Private interest; Public will.
1. The Canada Food Guide has been revised toward encouraging consumption of plant vs. animal protein. The beef and dairy industries are protesting, saying this will hurt their industry and their workers’ livelihoods, and argue in their defense that absorption of Vitamin B12 from lentils as opposed to from meat and dairy is a health problem.
2. Albertans are rallying in support of the Trans-Mountain Pipeline, urging the federal government to “build that pipe,” its arguments including the substantial blow inflicted on the Alberta economy by current realities in the oil marketplace, the loss of jobs and revenue, and asserting that it is a Canadian, not an Alberta dilemma so the federal government must act.
3. A group of physicians are lobbying for an exception in Medical Assistance in Dying legislation that would allow physicians to refuse giving such assistance (or referring patients to doctors who would be willing) for conscience reasons. (Echoes of an earlier clash of values during woman’s- choice/right-to-life conflicting views.)
4. Although largely settled now, the inclusion of a Christian prayer in a public school classroom was discontinued in response to arguments of church/state separation and a rights argument, i.e. that all faith and non-faith persons need to have a home in public education institutions.
5. Although seemingly absurd, would those who made their living by selling weed in back alleys have a legitimate complaint to make about the legalizing of pot and its negative effect on their livelihoods?
Coming back from three years abroad in voluntary service for my church in 1989, I was experiencing months of frustration trying to find employment again in a saturated public-education marketplace. It never occurred to me to carry a placard insisting that the government solve my dilemma. On the contrary, I accepted that my own choices, my own values, my own ingenuity or lack thereof stood between me and satisfying employment at the moment. I worked hard at refocusing my efforts and landed a job-retraining position with the Alberta government. It turned out to have been a good choice—gave me a rewarding ten years of work, albeit with adjusted expectations.
This observation is not meant to be a reiteration of the “when I was a kid, I had to walk five miles to school and back, uphill both ways” story, nor do I mean it to denigrate the anxiety felt by Albertans with no jobs, doctors with convictions that clash with the public majority, people who believe that public schools in Canada are bound to uphold a Christian viewpoint, and not pot-smuggling/retailing gangs. It’s not about “tsk, tsk, kids these days.”
What it is about is finding the right balance between the application of the majority public will over against the significant individual needs and wishes of minority groups and individuals. We suck at this, some would say; just watch the news with this thought in mind and you’re bound to agree.
Some days I think it’s impossible to find a “smooth politic,” a way of living together that prevents the public will’si invariably raising outrage in one or the other of its scattered pockets and sub cultures. On other days, I compare what we have achieved to what has historically been the case and what we see in other places in the world and I conclude that our national tranquility has found a level that’s probably “as good as it gets.”
Perhaps the problems we see in the news are being viewed dimly, as in a mirror (to channel the Apostle Paul) and we need a refresher course on the basics of governance, particularly on the impulses that led us to believe that everyone should have an equal input into our choice of leadership and that that theoretically leads to “the greatest good for the greatest number.” (And—importantly—when our choice of leadership proves to have been mistaken, we can peacefully show them the door at the next election.) Perhaps its not the basics of our governance that are faulty, but rather the degree of our indignation at and response to choices that respond to the public will, but not to our individual preferences.
It’s always been the case: we as citizens have had to adapt in our individual lives to circumstances not of our choosing or preference. The option to live lives not contingent in every respect upon the public will is safeguarded by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; if you want your child definitely to begin every school day with the Lord’s Prayer, you are allowed to innovate by getting together with the like-minded and establishing a school where that happens. The protest that everyone in the country ought to intone the Lord’s Prayer is misplaced; the very aspect of the public will that defends atheist’s right not to recite the Lord’s Prayer guarantees another individual’s right to do so. How could it do better than that?
Are the Alberta protests really cries of lament more than the expressed indignation of a people wronged? Is it the reality that adding another fossil-fuel pipeline is a rearranging of the deck chairs on a sinking ship and the sorrow that accompanies such a doomed task? Is the anger and frustration being directed at the federal government because no other “distant” cause comes to mind and self-blame is not on? Is Alberta in a retool and innovate mode as it will undoubtedly have to be?
And you ranch and dairy corporations and individuals, do you really expect governments to protect the status quo indefinitely in a rapidly changing world where the very environment is at stake, where healthcare consumes the greatest portion of tax dollars? Are you really determined to defy the public will in this, to refuse the challenges of innovation, of re-tooling, of redirecting what you do and the way you do it? Are you planning to force-feed the public your overstock of product if necessary?
Doctors of conscience, have you considered your position as individuals and as a group if the national public will determines that a physician acts in the expressed interests of patients from birth through death, or forfeits his/her license to practice? Is there any possibility of medicine going the route of the private school or home schooling in order to function effectively and legally as an enclave of dissenting values? Are you planning for that likely eventuality?
And you back-alley drug pushers, have you considered getting a job??
The public will in a democracy like ours will always feel a bit like an insensitive juggernaut, especially if you’re part of a minority on substantial issues. At the same time, Canada has worked hard at making it possible for minorities to succeed economically and to share basic human rights . . . if not always successfully. Perhaps it’s time we all put down our placards and began dialogues, took civics classes and generally, determined how we live with our realities without abusing and threatening each other.
iBy “public will,” I mean as expressed in the democratically elected leadership and the legislation and action coming out of that leadership. In Canada today, there is no other legitimate definition of “public will.”