Will Canada opt to be kind again?

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Richard Gwyn Richard Gwyn is a na­tional af­fairs colum­nist for Torstar Syn­di­ca­tion Ser­vices. gwynr@sym­pa­tico.ca

Prob­a­bly be­cause so many spokesper­sons from the Queen to the Pope were ut­ter­ing their thoughts dur­ing the just-ended hol­i­day sea­son, one of th­ese of con­sid­er­able in­ter­est to Cana­di­ans got al­most no at­ten­tion in the press.

Its au­thor — an easy guess to make — was our new prime min­is­ter, Justin Trudeau. What he said was unique to him and to this coun­try.

In­trigu­ingly, in the views he ex­pressed it’s pos­si­ble to de­tect some that match those of his wife, So­phie Gré­goire. As a fur­ther reach, per­haps one too far, it’s pos­si­ble to de­tect some that echo the opin­ions of Pope Fran­cis.

Con­sider for in­stance this se­ries of sen­tences by Trudeau and then try to iden­tify an equiv­a­lent in any other coun­try.

First: “Gov­ern­ments can’t solve ev­ery chal­lenge. We need Cana­di­ans to do more too.”

Then some of Trudeau’s ex­am­ples: “We can give in tan­gi­ble ways — by do­nat­ing time or money to ... sup­port our more vul­ner­a­ble neigh­bours.” And: “We can be more pa­tient and un­der­stand­ing.” And, “I hope that this year we can be gen­tler with our­selves, and with oth­ers.”

Then his sum­ma­tion: “Let’s show each other what it really means to be good; to be Cana­dian. Let’s open our hearts and share love with those around us.”

Phew! All of that is most cer­tainly unique. In just about any other coun­try few if any lead­ers would dare to talk in that way. En­tirely sen­si­bly, they would fear be­ing widely laughed at, and, much worse, of be­ing heaved out at the next elec­tion.

Trudeau, though, dared to say it. He did this be­cause he — and So­phie — be­lieves in it.

Of course it’s very likely that few Cana­di­ans read or heard of Trudeau’s words, most hav­ing had more im­por­tant sea­sonal work to do such as keep­ing their Christ­mas tree, or its equiv­a­lent, more or less straight.

More sub­stan­tively, a valid case can be made that Trudeau wasn’t elected to preach pu­rity but to run the coun­try more ef­fec­tively.

For most Cana­di­ans th­ese days, the most im­por­tant is­sue is that of jobs and salaries. For­mer U.S. pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton’s fa­mous com­ment, “It’s the econ­omy, stupid,” says just about all that needs to be said about our con­tem­po­rary con­di­tion.

In Canada, the state of our econ­omy is more trou­bling than it’s been since back in 2008 when a global de­pres­sion threat­ened from which we ac­tu­ally es­caped in bet­ter shape than al­most any other coun­try.

To­day, though, our econ­omy lags be­hind most oth­ers. Two prov­inces, Alberta and New­found­land, are at risk of longterm re­ces­sions. The global com­mod­ity boom, dur­ing which we thrived, above all in oil, has evap­o­rated. Our dol­lar hasn’t been as weak in years, its most trou­bling char­ac­ter­is­tic be­ing that the cheap­ness of our cur­rency has earned us few in­creases in our ex­ports.

At such a time, though, our leader is ap­ply­ing him­self to telling us how to be good rather than how to be bet­ter-off.

What is in­trigu­ing about this con­tra­dic­tion is that Cana­di­ans share it. Cer­tainly we want our econ­omy to con­tinue to ex­pand in the way it once did. Al­most as cer­tainly, a great many of us also want the kind of Canada we once had, or thought we had, to be “back.”

Get­ting both will be a huge chal­lenge. Through­out the year 2016 it’s go­ing to be fas­ci­nat­ing watch­ing Trudeau re­cal­i­brate his pro­gram which at present en­com­passes far too many at­trac­tive but ex­pen­sive elec­toral prom­ises at a time when far too lit­tle rev­enue is com­ing in to pay for them.

What Trudeau’s Christ­mas­time state­ment thus amounted to was his dec­la­ra­tion that even if he has to step back — quite a way back, in­deed — he will still hold to his ideas and dreams.

As time passes, more and more Cana­di­ans may come to re­gard such talk as ir­rel­e­vant to our eco­nomic re­al­ity. Some may laugh at such pre­ten­sions. Al­ter­na­tively, many may refuse to give up the Canada that has come back to them.

In our history, it’s one of the most rad­i­cal po­lit­i­cal choices we have ever had to make.

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