Febuary 4, 2000 Halifax Herald

Politicians fiddle while hope for future burns low

Over the last few weeks, the country has been treated to the spectacle of a political party trying its best to destroy itself. Fortunately for the Liberals, their fumbling, bumbling and wide-open show of incompetence still hasn't made any of the other political parties shine in comparison. The lack of imagination and perceived ineffectiveness of the four opposition parties leaves one with the notion that a black hole has swallowed them.

The opposition haven't even mounted a moderately effective response to the spectacle of incompetence put on by the Liberals. What should have been a golden opportunity for them to make political hay has slipped their grasp. Rather than trying to acquire the opportunity to rule by presenting ideas that say “we can do it better” they seem to be hoping the Liberals will so turn-off voters that they will get anointed by default. This leaves a sense that all five need to go in search of leadership.

In Canada's history, there has never been such a lack of political insight and foresight as we have now. It almost seems as if we're in a time warp. Nothing's moving.

This, in the long run, is bad news for the country. Democracy can't function when politics leaves people with the impression that everybody's away on vacation, permanently. For freedom to persevere, there has to be a sense of motion, of efforts being made to improve things, of change, etc. Not a sense of vacuum.

This perception of vacuum that surrounds the political scene has fortified in many young people a sense of malaise about politics and even the future. A great many are being turned off in record numbers. At a recent function, where university students were in attendance, I listened while many of them bemoaned the lack of confidence that the present situation begets.

Can we blame them? We seem to have a country that has no sense of direction for the future - or, for that matter, the present. It gives an eerie feeling of antiquity: Is that a fiddler playing off in the distance? Has Nero returned and invaded the souls of our politicians? The country desperately needs someone who will, at the very least, give the impression they have control and dispel the sense that the country is just floating purposeless.

And floating purposeless it is. Medicare is in shambles. People are lying in hospital hallways waiting for service. It takes months to get appointments for lab tests, even ones for cancer. We have helicopters that can't fly, and the ones that can are, in many cases, flown with dread by the pilots. Illegal immigrants use the country as a transit point to other places. Terrorists use it as a branch office.

The Americans, rightly so, have graduated to publicly criticizing us for not carrying our fair share of the responsibility for the defense and security of the continent. The border between the two countries is in danger of being severely restricted ,and so on. Yet the fiddlers play on.

How this period without political inspiration makes one long for another Lester Pearson. The man looked at the flagpoles in this country, saw the foreign flags flying over us, and had the guts to change it. It’s a good thing he did, because it would not get done today. This is attested to by the fact that when a reporter asked Prime Minister Chretien last year if he would begin the discussion about replacing the Monarchy with a home-bred leader, he failed to give a thoughtful reply. Instead, even though a majority want the discussions to begin, his response was classic waffle: "I got enough troubles without taking on the monarchists."

If the youth of this Nation are to be brought back into the mainstream, this kind of evasion must stop. They need to be inspired to partake in politics by a visionary, positive approach. They have to see that intelligent thought is being given to developing and implementing long-range plans to increase the Nation's prosperity, and to reduce the number of the population engulfed by poverty.

Right now, it appears that this is not the case. Very little of our prosperity today is of our own doing. It’s caused primarily by the fact that the Nation is fortunate enough to enjoy the fruits of what the Americans have created. If we were reduced to depending on our own innovation and production for prosperity, the economy would go into a tailspin.

However, the blame for all of the country's political woes can't be put on politicians. As citizens, we are also somewhat responsible for the mess. To do our part to reinvigorate the country, we must curb our inclination to have government do it for us. The widespread dependence on government that has developed over the past three decades needs to be reduced drastically. There is a need to reawaken personal responsibility within us.

"Character-the willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life: is the source from which self-respect springs." (Joan Didion, Slouching towards Bethlehem, Readers' Digest, October 1999).

Daniel N. Paul


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