Will Canada opt to be kind again?
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.