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At 75, I'm Looking for a Prime Minister Who Leads

With a future full of challenges, it's time to reflect on the qualities we need.

Michael Clague 5 Mar 2015TheTyee.ca

Michael Clague is a retired director of the Carnegie Community Centre in Vancouver. He was awarded the Order of Canada for community service in 2008.

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Vancouver resident Michael Clague, soon-to-be 75, seeks a leader with as much energy as him.

I turn 75 this year. I plan to vote in the federal election.

Why does Prime Minister Harper at 56 seem so much older than me? He comes across as a weary, slightly irritated and impatient headmaster whose pupils simply don't get it. I look for vision and energy in articulating and acting on the special insights my country can offer to the major challenges of the 21st century, like climate change, global insecurity and social security. Instead, our government's discussion of these are characterized by denial, truculence and shallow gestures to military pride, and the mocking of its critics.

The very idea of government that Mr. Harper conveys is not in the tradition of our three great parties. His Conservative party campaigns on being anti-government. Previous debates among Progressive Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats were around how much government should itself provide programs and services, but all recognized that government has a responsibility to make sure they are provided. It was part of the social contract with citizens. Now our federal government takes no interest in the idea of a social contract. Let the chips fall. Affordable housing is a prime example.

This federal government does not inspire Canadians to believe in the best our country has to offer. It mobilizes us through fear. Fear of crime. Fear and anger of Big Government. Fear of external threats. Fear that environmental action will destroy our economy.

I would have thought such fundamentalist conservatism would include a staunch defence of civil liberties, human rights, transparency, truthfulness and the need for public, democratic accountability. Instead, we have an aggrandizement of unaccountable political power in the prime minister and his office. Omnibus budget bills contain so much policy over so many subjects that profoundly affect Canadian lives that it is impossible for the opposition parties, the public and the media to decipher them for meaningful discussion and debate.

Our scientists are muzzled in sharing research that is vital to our environmental health. Cabinet ministers need "minders" with short leashes, lest they show any deviation from the prime ministerial line. The long-form census is abandoned with the cynical explanation that it intrudes too much into people's personal lives, when it is well known that the well-being of our country for business, economic and social requirements, depends on it. But then, such data may reveal too much about disparities of income, health and opportunity among Canadians -- disparities that citizens would hope their federal government would acknowledge.

Our federal government has assigned millions of dollars for the Canada Revenue Agency to investigate registered charities to ensure they are not exceeding the 10 per cent quota that is allowed for public policy advocacy. How does this build a healthy civil society if it introduces a chill on non-profits trying to untangle the full significance of the government's omnibus bills? Should not a vibrant, vigorous civil sector engaged in debate across all interests -- regardless of political affiliation -- be at the very heart of the Canadian society a Conservative government would want to nourish?

Centralized power

Now our prime minister, saying that terrorism is the greatest threat of our time, has substantially expanded the powers of our federal police and intelligence agency to investigate the private lives of Canadians with insufficient oversight and fewer safeguards. If the long-form census is regarded by the government as an intrusion into people's lives, what is this? Four former prime ministers have spoken out against Bill C-51.

Crime has fallen, but we are sending more people to prison for longer terms for minor offences. We are building more prisons whose occupants are disproportionately young, and aboriginal -- perfect incubators for a life of crime. And this is done by the same government that has repeatedly clashed with our Supreme Court, not just on substantive issues, which is not uncommon for any government, but on procedures such as the appointment of justices.

Mr. Harper is righteous about the superiority of our government over other forms -- note the recently announced monument to the "Victims of Communism" in the Supreme Court precinct. Yet his government shares similar qualities with that of our northern neighbour, though fortunately not of the same magnitude. President Putin's Russia clamps down on non-profits. It undertakes military ventures and the threat of terrorism to mobilize support among citizens. It aggrandizes the president. In Canada, we recently learned that the prime minister is taking on responsibilities normally exercised by the Governor General, the representative of our head of state, the Queen -- a thinning of constitutional boundaries. Power is centralizing around one man.

What I will support

Whether my next prime minister is 56 or 75, I'm looking for a leader who is frank with Canadians about the immense challenges that are shaping our future, who reminds us that there are no simple solutions, and who recognizes that compromise and give and take are essential. I'm looking for a leader who calls Canadians to public service and commits to making a difference for the health and well-being of all members of society. I'm looking for a leader whose inspiration engages us to take responsibility for building a better a country -- a leader who is accountable, who acknowledges her or his shortcomings, who encourages divergent views, and who does not pander to our base instincts.

If Canadians are inspired to work constructively together to build a better country, then we will also be inspired to contribute to a better world. This means we need a foreign policy that respects the United Nations and works assiduously to make it a better organization. It means we need a prime minister who attends the annual opening of the U.N. rather than the opening of a Tim Hortons in New York -- a rude and inexcusable insult to all who believe in and who have worked so hard to realize the ideals the U.N. represents.

This kind of Canada does not righteously lecture other nations. It takes leadership to bring the globe together to develop responses to climate change, sharing what we are learning and doing with others -- and learning from others, too. This is a Canada that demonstrates even-handed leadership and quieter diplomacy in the entrenched disputes in the Middle East and elsewhere while being motivated to contribute to a democratic and just world order. This is a Canada that re-directs the millions being spent to maintain six fighter jets attacking targets in Iraq -- and apparently soon Syria -- to improving the conditions in the bordering refugee camps, and to substantially expand the admissions of refugees to our country.

In this year's federal election, this is the kind of leader, the kind of leadership, and the kind of policies I will support for a Canada and for a world that my grandchildren will inherit.  [Tyee]

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