I believe in free speech, as well as other quaint notions like evidence based decision making and civil dialogue.  It seems however that these ideas, to say the least, have not been the prime movers driving our little myopiamobile of late.  How did we get here?

Back in 2010 when Canada hosted the winter Olympics, ads began appearing in the media of an idea called ‘owning the podium’, a government sponsored promotional device for Canadian athletes in their bid for Olympic gold.  Most people probably saw this as a benign effort to get Canadians into the spirit of competition.  But in one rather menacingly sounding add, the narrator spoke of a new Canada, of something very different suddenly stirring in our hearts, a story that spoke of a new nationalism and a willingness to do whatever it took to win, however winning was defined and never mind the consequences. Sadly, the seemingly benign is sometimes anything but.

Many seemed intoxicated with this adrenalin rush of self-importance, imbibing the ‘us against them’ paradigm.  But to me it was clear this was about much more than the Olympics; it was about tilting the cultural tone from an enlightened affability towards an aggressive and often belligerent nationalistic ethos, setting the stage for what would then ultimately emerge:  leadership embedded in the mindset of authority, of absolutes, of simplistic fact-free emotionalism over thoughtful rationalism.  And for the most part its succeeded.

While it’s a good thing for me I still retain my sense of humour, it’s a far better thing for everyone that some retain a sense of historical memory.  Stephen Lewis, the former U.N. ambassador, activist and politician, not long ago came out to say what many, including those in the media, seem too fearful to say:

“There is a radical ideological agenda gripping this country, but it’s not the environmentalists or the other targeted groups committed to the quest for social justice; it’s the political leadership.”

He goes on:

“Vitriolic nastiness in debate does not breed respect, nor does adolescent partisanship, nor do pieces of legislation of encyclopedic length that hide contentious issues, nor does the sudden emergence of frenzied TV attack ads, nor does the spectre of a Prime Minister’s Office exercising authoritarian control.”

Yet too many Canadians, with the help from an enthusiastically feckless fourth estate, have been sleep walking through this process, our frog in the boiling water experiment, unaware that the Canada they think we are is not the Canada we’ve actually become.  As the late great author Farley Mowat said to journalist Michael Harris in his book Party of One, a reference to Stephen Harpers’ one man spectacle of a Prime Ministership:

“Canada is a fermentation process that has gone wrong…  Instead of wine, we got vinegar.”

The endless array of paid acolytes in their lofty spaces will of course disagree on cue, after all that’s what they’re paid to do, but one should not sell themselves; one should not harbour illusions.

For my part, I long for a Canada that remembers its peacekeeping traditions, one that, unlike our recent democratic regression, valued democracy, civic engagement and that long-lost emotion called empathy.  And crucially, one that once respected the vital work of environmental stewardship and not environmental destruction.

In other words, the Canada that was, or at least strived to be.  A Canada that valued much more than a pathology insisting we value nothing more than ‘owning the podium’.