I found out last weekend there is nothing like the birth of a grandchild to rekindle some of the idealism of youth.
Yes, in the wee hours of Sunday morning one of my sons and his lovely partner gave me my first grandbaby, a robust 10-pound boy and the cutest grandchild in the history of the universe (I may be biased).
Of course, it is a truly joyous occasion, but one that gives me pause for reflection. I can barely remember the former activist me, fighting for social justice, lending my talents to all manner of causes with the boundless energy of a 20-something, engaging in vociferous political debate at the drop of a figurative gauntlet.
When we are young, in that blissful state of emotional logic, in that swirling soup of many hormones and few brains, we inherently know that this is what we are meant to do, to make the future better for our descendents.
We see the world as endless possibility. We dream the big dreams: that poverty can be eradicated, that greed can be defeated, that humanity can learn to get along, that environmental problems can be solved, that the pen is mightier than the sword, that love conquers all, that peace is not a pipe dream.
Somewhere along the way, we learn that change is not fast and sweeping, it is slow and incremental and, unfortunately, it is not always for the better. We get discouraged, even jaded. We learn to ignore rather than engage. We might even become cynical.
Our indigenous brethren have a saying: “We do not inherit the land from our parents, we borrow it from our grandchildren.”
As a new generation of my family takes root, I find myself taking stock. Will this world be better for him than it was for me? Is our country progressing or falling backward? Have we borrowed too much from our grandchildren’s future? Have I personally done enough that I can at least feel I have done my best to leave the world a better place than I found it?
These are difficult questions at best, paralyzing at worst.
What I do know is I am very concerned that we are going in the wrong direction. Like many other Canadians, I was in denial when faced with the prospect of a Stephen Harper government. It can’t be any worse than the scandal-plagued Liberals, we thought. When people compared Harper to George W. Bush, we scoffed. When critics called the fringe elements of the party theocrats who wanted to legislate morality, we did not believe.
Boy, were we wrong.
There are so many things about this government to take umbrage with, it’s hard to know where to start, but since this is primarily a science column, let’s start with the systematic dismantling of Canada’s basic scientific research capacity.
While the United States under President Barack Obama is actively attempting to undo the damage of the Bush years by recommitting to scientific research and evidence-based decision-making, Canada is pursuing the precise policies of the Republican war on science under Bush right down to muzzling government scientists and interfering with their results. Nature, one of the most prestigious science journals in the world, called these policies “Orwellian.”
Not only is this short-sighted, it is undemocratic. The foundation of a truly democratic society is a skeptical and informed public, which it is increasingly difficult for citizens to be with the obfuscation of information practiced by this government.
Canada used to be a scientific powerhouse. We recognized we couldn’t compete with the world in basic manufacturing. We recognized exporting raw natural resources is a volatile and unsustainable enterprise. Our edge was knowledge.
That’s not to say we are not still a knowledge leader in a lot of ways, but we are declining in comparison to others, particularly emerging economies. Part of the problem is simply that we, particularly in western Canada, have been living in a resource bubble that has allowed us to remain somewhat buffered from the economic storm hammering much of Europe and our southern neighbour.
Nevertheless, the rich-poor gap is growing, the middle class is under increasing duress and our regional schisms remain pronounced, all the result of an obsession with short term financial gain that benefits the few at the expense of the many.
While even southern Republicans are throwing in the towel on their “tough on crime” agenda, the Tories are building more prisons and trying to criminalize mental illness.
The national disgrace of the disenfranchisement of our indigenous peoples—our own de facto apartheid—continues relatively unabated.
Our environmental policies, which the Tories continue to erode with each new budget, would be the laughingstock of the developed world if they were, in any way, funny.
And, at the first sign of trouble, we abandon our citizens to foreign “justice” systems. There is even talk of stripping Canadians of their citizenship for alleged foreign crimes without regard to their constitutionally guaranteed right to due process.
These are not the values I grew up with and they are not the values I want my grandchildren to have to grow up with.
Canada is a great country. I wear my maple leaf with pride. I am happy my grandson can count himself as one of its newest citizens, but I am afraid we are losing our way under the Conservatives.
I have little doubt they believe as sincerely as I do they are trying to create a better Canada for their descendants, but that doesn’t make them right. The way forward is not with them.
My idealism, my sense that right and wrong are not merely a matter of opinion or an artifact of our times, has been revitalized by the tiny face of a newborn babe.