Tuesday, 1 May 2012

A whiff of totalitarianism

It's painful to witness the travails of a son trying desperately to measure up to the reputation of a famous father, especially when the son's effort misses the mark so badly, which is what happened recently when Justin Trudeau suggested that he might support Quebec independence if Canada were ever to succumb to Stephen Harper's "hidden agenda" to do away with same-sex marriage and abortion.

Reaction to Trudeau's remarks centred mostly on the notion that his musings were a betrayal of the legacy of his deceased dad. As deserved as that criticism may have been, however, it ignored what I consider to be points of vastly more import.

Let's dispense with the obvious by pointing out that, for better or worse, Prime Minister Harper’s public opposition to re-opening the same-sex marriage or abortion debates is the chief impediment to the Conservative Party, and the government he leads, tackling either issue. Everybody knows this, including Trudeau, which makes his angst disingenuous and contrived.

Of course, politicians often exaggerate or obfuscate facts for political gain, so Trudeau's tactics were, frankly, rather pedestrian. What did startle, however, was his assertion that Quebec's national identity is no longer defined by its language or history, but by a commitment to abortion and same-sex marriage. That may excite the espresso-sipping intellectuals who tend to congregate in the coffee shops of the Montreal riding he represents, but it's unlikely to impress most residents of Quebec who, given recent history, probably wish their elected officials paid closer attention to the requirements of sound bridges, rather than social engineering.

But there is a more sinister aspect to Trudeau's musings that pundits seem to have missed, namely his penchant, shared by so many of his friends on the Left - but also, it must be admitted, a growing number on the Right - to dictate from on high what subjects are or are not suitable for the public and its elected servants to debate.

We live in a time when suppression of discussion on controversial or complex issues is normal.

Consider child poverty for instance. Virtually everyone understands that the single greatest contributing cause of child poverty is the decline of marriage and the two-parent home. Not only does government refuse to acknowledge this fact, many of its programs actually encourage the trend. One cannot question these though, without being accused of being "judgmental" - a capital offence in contemporary society.

Education is another subject we are not allowed to discuss. Centralization of control over education has proven to be an unmitigated disaster for everyone… except perhaps public sector unions. Few politicians, however, are willing to advocate the return of control to local boards, answerable to parents and local taxpayers. Too risky, it seems.

And then there's health care. No area of government is in more urgent need of fundamental reform than this. Don't hold your breath though; our political "leaders" have deemed any serious discussion of this topic strictly verboten.

Abortion? Marriage? Forget about it!

Which leads me back to Justin Trudeau. The real problem with his remarks, and in a broader sense the real problem with how abortion - among a host of other issues, both social and fiscal - is being addressed (or not) in this country, is that they betray a mindset that isn't just dangerously totalitarian, but worse, blissfully unaware of that fact. There are now so many designated "third rails" in Canadian politics that they have become bars behind which we are all virtually imprisoned. This development is neither neutral, nor benign.

Choice, not elections, is the essential characteristic of a healthy democracy. Without choice, elections are meaningless exercises - personality contests where style isn't just more important than substance, it is the substance voters are asked to judge.

Alan Bloom observed that the most successful tyranny is not the one that uses force to assure uniformity, but the one that removes the awareness of other possibilities. If true, then Canada is well on its way to becoming a totalitarian state. Benevolent perhaps - for now - but totalitarian nevertheless.

Our mission, as responsible citizens, is to prevent that from happening.