“What though the field be lost?
All is not lost; th’unconquerable will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield.”
Jefferson wrote that for government to be kept honest, a revolutionary “political blood-letting” was required every generation or so. But how can we tell whether dramatic disclosures are authentic or phony? We live in a time of Orwellian bureau-babble with countless ways for spin-doctors to corrupt policy and purpose.
One thing is clear however. Canadians are becoming evermore aware of the concentration and integration of political and financial power in this country over the past twenty years. There is a groundswell of resentment building and there will be demands for drastic reform.
For fifty years, from the Depression through the Trudeau era, this nation looked to government for relief and redress from many of life’s burdens. But with the onset of the Mulroney administration, the funny-money years of the eighties, the greed decade of the nineties, and the sordid intimacies between big business and big politics, government stopped being the salutary counter-veiling force and became the heaviest yoke on the necks of the workingmen and women of this land.
The historic creative tension between private interests and public rights disappeared, as the former ran rampant with virtually untrammeled privilege and preference. We have lived through a twenty-year public retreat when politics have become merely symbolic.
A passionate frustration abounds of which our national corporate and political leadership should be scared. Very scared.
It is not just about some sponsorship monies gone awry.
It is about one-third of our urban households living below the Federal poverty line.
It is about another third of our gainfully employed citizenry facing tax rates so high that they don’t have more than two weeks of salary to their names.
It is about 4% of our population controlling 80% of the assets in this country and 20% of those paying no tax whatever while having been the main beneficiaries from some $100 billion in corporate and personal tax cuts.
It is about pension surpluses being used to balance budgets. It is about small businesspeople, who create 80% of the new jobs each year, having a hard time getting bank credit much less government support.
It is about the perception that in our land today the supremacy of the interests of the individual over the corporate demands of the state are constantly abridged and infringed.
It is about a sense that the same names seem to pop up in the controlling shadows of our corridors of power regardless of party.
It is about a futility rising from the comprehension that the suffrage of the people has been rendered impotent.
And a day of reckoning will come with a rendering of accounts.
The Prime Minister has called for a new vision. Let’s join him. Let’s applaud it. But let us make sure that it is meaningful. A meaningful passionate revolution against the immense financial and political power wielded by so few hands in this country for so many years.
To be meaningful, we have to make the corporate beneficiaries of so much of the people’s largesse accountable to the people. We have to eliminate pork barrel programs that last year cost twice as much as the defence budget. We have to reduce the dependence of big business on government grants and subventions that have been greater than the sums spent on UIC, welfare and pensions combined.
To be passionate, we have to reverse the pallid ambivalence of much of our citizenry, for the entitlements that are their due come with a commensurate obligation of engagement. There are no free rides. This revolution is not a contract that can be outsourced. By the same token, the managerial and bureaucratic class in business and government must be shaken out of its passive acquiescence, for it is their very smugness that makes the cynical corruptions and petty perversions of the public’s trust possible.
To be revolutionary, we need a national wakening, and a national will, from corporate employee to government bureaucrat, from trade unionist to small businessman--from all of us--that our primary allegiance is to our personal integrity and to our common weal, and that this revolution is not only in our hearts to yearn but is truly in our hands to forge.
For Canada rests at a crucial crossroads. We must now decide whether we live in a society of compassionate conscience, where responsibility for the general welfare is the common goal, or are we to be a society of icy indifference, where it is every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost. The answer is by no means clear. For as Camus wrote, in today’s world, “…just to be a man is to be heroic…” But in the final analysis, for all the inherent risks to reputation and reward, we must follow the words of Hillel the Sage who wrote so long ago that “Where there are no men, be thou a man.”
The corporate and governmental bureaucratic genius for retaliation against those of good will is well known. What is less well known to the public is the fear in those same bureaucrats and technocrats when they are confronted by courage. The nests of night crawlers cannot stand the light of day. We must work towards legislation protecting those who would stand up to them from the inscrutable and devious tactics of ruin they employ.
The laws and regulations already on the books, including Charter provisions, protecting many of our entrenched civil liberties of expression, privacy and due process have lately proven ineffective as we have seen from RCMP raids at a reporter’s home, Revenue attacks, with armed police escorts, on small businesses, and public prosecutorial pronouncements from civil servants condemning individuals to guilt by association. As lawyer Clayton Ruby of Toronto put it so succinctly, “We may have lost sight of what our democracy is all about.”
The reason for this is clear. The growth of entrenched intimacies by corporate vested interests between themselves, and then oligarchically with government at all levels. There is nowhere for lone individuals of courage and conscience to turn. They are caught as rats in a maze. These Leviathans of intrigue and influence move with uninterrupted ease from wrong to wrong in order to protect their own immortality. This must come to an end.
And the beginning of that end starts with the societal recognition that today’s laws are merely the limits on our actions placed by those in power who profited from a yesteryear when these laws did not exist, and now seek to protect their own gains by limiting access for others. The false pieties underpinning the extraordinary powers that lie in such few hands in our country must face collective rejection and be toppled as the pagan idolatry they are. We cannot continue to allow the reach of the corporate and bureaucratic behemoths to extend like monstrous, serpentine tentacles suffocating all honour out of our national character .
The second stage of the remedy also involves the law. We must establish, at Federal and Provincial levels, a fast-track judicial division, with immediate investigatory powers, where a citizen can have the right to file a grievance or civil action , aided by a publicly funded “Advocacy Corps”, against any large corporation or department of government, and any superiors therein, that has acted, prima facie, in an unjust manner against an individual and where such action is representative of a tort on the body politic as a whole.
To give this approach a chance of success we must strengthen privacy protections in our Charters, and revisit and restrict the wiretapping provisions of the Criminal Code enacted in the late seventies. For it is through the use of sophisticated techniques of surveillance and tampering, which the ordinary citizen cannot afford nor access, and the sharing of confidential information, over which the citizen has no control, that the men in the shadows do their greatest damage.
These proposal have their perils. Inherent in them are the dangers of creating yet another bureaucracy that becomes desensitized over time to its obligations to an enlightened citizenry. But what it will be at the start, and will continue to be if successful, is a safety net for threatened individuals. An oasis where someone who seeks to speak truth to power can have access to legal, investigative and administrative assets whose sole reason for existence is to offer support and succor to that person. To give a chance at full expression to Emerson’s hope that,
“One man, speaking truth, rallies a majority.”
Over forty years ago President Eisenhower warned of, and Sidney Lens wrote about, the danger of a Military-Industrial Complex. Today we face a Corporate-Governmental Combine. And its virtual sovereignty has become more injurious to our health than any pack of cigarettes.
As the senior vested interests on each side of this Leviathan of oligarchs seek to whitewash their friends and find scapegoats in the weakest among us by publicly mouthing pronouncements of moral platitudes, they also impose a rigid statist culture of control by privately directing a rarely visible Byzantine web of agents doing their dirty work. Even highly placed figures in the private and public sectors realize too late that they have been merely pawns in someone else’s chess game.
If we have to live our lives weighing every action, every communication, every human contact, wondering what some agents of hidden corporate or government masters might find out about, how they would analyse it, judge it, tamper with it, and somehow use it to our detriment, we are not truly free.
It is time that Canadians stop being whipsawed from the spineless and docile subservience of public officials to the arrogant and greedy demands of private interests.
As the great civil libertarian William O. Douglas once wrote:
“In a civilized society the means are all. In the sweep of history a nation that accepts indiscriminate practices as normal has no claim to a position of moral leadership.”
Beryl P. Wajsman
Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal