What Happens To Us When We Turn Ten?

The air is being filled with post-mortems, lessons learned from this extraordinary result, the Conservative majority, the reversal of fortunes, for now at least, of the NDP and Liberals, the disappearance of the Bloc and Quebecers’ decision to opt for a progressive, federalist party.  Now is probably too soon for meaningful reflection.

The Anybody But Conservative voices will probably not want to hear any talk about silver linings.  Just the same, there are some: Quebec dropping the Bloc and providing an unprecedented opportunity for progressive voices in Quebec and the rest of Canada to join forces, the possible progress that enhanced Aboriginal participation could bring, and the enduring benefits of a new generation of impressive and engaged citizens exemplified by Leadnow.

The Conservatives will be in no mood to hear about the challenges and responsibilities that come with majority.   Just the same, of course, there are some, not least the need to bring Canadians together, especially given how polarised we have become, and to govern for us all, across the diversity of our interests, values,  ideologies and lifestyle choices, and for the long-term health of Canada even as we seem so preoccupied with what is happening right now.

The NDP will not want to spoil their celebration by considering how much harder it may be to influence the agenda in the short-term.  Just the same, it will be, especially on issues such as inequality, the environment, aid, education and the arts, except perhaps through greater devolution which, ironically, could simply make a federal social democratic party increasingly irrelevant.  And quite a lot is riding on the NDP.

The Greens will not want to hear anything that might diminish their joy at having, finally and deservedly, a Parliamentary voice even as environment and climate change are a harder sell than ever and electoral reform, so vital to their prospects, no easier.

And the Liberals will need time to heal and deal with their internal divisions and difficult choices.

Progressives of the centre and to the left have a lot to ponder.  The temptation will be to point fingers at this party or that, this person or that – and of course some of this is necessary – but the best thing is to start with ourselves.  The energy of some young leaders stemmed the horrible decline in voting but the massive turnout never materialized.  We were either too satisfied or too indifferent. The politics of personal smear continued and intensified – and we just didn’t seem to get mad enough. Some defended the garbage as just part of the tough business of politics.  There has to be a better way.  We ought to get mad. We lost wonderful people from every party – and I do wonder why wonderful people would ever choose to run for any party in this climate of personal smears and negativity.  And too many of us put party ahead of purpose and fought for party standing more than for Canada, and that cannot be the way forward.

In the midst of all this I watched revellers in U.S. cities chanting and waving their fists celebrating the assassination and disposal of Osama Bin Laden, and the only somewhat milder Twitter celebrations here in Canada.  At the same time I was listening to a CBC interview of a woman who had lost her husband on 9/11 who had explained to her nine-year-old son that Osama Bin Laden had been shot in the head.  The son, she reported,  was worried, wondered why that had happened, asked why there had been no trial.  This boy who had lost his father was worried about rule of law while most of us were acting out our hate, anger and vengeance.  What happens to us when we turn ten?

Whatever else yesterday might mean, it is a reminder that we have an obligation to get involved, to stay involved, and to fight for the things we believe in, even when they may be hard sells, to reject the politics of cynicism and smear and wedge and hate and narrow partisanship, to rediscover the will to vote but more than this, for the long term, to participate with others across region and party in pursuit of our best sense of the public good, led by the youth for sure but including those of us of more advanced years.

26 Responses to “What Happens To Us When We Turn Ten?”
  1. Errol Mendes says:

    Wonderful wisdom from a Canadian statesman. Lets hope there are many more who think like you Alex. We will need such guidance in the potentially very stormy months and years ahead.

  2. Beijing York says:

    Hi Alex,

    As always, you are a thoughtful and well-reasoned man. I had a sinking feeling that Harper would get his majority when I recently spent time in Toronto and Ottawa. I am trying not to find some hope but I have to say it’s hard.

    • Himelfarb says:

      So glad to hear from you, read your reaction and thought of you as I wrote. By the way, the nine year old’s mother who had lost her husband concluded her story by saying that she was proud of her son for how he reacted. See, all we need is more engaged women, more women in politics.

