Those of us who followed closely the dark years of the Harper regime are well-aware of its ethos: government is an impediment and an intrusive force, foisting itself upon people who would be far better off left alone. The tax-cut policies of the regime, along with the creation of TFSAs, the underfunding of programs, the gutting of environmental regulation and oversight, etc. were all ample testaments to that philosophy.
The thick carapace of my cynicism led me to fear that far too many of my fellow citizens had accepted the message of the primacy of the individual over the collective. While a humbling experience, I am so glad that I was so wrong, a fact amply attested to by the results of our recent election.
Hope and goodness are alive and well.
In a recent column, Toronto Star publisher John Cruickshank makes some very interesting observations about what led Justin Trudeau's Liberals to such a definitive victory, and the word 'good' figures prominently in his assessment. He observes that the word was used during the campaign by both Harper and Mulcair as being synonymous with 'skilled', as in 'good leadership.' Trudeau, however, used it differently:
...when he used “good” as in “good government,” Trudeau often wasn’t speaking merely of skilfulness or efficiency.
He meant morally good. Virtuous. Right.
It was a little shocking to hear. It echoed the language of an earlier generation before the relentless Conservative assault on the size, scope and nature of democratic government impoverished our speech and slackened our hopes.The kind of fatalism implicit in the Harper message, that we are controlled by global forces and markets that compel us to be either lean and mean or 'die', was challenged by Trudeau:
Trudeau called out both this fatalism and the pessimism about voters that underlay the Conservatives’ personal attacks and their scaremongering against new Canadians.Canadians responded by strongly endorsing a philosophy that says government can once more be a force for good, a notion constantly challenged and undermined by the neoliberal agenda:
His promise to run a modest budget deficit for three years to restore public works and put more Canadians to work was above all a pledge to think differently and more confidently. Challenging current ideology, he said we could alter our circumstances.
Second, he insisted that inequality of wealth and opportunity was a moral problem as well as a technical one. The promise to raise taxes on the rich and reduce those on the middle class gave testament to his seriousness.
Raising taxes and running deficits have been considered political third rails. Despite the risks, Trudeau grabbed on hard.
And it was this enthusiasm for “good government” that decided the election.The message to all Canadians is that they are not alone in their struggles, surely one that can bring some solace to many. Let us now hope that message will find full expression in policies implemented with vigour and deep conviction.
It was a vote for a return of moral passion and a sense of purpose when we address our economy, our environment, the newcomers to our nation and our Aboriginal Peoples.
This kind of political talk was once much more common in Canada. Perhaps it will again be possible after this very broad and deep victory to engage Canadians in pursuing what another Liberal prime minister called the Just Society.