The last decade in Canadian parliament has witnessed one of the most dramatic reversals in Western democracy. Regional differences, language issues, resource-sharing and citizenship disenchantment with all things political have resulted in a Canada at troubling odds with its more professional and stabilized reputation of only a few years ago. Speaking with a former United Nation's official last week who worked for years in an effort to reconstruct Haiti provided a sage observation on how this is viewed from nations outside of our own -- "Canada seems to have lost its sense of honour." It was phrase that has stayed and troubled me since it was uttered.
There is every sense that whatever Canada was in the eyes of the world has been radically altered, at least in perception. When Canadians themselves talk of the last decade in politics there is clearly a sense of jadedness, but when comparing the present context to those days when this country was highly regarded as an equitable nation and a terrific generator of Foreign Service professionals, many Canadians clearly sense a certain decline in stature.
Perhaps it's because politics itself has changed. The rustic/eloquent observer of the Canadian scene, Rex Murphy, commented last week that the two past Liberal leaders -- Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff -- were more like "boy scouts" than tough politicians. It's likely that there's some truth in this. But the victor is one who has succeeded in taking us down a number of dark alleys, where compromise is cast aside for conflict, and a sense of permanent partisan warfare replaces respectful governance.
What Murphy was saying, in effect, is that the days of respectfulness, dignity, and professionalism in the Canadian political landscape are more suitable for old National Film Board newsreels than the modern era of rumble-tumble bludgeoning political intrigue. We now live in a world where a government can turn on its own parliament, deny it the proper accounting assessments necessary for the approval of mega-expensive items like the F-35 jet, and proceed as if the need for the Canadian people to have a proper accounting for such expenditures (the largest military procurement in Canadian history) is not of prime importance. It is a world of political assassination via the airwaves, the silencing of professional ministry staffs, and a media that largely delights in the sheer parry and thrust of it all.
Welcome to the death of political honour -- that now unattainable practice of sticking to your word, where a commitment made was one worked out in a multi-party setting, and where all political representatives, especially the prime minister, would demonstrate the dignity of office by bowing to the will and constitution of parliament itself. Was it ever this ideal? Absolutely not, but past eras instinctively understood that it was a measure by which they would be judged. Furthermore, it was an effective means for dealing with public policies in a way that limited excessive friction and roguish behaviour. The new world of politics is more about fear of the leader and loyalty to the party than about honouring an institution that has watched over a very successful country for decades and guaranteeing that outcome by a personal sense of self-respect and honour.
The irony of it all is that Canada's reputation was clearly linked to its "boy scout" sense of responsibility. We were the folks in the blue berets, storming Vimy Ridge; residents of the most successful multi-cultural state in the world, business people who could span an entire country with a prosperous model; and citizens that at least pursued that most mercurial of all democratic pursuits -- equality.
The Machiavellian nature of our present Canadian political power structure has the potent result of demeaning the very greatness that honoured us at home and abroad. In response to Rex Murphy, I can only offer the perhaps outdated view of David Gemmell in his Shield of Thunder: "I may be stupid, as you say, to believe in honour and friendship without price. But these are virtues to be cherished, for without them we are no more than beasts roaming the land."
The days of roaming are now upon us. Careers have replaced character. And the only ones who can halt that transformation are the very citizens who have turned away from our national embarrassment.
FIIn this file photo taken on July 14, 2011 and released by U.S. Air Force, a USAF F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter (JSF) aircraft soars over Destin, Fla., before landing at its new home at Eglin Air Force Base. Japan selected the Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011, to replace aging jets in its air force and bolster its defense capability amid regional uncertainty. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, Staff Sgt. Joely Santiago)
A F-35 Lightning II sits on stage during the United Kingdom F-35 Lightning II delivery ceremony on July 19, 2012 at Lockheed Martin Corporation in Fort Worth, Texas. The ceremony marked the first international delivery of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to a partner nation. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
(Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
Plane models stand outside the Lockheed Martin Corporation during the United Kingdom F-35 Lightning II Delivery Ceremony on July 19, 2012 in Fort Worth, Texas. The ceremony marked the first international delivery of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to a partner nation. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet sits in front the entrance of the Asian Aerospace 2004 show in Singapore 24 February 2004. The Asia Pacific offers one of the world's strongest prospects for defence-related spending, US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin said Tuesday as it expressed confidence in remaining a major supplier to the region's governments (AFP PHOTO/ROSLAN RAHMAN)
(AFP PHOTO/CARL DE SOUZA)
A Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lighning II fighter jet sits on the tarmac for static display at the Singapore Airshow in Singapore on February 12, 2012. Boeing's much-delayed 787 Dreamliner is set to star at the Singapore Airshow this week where companies touting private jets and defence hardware to the Asian market will also be out in force. (ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
(ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
On Feb. 16, 2012, the first external weapons test mission was flown by an F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The F-35A is designed to carry up to 18000 pounds on 10 weapon stations featuring four weapon stations inside two weapon bays, for maximum stealth capability, and an additional three weapon stations on each wing.
IN AIR, NAVAL AIR STATION PATUXENT RIVER, MD - FEBRUARY 11: (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been received by U.S. Military prior to transmission) In this image released by the U.S. Navy courtesy of Lockheed Martin, the U.S. Navy variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35C, conducts a test flight February 11, 2011 over the Chesapeake Bay. Lt. Cmdr. Eric 'Magic' Buus flew the F-35C for two hours, checking instruments that will measure structural loads on the airframe during flight maneuvers. The F-35C is distinct from the F-35A and F-35B variants with larger wing surfaces and reinforced landing gear for greater control when operating in the demanding carrier take-off and landing environment. (Photo by U.S. Navy photo courtesy Lockheed Martin via Getty Images)
Courtesy: NAVAIR/JSF Program/Lockheed Martin
Highlights of F-35 flight testing at NAS Patuxent River, Md., NAS Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, and Edwards AFB, Calif.
The first night flight in the history of the Lockheed Martin F-35 program was completed on Jan. 19, 2012 in the skies above Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Piloted by Lockheed Martin Test Pilot Mark Ward, AF-6, an F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant, launched at 5:05 pm PST and landed after sunset at 6:22 pm
An F-35 test pilot talks about airstart testing at Edwards AFB, Calif., in early 2012.
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