  3. Andy Watt says:

    Great post. Thank you. I am strangely optimistic about the possibility that Mr. Harper will, with the comfort of a majority, start considering his political legacy and what it might take to leave some positive changes behind him.
    Before our little election party last night, a friend said he had had a phone call from the PC campaign, asking him if he would consider voting for The Harper Government. He replied, I would consider doing that if Mr. Harper would do one great thing – for instance, in health care, education or offshore tax evasion – doesn’t matter what, as long as it is a really good thing to do. He didn’t get a reply, but maybe he will now.
    But I’m pretty tired and groggy tonight, so may be back in my right mind tomorrow.

  4. Orwell's Bastard says:

    What Errol said.

    I wonder whether there’s a lesson in what happened nearly four decades ago with Richard Nixon? In 1972, he won one of the most overwhelming electoral victories in American history, using a political strategy not unlike what we’re seeing from Harper today. And yet less than two years later, he was gone.

    Imperfect historical parallel, I realize, but if there are similarities, it’s in our interest to recognize them and learn what we can from them.

    • Hi OB. How are you? Thanks for your comment. I think there is a lesson if only that persistent disregard for the will of the majority cannot but sooner or later bring a government down.

  5. Armine Yalnizyan says:

    I heard the same news item about the ten -year-old’s reaction to Bin Laden’s death. It led to a brief but profound exchange with two of my almost-adult children, and a reinforcement of the guidance that these simple lessons of childhood offer us, all our lives through if we remember them. That includes retaining a curiousity and desire for life in all its messy forms; and a ready adaptation to new circumstances based on our learnings.
    Your piece reminds us of all these things. Do not linger overlong on the trouble, nor dillydally on the dream. Take the best of what you’ve got and make it better.
    Thanks for the double reminder.

  6. Such a well-thought out and enlightening post. Sometimes, the kids have lessons to teach us adults. Not sometimes: a lot of the time. Thanks for your insight.

  7. Thomas V Kennedy says:

    What a wonderful well written piece of journalism, deepest congratulations. Particularly liked your comments about the politics of smear. Your decency is admirable. regards Tom

  8. Satya Brink says:

    I am having a hard time explaining the election result to friends and colleagues here in Paris. Just imagine how different the result might have been with proportional representation. I like the way in which you have shown how the different parties can contribute to the policy debate but, at the root of it all, it is the fight for the middle. However, with this result, I am a bit muddled as to what the middle is!

    • himelfarb says:

      Satya, Thanks for this. I for one would love to drop the notion of “middle” or “centre” and just press for substantive issues that matter for our future- leave it to others to classify – how to create jobs and opportunity, not just wealth concentrated in the hands of the few. how to ensure universal access to health care and health regardless of income and in the face of an aging population, how to green the economy, seriously address climate change and preserve our environment, how to combat the unsupportable levels of inequality that make democracy and common purpose impossible, and how to rejuvenate our democracy, starting with electoral reform. Too often the “middle” has been about not being things, not being a socialist or not being a free market capitalist. It is surely time to be about something now, about the future, about how we might achieve progress together.

  9. thomas v kennedy says:

    The more I read of your responses himelfarb, the more assured I become that I joined a terrific blog, go lad go, your nailing it and making a lot of sense and are quite accurate and decent in your statements, my hat is off to you and you gotta earn that and you have many regards

  10. I think there are a whole generation of us who think, or once thought, that the progress of the seventies and eighties was a one-way thing, that the change was permanent, that we could go on to other things (raising kids, funding retirement, etc) without worrying too much about politics anymore. Wrong, wrong, wrong. We cannot ignore our political obligations any more than we can ignore the need to keep exercising, or keep doing the housework – it doesn’t stay done.

  11. Alan Bernstein says:

    An excellent, thoughtful piece. I especially agree with your very last thought that young people now need to led. The baby boomers(myself included) have dominated all agendas for too long and it is time for the 20 and 30 year olds to step up to the plate. If they do, I am very optimistic about Canada’s future.

    Best regards, Alan

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