at least some of us will.
There hasn’t been a whole lot of enthusiasm for this general election — Canada’s third in four years — with many suggesting the timing has more to do with the Conservatives seeing an opportunity for a majority government than Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s stated reason for dissolving Parliament, that it had become dysfunctional.
Others see the U.S. election as a more compelling contest than Canada’s. And, at least in British Columbia, there are still other elections some people are thinking about: civic elections in November, a provincial election next spring, and two provincial by-elections this fall.
But none of these things diminish the fact that on Tuesday Canadians have the opportunity to choose their next government. It’s an opportunity that should not be dismissed. Many would call it a responsibility.
One of those people is Whistler resident John Fraser. A Conservative MP for 21 years, from 1972 to 1993, Fraser served as Environment Minister and Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. He was also the first Speaker of the House of Commons to be elected by secret ballot. After stepping down as a Member of Parliament he was named Canada’s Ambassador for the Environment. He has chaired several committees in Ottawa in recent years and is the current chair of the B.C. Pacific Salmon Forum. He’s also an officer of the Order of Canada and a member of the Order of British Columbia.
And he has strong views about Canadians’ responsibilities.
“I have a profound conviction that a citizen hasn’t got any business just sitting back and ignoring what is going on in the political world around them, whether it’s municipal, provincial or federal. I think that is a lack of responsibility. I think it’s an abdication of a fundamental duty of a citizen,” Fraser said last weekend.
“I think that if you’re going to be a citizen and you’re going to insist on rights, you have got to have an equal consideration of what is your responsibility, as an individual, for the welfare and well being of this country and all the people in it.”
Fulfilling that responsibility requires some work.
“I’m asserting, that if a citizen is to do their duty they have got to, first of all, pay attention to what is going on. And then they have a duty to take their concerns to those they elect, and say ‘look, this is bothering us. What are you going to do about it? We want you to report back and tell us.’
“My sense of things, over many years, too often individuals grump and complain but then when you ask them when did you last phone your Member of Parliament or your Member of the Legislative Assembly or even go to city council, well they haven’t done that. And you say, ‘well don’t you think that’s what you should be doing?’
“Now, that may be a counsel of perfection, and even if some people say ‘well, maybe Fraser’s right we should do this,’ but they don’t, I still think that is something that… young people should be raised to consider. Because often, and I think this can be shown in any democracy, it’s the absence of commitment that let’s things happen, that afterwards they say ‘well, how did these guys ever do this to us?’ or ‘how did this ever happen?’”
Knowing our history is important to understanding where we are today, Fraser says.
“When you consider this country of ours, Canada, we are a nation of complainers — and that’s not altogether a bad thing. I was a soldier once and as long as soldiers were grumping you knew everything was okay. It was when they got silent that you knew there was trouble.
“So — we are, and it’s partly because we’re a very free country. But we have done amazing things — and I can give you a litany of things that we should have done better, like anybody else can. But if you compare us to a lot of other places, we’re not doing too badly. Is it perfection? Not by a long shot. And you don’t want to hear a litany of some of the things I think we ought to do. But I’m just saying that… it didn’t just happen yesterday, and this notion, you know, that Canada was born on a sunny day in Ottawa in 1867, is just that, it’s a notion. It was coming a long time before that.”
Fraser believes there are some issues that are so important that individual Members of Parliament should have the sense to work across party lines to deal with them. The greatest of those issues, in his view, is climate change and environmental concerns.
“If I was in charge of everything, I would get everybody in a room and say… just as in olden times they denied the Cardinals of any food or water until they made a decision, I would do somewhat the same thing — and say look, you’re not all going to get your own way. But the only way we’re going to convince the ordinary citizens of this country to do what is necessary is we’re going to have to come up with some kind of approach that gets at least a significant majority of people saying there’s going to be some costs and pain to this but we have to do it.”
Vote on Tuesday, and stay involved.
(For more of the interview with John Fraser visit www.piquenewmagazine.com and look under “Columns”.)