What would you give up for Canada? Not for your home, your kids, your community, your mosque, or your job: for Canada. What would you give? What's it worth to you?
Issue polling gets a famously bad name, in part because it's hard to accurately measure people's intensity of belief. Most of us believe climate change is a problem, but the real question is how much we would give to solve it. How much would you – personally - change? Crisis, as every apocalyptic blockbuster of the last generation has underlined on the big screen, is a testing point for exactly those kind of values.
A financial collapse is a crisis. War is a crisis. And a pandemic is a crisis. It is, in the religious language of yesteryear, apocalyptic. It reveals, literally. It shows us who we are.
Canada has always had a middle class identity crisis. We talk vaguely about multiculturalism and maple syrup, or – a favorite – not being American. If we wanted to know what Canada was worth – how we’re valued - we could do some recreational navel gazing, a tour of our greatest hits, and assemble a list of achievements. Vimy Ridge, could be what Canada is. Or Lester B. Pearson’s Suez Crisis. But a good psychologist will tell you never to let a good crisis go to waste: What have we learned about what we value at our testing point?
At first glance, our professed values of peace, order, and good government held up pretty well. This short list is one of the few places Canadians really write down what we call our values. The pandemic revealed a deep, serious commitment to peace, security, safety, order, and fairness, –after a fashion. The quality of that peace and order is important, though. At our testing point we preferred the peace and order of safety and security. Good government was defined by how much peace and security it brought, not an intrinsic good in and of itself, but an instrumental one that is the best at getting us safe, prosperous, secure, lives.
Our values, in other words, are ordered. Abraham Maslow famously argued humans have a hierarchy of needs. St. Augustine said that a political community – a commonwealth – like a person, is defined by the ordering of their loves. Our great sins, argued Augustine, are not fueled by bad desires, but by good desires, taken disproportionately, emphasized inordinately, precluding other goods.
Do we desire safety and security, peace and order? We should. These are good things. But how do these compare to other professed desires: freedoms of persons and institutions, the rule of law, human rights, and parliaments? Are these a second thing, a third thing? What would we sacrifice for them?
This may sound like a Canadian debate – certainly peace, order, and good government is a very Canadian trinity – but it’s not. The geopolitical contest is heating up between autocracy and democracy, between what has been called the Beijing Consensus – the romance for which has been splashed across our media feeds throughout the pandemic – and the messy, sclerotic, but open world of liberal democracy. The debate during the pandemic boiled down instrumentally: Which system delivered, which system secured safety, vaccinations, effective prevention policies. That debate is hardly over, despite recurring autocratic sentiments – robust democracies such as South Korea, Taiwan, Israel and others have shown the free world that we’re not out of the fight.
But where does Canada sit? What is Canada worth? Is it just another bureaucratic behemoth, take it or leave it, that manages our taxes, paves our roads, and buys our vaccinations? Is its character and constitution only as good as its ability to deliver what matters to me? Does it stand for anything intrinsically important – on its own merit - or is it a service provider whose democratic way of life is showing its age, and may be time to put to pasture?
A commonwealth, said Augustine, is defined by the ordering of its loves. A Canada that is worth only what it provides us is a Canada that’s just another company. Canada is the Rogers, it’s the Bombardier, it’s the Telus of democratic government. If it keeps us safe, prosperous, secure, the contract is worth it. If not? Nobody is willing to die for the telephone company.
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