I have a subscription to The Walrus, a welcome-to-Canada gift from a (former?) besotted reader. It's kind of a Canadian Harper's, which puts it in very high standing.

Months ago, I blogged about a Walrus article: "A House Half Built", by Roy Romanow. Here's an excerpt:
An agenda for a renewed national purpose requires a return to co-operative federalism as the vehicle to solve Canada's major problems. Our leaders - governmental, corporate, and community - must be guided by the overarching principle of what the national good demands, and solutions to challenging issues must be openly debated.

This agenda could also encompass a made-in-Canada economic strategy that provides short-term financial opportunity and longer-term prosperity, and that lessens our dependence on the US by boldly developing new markets. At the same time, we must dramatically increase the size and vigour of Canadian businesses and, partly to protect the country from global recessions, expand Canada's internal markets. And this must be done in the context of advancing workers' rights,ensuring that a forty-hour workweek provides a decent wage, improving our natural environment, and demanding that the political rights of those who live in the lands of our trading partners are respected.

The income-security system, one of Canada's social-justice hallmarks, is in trouble. We must modernize it and reinvest in it. Similarly, the country can afford a national affordable-housing program and universal child care, and to at last honour the rights of aboriginal peoples to healthy lives, equal opportunity, and a share in the country's bounty. A renaissance in education and research and increasing access to university and college by lessening the financial burden would spur economic development and innovation.

In health care, the provinces need to do the heavy lifting involved in properly re-engineering the universal system: using new money to buy real change, developing effective programs on disease prevention and well-being, providing for independent auditing, and telling their electorates that it will take seven years to achieve these goals, not seven months. Playing around with private-delivery health-care options is the default position of those governments that have not had the courage to innovate within the public model.

Similarly, supporting Canada's unique cultural identity through what we see on television, hear on radio, and read in newspapers, magazines, and books, will produce genuine dividends. It's time to restore our cultural sovereignty over the airwaves through generous investments in the arts and in broadcasting; and it is time to affirm the democratic commons and bring legislative remedy to the unacceptable concentration of media in the hands of a few.

International prominence comes not just from enterprising businesses. Canada should recapture its reputation as a world leader in building peace and sharing prosperity through our international objectives. It is unimaginable how far we have slipped. Canada's foreign-aid spending, for example, is a national embarrassment. And imagine a bold and dramatic national environmental initiative to restore our damaged biosphere. Imagine corporate- and government-sponsored research dedicated to making Canada a world leader in environmentally sensitive new technologies.

I can hear the protests and rebuttals to this modest down payment on a better Canada: "Cost. What would all this cost?" It is a reasonable, albeit predictable, question, but the fiscal capacity necessary to achieve our shared destiny is well within our reach. Just look at accumulated federal surpluses; just look at the rising trend in corporate tax benefits. We must demand investment. After all, isn't it a fact that a progressive society is shouldered on the foundations of a progressive tax system and progressive social policies?
The current issue of The Walrus contains mostly appreciative letters in response to Romanow's piece, and his reply to those letters. He writes:
"A House Half Built" was written as encouragement to a public that wants and needs more. The response to date has been inspiring. The notion of difference is certainly not a new phenomenon in Canada—diverse peoples progressively building a nation together is one of Canada’s most recognizable features. The concept of shared destiny describes our historical commitment to digging deeper for meaning in our place and to being something bigger than the sum of our differences.

New challenges over time raise new questions. How can we maintain a commitment to a fair and balanced Canada in the context of growing complexities and a smaller world We grapple with big questions through casual chats with neighbours, by attending a budget meeting at city hall, or by following mass media. Our political leaders and their policies play a central role in fomenting this debate. In many ways, it is how governments orient themselves in the public arena that ultimately shapes the character of our conversations, and too often we are led down the path of "divide and conquer" instead of being engaged in ways that would teach us more about what Canadians have in common.

This truncated discourse is increasingly pervasive. Ministers haggle over fiscal imbalances instead of engaging Canadians about the purpose of federal transfers. Discussions over health reforms begin with the promise of transparency and consultation but wind up being conducted behind closed doors. The promise of a carefully negotiated child-care agreement is abandoned under the guise of increasing individual choices.

It should come as no surprise that as policy-making becomes detached from our history and the very public it is supposed to reflect, Canadians lose faith in the possibility of a shared destiny. But Canadians still dream of public institutions that can reflect our shared values of fairness, opportunity, and respect, and that also strike a balance between the individual and society.

Perhaps a little less dreaming and a bit more demanding is in order. To invoke the words of Alfred Lord Tennyson, "come, my friends, 'tis not too late to seek a newer world."
Romanow was a long-time premier (US readers: governor) of Saskatchewan, and the head of the Royal Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada, which released the Romanow Report in 2002. Here's his Wikipedia entry. A good bit:
Romanow was well-acquainted with Pierre Trudeau, Prime Minister from 1968–1979 and 1980–1984. He remains a close friend of Jean Chrétien, who was prime minister from 1993 to 2003.

During the 1981 discussions over the repatriation of the Canadian constitution, these three men worked out most of Canada's new constitution at the famous late night "kitchen table discussion". Romanow objected strongly to any protections on private property in the new Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and none were included.
A little less dreaming and a bit more demanding - I like that. Maybe, first dream it, then demand it.

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