Canada is looking a little strange these days. Our border crossings are clogged with trucks going nowhere. Main Street Canada is lined with people waving their fists and yelling things. You see a lot of Canadian flags and placards with various interpretations of what freedom means. Parliament Hill in Ottawa is surrounded by pissed-off people and honking horns. And, most un-Canadian of all, we’re making the nightly news around the globe. We’ve traded in polite for protest.
Now, I have nothing against protests. They’re an essential part of democracy. I completely agree with William Faulkner when he said,
“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.”
But it all depends on what you’re protesting against. In this case, that’s a difficult one to nail down. I can understand frustration with health mandates. In my opinion, protesting against that would be somewhat misguided, but at least I could sympathize. I’m tired of this whole COVID thing, too.
But this protest likes to talk a lot about Canada and a perceived loss of freedom. In fact, organizers named their nationwide protest the Freedom Rally. As someone who believes I live in a country that offers more freedom than almost anywhere on the planet, that confuses me.
I’m not the only one. Chris Pengilly, a retired physician from Vancouver Island, is also at a loss to understand what is happening to his country, as he noted on the site Writer’s Bloc. He writes:
“I think the zenith of my despondency came in a recent news broadcast with a Canadian woman vocalizing, and with a placard, saying that she was going to ‘free Canada.’
Free Canada? Free Canada from what?
Any Canadian can start life by being supervised by a midwife or a doctor from conception to delivery – and this is all for free. Nobody needs fear of starting a family because of lack of money.
The children of such a union are educated for free from kindergarten to Grade 12. Canadians are at liberty to choose a private education or home schooling. Excellent public health and immunization is provided at no cost to the parents.
University or college does carry a fee, but is still partially subsidized by the governments.”
Pengilly goes on to list the many other benefits of being Canadian. Yet, apparently, all that is not enough. According to the protestors, there is something deeply flawed and “unfree” about our country.
The ironic thing about these protestors is that they all love to fly the Canadian flag. But the very things they’re protesting against are exactly what makes Canada, Canada.
Canada is a social democracy. The very foundation of a social democracy is, according to Wikipedia, “advocating economic and social interventions to promote social justice within the framework of a liberal-democratic polity and a capitalist-oriented mixed economy. “
By being a social democracy, we benefit from all those things that Pengilly listed — including a government benefit for those impacted by COVID that I’m sure many of those protestors took advantage of.
But with those benefits comes a responsibility to look after each other. That is what makes Canada Canada, at least for three-quarters of us. It’s not about individual rights and freedoms, it’s about collective rights and freedoms. It’s about building a country that strives for the greater good of all.
And you know what? It works.
It’s made Canada one of the best countries in the world to call home. That’s not just me saying that. That’s pretty much every objective analysis that has determined such things, including the most recent one done by the US News and Wharton University, where Canada came out number one. Empirically, according to this analysis, there is no better place on the planet. The rest of the top five are also social democracies.
That’s the nuance that the protestors are missing. Not only are they missing it, they’re tearing apart the very thing that makes Canada the best place in the world in which to live.
Another ranking of the success of a country is the United Nations Human Development Reports. In this ranking, Canada didn’t do quite as well. We came in 16th, just ahead of the U.S. at 17th. Number one was Norway. So where did we lose points?
We lost points due to what the UN calls “New Threats to Human Security in the Anthropocene”: a focus on independency at the expense of interdependency, or, more simply, putting “me above we.” The report warns, “Development approaches with a strong focus on economic growth over equitable human development have led to stark and growing inequalities and destabilized processes at the planetary scale.”
We’re also losing social trust by pitting left against right. The cracks through the center of our culture are destroying the stability required to be a world-class country.
Part of the problem is that our benefits are also our downfall. We have a culture and societal framework that allows itself to be taken advantage of. We have an economy and advantages that tend to lead to a sense of entitlement. We have democratic freedoms that allow a small percentage of an entitled population to protest with a voice that can be disproportionately loud. We have a media ecosystem — both social and traditional — that loves to act as the fan for the proverbial shit to hit. And we have political operatives (grifters?) who have learned both how to amplify this exaggerated discontent and how to use it to their own advantage.
Take the truckers’ protest, for example.
In this new reality of tangled supply chains and climactic disruptors, truckers have emerged as folk heroes by putting their lives on the line to keep our shelves stocked. And to that, you’ll find no argument from me. But as James Menzies, editor of Today’s Trucking and a journalist who has covered the Canadian trucking industry for 18 years, pointed out, “The so-called Freedom convoy was never about truckers”:
“I feel bad for the truckers who thought this was about them. It never was. There was never any discussion around the real issues you face every day. Lack of safe parking. Poor road conditions. Access to clean restrooms. Unpaid detention time at shippers and receivers. You were taken advantage of, because you were frustrated and you have big, loud machines that can be quite disruptive. You became the rallying cry of an anti-government group whose ambitions went well beyond the reversal of the vaccine mandate.”
This is a protest with many layers. At the centre are organizers who not saving Canada, but are trying to build a Canada that never really was. It would be a place that looks a lot like the fictional Montana where John Dutton of the TV show Yellowstone lives; rock-hard, hard-right ideals thinly wrapped in a Canadian flag (perhaps it’s not a coincidence that a major protest is at the Coutts border crossing between Alberta and Montana).
It would be a place where you could say (and mean it), “This is America (or Canada). We don’t share land here.”
It’s just not a place where I want to live.