February 19th, 2020

Their values aren’t our values

By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on September 4, 2019.

Peter Heffernan

Human kindness is not uniquely Canadian but Canada’s founding fathers (and subsequent leaders) have had the wisdom to institutionalize it in ongoing iterations of Canada’s Constitution. It is part of our mores which guide us in our lives together. Realists all, they understood (and understand) that bullying and self-interest are ubiquitous in humans and, accordingly, they had the foresight to buffer us against such, which are also part of our nature.

Other Canadian leaders at all levels of government have shown similar wisdom, albeit unevenly, in determining how public dollars are spent in protecting the common good and in advancing the interests of all. A fundamental value in Canada, it has subsumed in it the notions not only that hard work and self-promotion move us forward but also that a dominion which is blessed is so precisely because even the weakest links in our chain are intended to be protected, allowed to flourish and to have dignity. Even if sometimes we miss this worthy mark, it is what we strive for. Indeed, we Canadians acknowledge that we are not self-made but rather beneficiaries of opportunities given us which we have not wasted, are ever grateful for the bounteous plenty that is ours collectively, and are graced with sufficient enlightenment to know it is just and right to share. While the tenor of this message is intentionally faith-informed, it does not discount either Canadians’ acceptance not only of freedom of but also from religion.

Lived reflections of our values include: reconciliation and restoration of basic justice with and for our First Nations and MŽtis peoples; the principle and practice of equalization (of standard of living and opportunity wherever one lives in Canada); recognition regarding addicts that indeed “there but for the grace of God go I”; restoring balance and just treatment respecting Canada’s Indigenous and official languages; showing common decency toward others by providing for Canada’s most needy; providing health services for all; understanding that regulations are not inherently bad and that, au contraire, they serve as a curb on unfettered greed; understanding in kind that focus on economic growth and concern for the environment are not mutually exclusive, getting it, too, that faith and science need not be incompatible; viewing compromise as being a strength and not a weakness (as the art of win-win is strategically preferred to zero sum gamesmanship); and such – this is not an exhaustive list.

The Fraser Institute (in the Lethbridge Herald, Aug. 19, while not overtly referencing the U.S., smacked of tactics and worn ideas borrowed from outside. The justifiable question posed was: Are we getting value for health-care dollars? (The same is often asked about Canadian education). Yet, there was no discussion in the op-ed of values (Canadian or other). Except for money, ostensibly all that matters. It concluded (simple summary of simple ideas): health-care workers are overpaid; there are too many executive sorts on the “sunshine salary list for the ministry of health”; and “we do not need more regulations” affecting Alberta. Lofty thinking? Seems not. Oriented to genuine problem-solving for all of society? No. Underlying small premises lead to small conclusions while misleading us and manipulating our collective thinking. Instead, let’s try for some genuine problem-solving looking to the good for all of us.

Too much inundated with news from elsewhere and, in particular, about Unitedstatesians* experiencing seemingly incessant strife and imbalance, it seems there is still (perhaps incongruously) some seeping into Canadians’ mindset of their values. For many, this occurs unawares; for ethics-challenged manipulators, it appears a lot like: “monkey see; monkey do.”

Having had their brains washed regarding the self-ascribed exceptionalism and greatness of others, those who bemoan their lot here, as they cast a longing gaze over the fence (figurative) would inevitably regret crossing to the other side. Thankfully, no worries on that account. Unlike unlikely Greenland, Canada has not been subjected recently to the indignity of unilaterally proposed annexation. More to the point, Canadians do get value for both their health-care and education dollars. By any objective measures, including those of StatCan, of the OECD, and of such as the U.S. tracks from within, Canadians get significantly more value for dollar spent per capita on both health and education. As money was the only value in the Fraser Institute’s op-ed, let us not fail to highlight, too, that Canadian households, income-wise, are ahead of those in the U.S. (Michael Wolfson’s op-ed of Aug. 21 in this newspaper). To boot, income is much more broadly and evenly distributed in Canada than in the U.S. Yet (aspiring, take heart), there are only 27 per cent fewer billionaires per capita in Canada than in the U.S.

Though Canadian common sense and shared values have helped us, a correlation may also exist between degree of societal functionality and education levels in each country. Counting our blessings, no Canadian leader yet has dampened aspiration with as unusual a comment as President Trump’s: “I love the uneducated.” It has been shown over and over again in studies pertinent to our discussion that income levels rise statistically in keeping with individuals’ education levels (and, in today’s world, their tech savvy, too). As Canadians collectively have higher levels of education (OECD), there may be a correlation, too, between Canadians’ general well-being and their educational attainment (among whom medical specialists often have attained the highest levels, having spent the most years unpaid or demonstrably underpaid as they met the exacting standards required and expected of them). There are a couple of lessons here: 1) gratitude is a basic Canadian value and 2) avoid importing ideas from troubled places.

[* The author adopts the convention in English, which is common in French, German, Italian, Spanish and many other languages and disallows the citizens of one country in the Western Hemisphere of the Americas self-assuming exclusively for themselves the title of Americans.]

Peter Heffernan is the son of generations of farmers. Their steadfastness in clearing Canadian scrubland and reclaiming bogs here enabled the earth’s tilling, allowing us to reap its plenty. Their looking ever forward set their course and eventually the author’s, too.

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One Response to “Their values aren’t our values”

  1. zulu1 says:

    The writer may not consider the Fraser Institute’s questions about value for money in education and health care ‘lofty’ . Imagine anyone daring to ask such questions about filthy lucre. Most Albertans do not think in such elevated terms , and yes, since every taxpayer’s dollar is, or should be very important to governments, the question of value for money is indeed important for everyone. The present UCP government is finally asking the question “should Alberta really be paying $10 billion dollars more annually for healthcare and education than other wealthy provinces like BC and Ontario ? ” These are valid questions.
    Secondly, I doubt that most Canadians look south with any envy at the US and it’s myriad of problems, even if some suggest that Canadians are better off financially, which is a tenuous belief , at best if you examine the evidence with more than a casual glance.