Idle No More vs Government By The People For The People
By its simplest definition, democratic governments are government by the people for the people. We elect others to represent us and to manage our common resources and affairs on our behalf. While I’m quite willing to criticize government for its general lack of competence, the truth is that we the people are responsible for the governments we elect and always get only the government we deserve.
The outgoing Liberal Premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty, is a case in point. He is being justifiably vilified for his cynical, inefficient and dishonest approach to governance.
In his nine years in office, Mr. McGuinty has managed to rack up the highest debt in the province’s history, create completely unnecessary labour strife in our schools, presided over the squandering of billions in eHealth, Ontario Lottery and Gaming and Ornge Medical Helicopter Service. His energy policy has seen costs for sustainable energy increase by as much as eight times compared to hydro electric and much of that energy is not needed and is sold below cost to other jurisdictions. He has broken so many election promises that people stopped counting after he hit 75 during his first term in office.
Under his leadership, the province dropped from being the economic engine of Canada to being a ‘have-not’ province that has had its credit rating lowered and which now requires equalization payments from smaller provinces through the federal government.
There is little question that he remains one of the worst premiers in the history of Ontario, if not Canada and it is a relief to the majority that he is finally stepping down.
But here’s the thing. We elected him and not just once but three times. The writing was on the wall in his first term when he lied to us and publicly acknowledged it. It didn’t matter. He was reelected and reelected a third time despite the province’s dismal economy and myriad of other problems.
While Mr. McGuinty remains responsible for his abysmal performance while in office, we are responsible for not doing anything about it when we had the opportunity.
A similar situation is taking place right now in the United States.
My American friends had the opportunity to remove a failed president from office but didn’t take it. Instead, they reelected Barrack Obama and are now waking up to the reality of that decision. It is four more years of everything they didn’t like before last fall’s election campaign: higher taxes, high unemployment, government by decree (executive orders), confused foreign policy and cronyism in terms of tax and social policy.
People in the United States, just as they are in Ontario, are angry; and not just over gun control and health care. They’re angry that their paychecks have gone down this year and they’re angry that the promises that were made during the election are once again ignored.
Whether it is republic, a constitutional monarchy or any other form of government, if it is elected democratically it is government by the people, for the people. If we don’t do our part of the job very well, we deserve the failure we elected.
I believe part of the problem, beyond apathy, stems from the fact that while we talk a great deal about democracy, we don’t seem to understand it very well.
Too many of us continue to see government as something separate from us rather than something of us.
This is never more clearly illustrated than when groups, like Occupy and Idle No More, protest the government by doing everything they can to disrupt you and me. They fail to realized that we actually determine who will govern and while we haven’t always been very good at it, we still get to make that decision every four years or so. If we’re angry enough, we can and will, replace a government that is not doing what we want with one that will or at least might.
People line up to petition government for all kinds of things, usually money, but not always; sometimes they want legislative changes as well. Cynical politicians are pretty good at handing out our money to buy votes but they aren’t as quick to make legislative changes that will affect everyone because that puts them at risk when the next election rolls around, if the changes are unpopular on a large scale.
The Progressive Conservatives (PCs) learned that back in the late 80s when they introduced the Goods and Services Tax, a tax that was universally hated by almost everyone, Liberal and Conservative alike.
What the First Nations, like so many others, have failed to understand is that the government has no money. The almost $10 billion that is handed over to aboriginal communities comes from the people. It is our tax money that makes the money they receive possible. It is also our goodwill that makes the legislative changes possible because we are the ones who determine who will legislate.
It’s a fine line that politicians walk between special interest that can swing votes their way or calm troubled waters and the people who decide whether those politicians get to continue in their jobs.
While Idle No More protesters are having a whale of a good time stomping around disrupting things in order to try and force government to do what it wants (whatever in Hell that is), the truth is that they won’t achieve it by annoying the very people whose support they need to cause those changes to be made.
We are the government, or more accurately, the source of government and while we haven’t always done a very good job when it comes to electing governments, we do elect and fund them. They don’t fall out of the sky with bags full of money.
Canadians are basically a decent people and we seem to be prepared to tolerate a fair degree of disruption and public dissent but there is, to quote AFN Chief Sean Atleo, a “tipping point”. When we reach that point, we tend to get fairly aggressive about making changes to government in order to protect our interest.
The former Progressive Conservative Party discovered that a couple of decades ago when it was reduced from being a majority government to having just two seats in Parliament. The Liberal Government in Quebec and the federal Liberal Party have also been taught that you can only push the people so far.
If First Nations want to address the issues that are important to them, I would suggest they reconsider their approach. It has been tried by them many times in the past without success and was equally unsuccessful with the Occupy Movement. Attitudes towards Idle No More and First Nations issues are turning from supportive to demands for accountability.
“More than four out of five Canadians don’t want more money sent to aboriginal reserves unless proper, independent audits are conducted to ensure financial accountability. And fewer than one in three thinks the money spent by the federal government on reserves is well-managed by the native leaders and communities who receive it. ” – Ipsos Reid poll conducted for Postmedia News.
At the end of the day, I would suggest that Idle No More has more chance of accomplishing some, if not all, of what it is striving for by making an ally of Canadians rather than alienating us. We will tolerate a great deal but our empathy and our tolerance only extends so far.
At the end of the day, it comes down to simple mathematics. A half million people do not have the political clout or the votes of thirty-five million, nor do they have the physical power to bring the country to its knees if the country decides to defend itself and its interests.
A majority of Canadians have become increasingly concerned about financial management and transparency on aboriginal reserves and no government is going to ignore that. It is, after all the people’s money. What First Nations are demanding will not be achieved by continual protest and demonstration like we are seeing now nor will it be granted by government unless the majority of those thirty-five million agree. Employing economically disruptive, and intimidation, tactics will not swing public opinion in favour of First Nations Issues.
Neither will letting people like Theresa Spence represent them. She has become a major credibility liability for Idle No More specifically and First Nations generally.
It would seem to me that angering as many of us as possible, as Idle No More protesters seem intent on doing, is not a strategy that bears much promise for the future.
© 2012 Maggie’s Bear
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