There has been a suggestion by some that the recent Olympics were a significant effort in the building of our nation. A feel good event it may have been, but to label it a nation building exercise would be a stretch. This would diminish the hard work of our forbears who came to this land and built a country out of rocks, trees, water and most strenuous hard work. At a cost of six billion plus, for two weeks of mostly entertainment, one could imagine what the pioneers, who came here, could have accomplished with such funding.
I make this point not to diminish the accomplishments of athletes or the games themselves, albeit I think we are arriving at a point in history when such games will be unaffordable for most. I wish instead to address our own continuing nation building requirements, with its inherent stresses and strains, as we reach our own pivotal point of necessary change; transitioning to the new from the old.
Most western democracies are facing a similar challenge. There is a need for renewal of our democratic and economic processes, their institutional structures and our approaches to business and governance. The rigid structures that have been created and the narrow view of governance that has emerged over the past sixty years have reached their zenith. As a result, the vibrant societies that have been created in the western world are starting to crumble and our very way of life has been placed in jeopardy.
There is much talk about the need for innovation, for renewed governance models and revitalized institutions in the media and among the political and business elites. But, there is very little action, other than a consolidation of power of the status quo by those in leadership positions. The real danger is that we perpetuate what exists until it collapses, much similar to Soviet Russia. One sees there the dilemma of the reconstruction of a system from nothing.
We only have to look to the United States, once the most significant example of democratic governance in the world, and its gridlocked political system, as each party vie to gain advantage over the other. Democracy and governance be damned, it is control and power that counts.
In Canada, we have endured the prorogation of Parliament, without even a consultation with the Governor General, because the Prime Minister considered it an impediment to his cause. Many would naively discount these incidents as minor, instead of major, assaults on our democracies.
These stresses come at a time when western economies are imploding from the wanton neglect of financial institutions caused by earlier attacks by other governments on the regulatory regimes that monitored them. These changes overtime have culminated into a very rigid system of government and a lack of real control of those that would abuse their power, be it political or economic.
The real danger is that we begin to believe the rhetoric that our democracy is flawed, and allow our political masters, who proclaim that they know best, to collapse both the system and the institutions that have been created to make it work under the guise of fixing it.
There is much wrong with our current systems of government and economic orders. But there is no need to destroy their very fabric to make them work. More importantly, it is not necessary to relinquish all of the benefits that have accrued to our society from their original value base. It is this value base that brought us Medicare, pensions, social support and so many other necessary human benefits.
What is required is a genuine non-partisan examination of the government and the economic structures that have evolved, along with our decision making processes. This will allow a diagnosis of how, and where, they have become stuck, in order to rebuild them to reflect their original intent. This needs to be done in the context of the values that the majority hold dear, and not from the base of ideology of right or left, which appears to be the norm today.
Most of all we have to examine our own humanness, which has been sidelined in our quest for more and bigger; no matter the cost.
This is what real nation building is about. It is about hard work, appreciation of others and difference, compromise and struggle. It is about understanding the foundations that made the nation vibrant, and finding ways to recreate these foundations, albeit adjusted to suit different times. This is where innovation comes in, where institutional change is required and, most of all, where democratic governance is necessary.
Political ideology is a poor substitute for genuine participation and honest compromise wrapped in a spirit of authentic democratic process. Rigid ideology has destroyed many more nations than it has built.
True nation building, as our forbears learnt, requires much grit and determination and a willingness to help each other. Feel good events provide a diversion for a short time, but they never will replace the real struggles necessary for people who wish freedom, well being and the ability to participate in their own and their children’s futures.
Written by Bill Pardy,
March 9th, 2010