Poet, Anatole France, once observed that, "it is the certainty that they possess the truth that makes men cruel." He could just as easily be commenting on two recent actions of our present federal government that fly directly in the face of what is supposed to be good politics: giving the people what they want. How else to explain the undue harshness against this country's veterans, or the outright attack and manipulation in the Harper government's attempts to revamp Elections Canada to its own purposes.
What makes both of these instances so remarkable is the sheer arrogance of a government acting against the best interests of its own people. In the process, as the French author observed above, we now have a federal government that is detached enough that it feels it can directly act in a manner that offends the average Canadian. Watch how Rick Mercer reacts to all this to get an idea on just how high are the stakes.
On the surface, the perceived cold-hearted actions of Veterans Affairs Minister, Julian Fantino, seem the most egregious. Canadians aren't used to seeing an elected representative treat those who fought for our country in war by ignoring, even refuting, them in such a public fashion -- on television, no less. The veterans argue that the cuts to their services will make it much more difficult to acquire the benefits they feel they deserve as a result of their dedicated service.
The sight of Fantino's encounter with veterans was deeply troubling to our national psyche. We are a nation that, in its own quiet but respectful way, have traditionally honoured those who defended our land. This is new, especially for a government that backed its men and women in service in a manner unseen for a number of years. And now this: almost a contempt of its own record and the dedication of our military personnel.
Minister Fantino was never good a nuance, or the intricacies of policy, but even this was surely a bridge too far.
But more serious than this is the veiled attack the government is waging against Elections Canada. It resents being called out on some dubious practices in the last 2011 election. Chief Elections Officer, Marc Mayrand, had recommended a number of changes in penalties for election wrongs, especially under the cloud created by the thousands of misleading calls to voters that Conservatives were accused of in the previous federal election.
When the federal minister in charge of democratic reform, Pierre Poilievre, stated that he hand consulted with Mayrand and his officials prior to the proposed changes, Mayrand shot back that he hadn't been consulted at all, nor had his staff. What are we to make of this? At the very least, it speaks to the designs of a governing party that did its best to obstruct Elections Canada's investigation into the Robocall affair and which now seeks to confuse basic democracy even further.
As with anything this important, the issues are complex and defy simplistic conclusions. This isn't about action, however, but attitude. We have a government that belittles the very soldiers it's sent to war and opts to confront the one democratic body -- Elections Canada -- that is the final guarantor for the results of any federal election. This is a government that isn't trying to nuance the message.
It is, in reality, confronting us as citizens and saying: "Look we know you believe in the veterans and the practice of proper compensation for their service. And we're aware that you want some kind of independent arbitrator for elections and democracy. But we are taking these actions because we believe that, despite all you say, you don't care enough to take it out on us. We'll get away with it and you'll just move on."
This is a slap in the face of every citizen in this country, but some people in power are banking on the hunch that we'll just shrug and walk away. If they turn out to be right, then soldiers and electoral officers alike are going to start wondering what kind of democracy they were protecting anyway.
Indonesian author, Toba Beta, said that "Your arrogance doesn't cheapen me." Well in Canada, right now, the opposite appears to be the case and we, as citizens, are being cheapened every day. Federal arrogance towards two respected institutions -- the military and the election observers -- should have the result of an angered citizenry ready to make things right.
This government is banking on the reality that we don't have the courage, the dedication for a long struggle, or even the will to raise our collective voice. These present actions might well put one of the last nails in the coffin of citizen engagement or will resurrect it. It all depends of whether we care enough for our defenders in the battlefields and the ballot boxes. If we don't rise up, they lose and all that arrogance will have won the day.