Canada not ‘broken,’ but Poilievre doing his best to break it
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You ever feel like everything’s broken in Canada? It’s a rhetorical question federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has been asking of late.
It was his mantra in 2022: nothing works in Canada anymore — the economy, the justice system, immigration, housing, health care, you name it. It’s all broken. Canadians are “hurting,” he said last week in a rare news conference with national reporters; so much so that, while he doesn’t like the profanity-laden flags some people are flying that attack Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, he understands them.
It’s not unusual for opposition leaders to use hyperbole when criticizing government. They all do it. Opposition parties want to be in government. They know that can’t happen until voters grow tired, frustrated, or angry enough to toss out the incumbent. Naturally, the opposition tries to foster an environment of discontent to fuel a desire for change.
To do so, they blame everything on government, whether they’re responsible for causing the misfortune or not (or if they even have the power, jurisdiction or authority to fix the problems in question). It’s politics.
What Poilievre is doing is quite different. The Conservative leader is going down a more dangerous road, one that fuels extremist views and intolerance. Poilievre is not merely criticizing government policy, he’s arguing Canada, as a country, no longer works. The country has fallen apart, like an abandoned, boarded-up, dilapidated house that should be razed. He doesn’t merely use hyperbolic language, he intentionally misleads.
Canada is not broken. It has many virtues and many flaws. It is a work in progress, as it has been for 155 years. Canada enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the world and is among the safest and freest countries in which to live. Immigrants from around the world recognize that and flock here. The country has an open and transparent justice system that operates under the rule of law and a Charter of Rights of Freedoms that, among other safeguards, protects minority rights against the tyranny of the majority. Canada’s imperfections require regular tweaking and sometimes substantive change. Its citizens are free to openly criticize government, without fear of arrest or persecution. The country, by any objective measurement, is not broken.
Canada enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the world and is among the safest and freest countries in which to live. Immigrants from around the world recognize that and flock here.
It has many failings. Canada’s treatment of Indigenous people continues to be a national disgrace, including Third World living conditions on reserves, an apartheid-like Indian Act and structural racism that permeates society. The level of poverty and inequality in Canada is shockingly high, given its wealth. The country’s universal health-care system, while effective at ensuring no one is denied medical treatment based on their income, is failing on many fronts and requires an overhaul. Canada emits among the highest levels of greenhouse gases in the world per capita and its labour productivity has been slipping.
Still, the magnitude of those flaws is no greater than it’s been in the past. Any list of shortcomings can be countered with a similar-sized inventory of strengths.
To suggest, as Poilievre does, that Canada is “broken” and no longer functions properly, is not only inaccurate, it’s harmful. It fuels polarization and feeds into the rage culture he is promoting and exploiting. He’s not saying Canada is a great place to live and requires some changes; he’s suggesting everything — everything — in Canada is broken. That’s why some people are flying “f—k Trudeau” flags, he claims. It’s a dog-whistle message that surely energized his followers last week.
To suggest, as Poilievre does, that Canada is “broken” and no longer functions properly, is not only inaccurate, it’s harmful.
The career politician says he’s never seen Canadians suffer as badly as they are today. Even if that were true, that wouldn’t be the fault of any one government; it would be the cumulative result of decades of government policy, including the one he was a member of between 2006 and 2015.
Opposition leaders at the provincial and federal levels will always be accused of harping excessively on the negative. It’s the job of the Official Opposition to hold governments accountable. In doing so, they understandably focus on the things that require fixing.
Poilievre’s portrayal of Canada as a broken country goes far beyond that. His is a destructive and toxic brand of politics.
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.