Going into people’s shops and homes and boardrooms, talking to them on their lawn chairs in alleyways and parks, driving them to the hospital to visit a sick spouse, meeting with community leaders desperate to find solutions to the vexing problems that fill them with despair, or sharing in their joy when they begin to see a way out through assembling their communities and finding their voice in our messy but beautiful democracy, I was struck by the hollowness and self-servingness of ideological stances of left or right.
Life is a series of problems that require solutions. People running businesses (especially small ones) need encouragement and support in the form of taxes and regulations that are not burdensome, because those businesses are the engines that power their local communities. Sick people need a health care system that is reliable, blind to colour, class or creed, and available to everyone. Malingerers are the rare exception—everybody wants to be healthy and society requires its citizens to be well, not cast on the garbage heap when their bodies betray them.
Education is a promise to children and young people that society should make good on, and that includes the very poor, many of whom currently have to send their kids to schools that are overrun with vermin, mold and second or third-rate teachers. You don’t have to be a wild-eyed ideologue to see how wrong it is to relegate the poor to unsanitary, unsafe schools, or to understand that many of the elements that lead to generational poverty, like societal neglect of public schools in poor neighbourhoods, could be solved by a fairer taxation system, one that redistributes some of our society’s tax revenue to poorer districts and insists on decent facilities and high educational standards for everyone.
I also learned that I could love and desperately want success and prosperity for individuals while rueing some of their life choices and disagreeing entirely with their religious or other cultural practices. That multiculturalism is a beautiful idea in many ways but also a potential minefield of competing interests and priorities, not all of which rhyme with Canadian values, and that we should be careful, very careful, about over-promising on that front. I learned that for our wonderful country to work well, we have to seek out and make friends with our fellow citizens, and insist on and live up to democratic, liberal values. For ourselves, and for everyone who comes to this country to live.
Human beings are indeed a cacophony of emotions, ideas and drives. Canada has a governing structure in place that can channel and elevate and smooth out all of those things. If we want to be citizens worthy of the name we should think hard about what we’ve got, how to share it, and how to preserve it. Extreme ideologies are a cancer on the body politic. Involvement in community and a will to ensure the promise on liberal democracy is the only way forward.