Our society is undergoing major change. Market forces, a focus on a narrow view of the economy, and globalization have changed the nature of decision making and power in ways that many believe are harmful to the majority of Canadians and favour a select few. Is it too late to reverse the trends? First it is necessary to truly understand the trends and how they affect our culture. Consider as a start the new normal…
Power in government appears isolated in the Prime Minister’s Office.
- Corporate lobbyists like Merit Contractors have relatively easy access to the PMO. Labour has little or no access to the halls of power. Public service is being reshaped as government service from a demoralized work force.
Government reports are reported as often being based on ideology presented as fact.
- Research including by Statistics Canada has been hampered in effectiveness and reduced in size due to government cutting. Knowledgeable public servants have been forbidden to speak because they may not reflect government practice.
Federal Government decisions have reduced participation in democracy.
- Government initiatives include quashing voices of concern by cutting funding, hiding regulatory changes and legislative measures in omnibus Bills that eliminate debate on controversial items, and the appointment of a Minister of State for Democratic Reform who’s first Bill could disenfranchise voters. Even Parliament appears to be no longer a true house of debate.
- Major extraction companies have received assistance for education programs aimed at developing their workforce and the communities they work in.
Professional expertise on social matters is ignored or excluded in favour of ideological support when consultation is sought.
- Governments such as the Government of Alberta structure “reform” panels and exclude professional voices. Education “partners” (really vendors who will profit) are invited. Consider the changes to Elections Canada, Statistics Canada, and the Parliamentary Budget office. Who benefits?
The Federal Government provides its Ministers with an “enemies” list. It appears as if there is a definite pattern emerging when it comes to funding of NGOs. Grants, support, even access to meet appear to be denied to groups who do not support Government policy wholeheartedly.
Political games occur to weaken the impact of voices that do not agree with Government.
- Eight minutes into a high profile speech to a Parliamentary Committee by the Chief Electoral Officer the Government called a vote in the House of Commons.
- The gap between rich and poor is increasing despite denials based on ideologically based research. Generation Y cannot expect to achieve the standards of the Baby Boomers. Canadian CEOs make 171 times the national wage average while workers are being laid off and work qualification requirements are being reduced in order to depress wages.
- Corporate wealth and cash reserves have grown at unprecedented rates. The richest Canadians pay lower amounts of taxes than just a few years ago.
Language does not mean what is says; spin is everything.
- Invasion of privacy is described as increased security. Attacks on labour are presented as protection for workers. Allowing a tax break for those who can afford to enroll their children in sports is described as “supporting Canadian families” – meanwhile food bank use by families is at record levels (PDF, 2.32 MB).
Canada’s influence at the UN and with other governments has decreased.
- Canada could not win election on the Security Council losing to Portugal.
- Wealthy Canadians and major corporations fund pseudo-independent organizations like the Fraser Institute that are committed to privatization of public services. The multi-billion dollar testing industry replaces virtually all other measures of success in education. Vouchers, charter schools and merit pay keep resurfacing despite being discredited multiple times.
The courts are increasingly retrogressive.
- Appointments are made on political grounds – longstanding convention had to be changed to permit a recent appointment previously considered ineligible. Apparently former Cabinet Ministers can be appointed to judgeships in less than the normal 2-year waiting period.
The politics of division normalizes marginalization. Values are under retrogressive pressure that increases racism, intolerance and violence against women.
- Universities across Canada are experiencing leadership, sports team and campus life crises arising from abusive treatment of women.
These are only snapshot perspectives of how our society is changing. Many of us find these changes disturbing and recognize that although the overall effect can be overwhelming, patience, solidarity and coordinated challenge can make a difference and limit at least some of the change.
Where can Canadians look to coordinate and focus opposition to these changes? Churches have been somewhat co-opted and their impact on society minimalized. But the individual members still have voice and influence. Organized labour has been demonized and attacked in the media. But the individual members still have voice and influence. Universities have been financially strangled and co-opted by corporations and government. But the individual students and instructors still have voice and influence. Opposition parties have been vilified and weakened with negative advertising. But they still provide individual citizens with voice and influence.
If the new normal is to be influenced to favour all citizens, individuals must accept the challenge and make their voices heard. Power truly can still rest with the people; only if people choose to exercise it.
Calvin Fraser, Canadian Teachers’ Federation
1 See Ottawa Citizen, Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013 article “: In Harper’s strategy the truth is irrelevant”.