Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Outspun by Twitter, Canada's Government Retreats

There are days when it seems impossible to write. The quality of leadership in this country is depressing.

Canada is run by a government that believes calling people names is the way to debate an issue. And I suppose why not? Why have a debate of wit and critique when they have no intention of letting anyone else’s ideas pollute the purity of their majority-driven legislation.

Ontario is in a fiscal mess, and the only answer seems to be the same one the federal Liberals brought in in the 1990s: cut and slash. I feel like we’re in a spin dryer of ideas. At no level of government is there a reasoned, thoughtful look at what they, the government, are about, how they should act out their function in today’s technology and knowledge climate, how they should reform for the good. Meanwhile the manufacturing heart of Canada is bleeding producing jobs, yet the government isn’t kicking Canadian business in the butt to create real revenue-generating jobs in Ontario, instead of lining their bulging pockets by selling out to Americans or Japanese or Germans or... The government’s only movement in saving these kinds of jobs was bailing out GM, a US company. But then what? How does bailing out the past help us to see and create the future of manufacturing jobs? And has GM paid us back in full, given their profit generation is healthy again?

And then there’s Toronto, where city living has become an onerous stew of rules and thou-musts in honour to the ideology gods while the heart atrophies. I saw a cyclist on the TV news bemoan the state of the cycling lanes in Toronto and blame it all on the new Mayor, Rob Ford. I nearly fell off my chair laughing, for it was under the former Mayor’s watch -- the supposedly pro-cycling one -- that the lanes were put in haphazardly and at a rate a slug could outpace. But the gods are king here, neither side sees reality, and if it costs the city, all the better to enforce the prevailing politicians’ ideas.

It’s depressing. Action seems futile.

Yet people are speaking up. At the forefront are those on Twitter. With journalists being on that platform more and more, they see the chatter and outrage and are influenced to tell our story. The old cynicism says it doesn’t matter, that a majority government, especially this autocratic federal one, behaves like a dictator and that’s what the people wanted and are getting. If the leaders aren’t on Twitter, then what do they care what Canadian (or Ontario or Toronto) citizens on it think? The real opinions are in the party rolls or out on the street or on the subway, which is where Ford went the other night.

I feel like we’re in an era of flux, between the traditional world of protests on Parliament Hill or Queen’s Park or City Hall as a way for people to be heard and the new social media world of instant Twitter protests and mockery รก la #TellVicEverything. Canadians find traditional protests too much work, requiring too much passion to move themselves out of their comfortable armchairs. Yet Canadians aren’t so apathetic and comfortable that they feel nothing. Twitter is the perfect outlet: express yourself to your leaders (assuming they’re on it and not some flunky in their name) without moving any muscle bigger than the finger.

Still, words are powerful.

Politicians know it. They use words to spin and win. But Twitter doggled their spin and won a skirmish this past week. Is it the first step back to democracy or a small blip, after which Canadians will submit to the elected dictatorship? The government that understands both the in-person protest and online one, that sees informed, reasoned, witty debate as the best way to hone legislation, that doesn’t see opposing ideas as the enemy to be scorned, will be the one to restore us...I think.

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