Tuesday, September 8, 2015

It Took A Photo of a Child Washed Up on a Beach To Get Canada's Political Class To Shut the Fuck Up About the Economy

Last week's electoral campaign in Canada took a turn from the banal to matters of importance. 

Early in the week, we learned that the Canadian economy had contracted for two consecutive quarters, and, as a result, the Canadian economy is by definition in a recession, albeit a mild one. 

Because the official status of a recession was pronounced during an electoral campaign, which up until last week was the most boring on record, the leaders of the political parties tried desperately to spin the latest statistics in their direction.  The opposition leaders claimed this was further proof of the government's mismanagement of the economy, while the Prime Minister responded that only the oil and gas sector was in recession and that the rest of the economy was doing fine.  As well, he said that last month's figures showed that "we had turned the corner."  Was this going to be the topic of debate for the next eight weeks?

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Then, something completely unexpected changed the focus of Canadians entirely.

The image of a drowned 3-year old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, his lifeless body washed up on a Turkish beach appeared on our screens and upon those around the world.  As we were to learn, his family was trying to emigrate to Canada and were unable to navigate the bureaucratic process that refugees must go through to make it to our shores, in spite of the fact that a member of the family was already living here.

That cut deep, to the very core of what it is to be Canadians.  We are the "UnAmericans."  Yes, in many ways we lead similar lives, but there are important differences.  Universal health care is one.  Decent public education is another.  We like to think of ourselves as the kinder, gentler America.

Yet, this image throws our long-held beliefs about ourselves into doubt.  Where was the compassion?  What have we become?  How did we fail so miserably to take in this family so desperately in need?

It is all fine and well to talk from time to time about interest rates, taxes, budgets, and trade, but not at the exclusion of everything else and especially not at the expense of things that really matter, those things that make us human, that make life worth living.

Sadly, the Canada in which I grew up in no longer exists. Over the years, we have become far too focused on the material aspect of life, hence the popularity of trying to reduce politics to little more than debates of economic policy.

Nations at their very core are imagined communities, meaning that we must imagine ourselves as part of a very large community and how we relate to others who are not members of our immediate family.  This is largely an act that carries with it feelings of belonging and of compassion for those who are less fortunate than we are.

Imagining ourselves solely as producers and consumers in an economy diminishes who we are, but that's exactly how the corporate sector and the media that it owns would have us believe are the most important aspects of life here in Canada.

But that image reached out and touched us.  It let us know that there is something seriously amiss with the way we lead our lives.

So, it will be interesting to see how the campaign unfolds from here.  Will we just forget that this tragedy ever happened and return to the well-worn script of talking economic shop, or will something different emerge, like a vision of another way to structure our society?

I can only hope that we can rediscover the compassion that was once part of this nation's fabric.

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