There are days when I fear for democracy. In Canada, the seeds are still mostly below the surface, but they are there. In the United States, our immediate neighbour, the issue is in full flight. When the cult of personality transcends the facts, when people stop caring about the truth, indeed when they revise it and when they ignore serious character flaws in order to protect a certain ideology, there is real trouble ahead.
This is not about partisan politics although many will try to make it so. When an individual in power becomes more important than the people they serve, when power for the sake of power alone becomes an aphrodisiac, it doesn’t really matter what political party you belong to. It occurs on both the left and the right when an opportunity arises to let it happen.
That is the time we must be most vigilant if we really value democracy. That is the time we must stand up and speak out, even if it involves an individual or political party we generally support. Otherwise we are nothing but a bunch of sheep and we all know where they end up.
There is no one less like a sheep than Liz Cheney, a conservative, a Republican member of congress and the daughter of a former vice president of the United States. She is one of very few people in her party who have stood up against the big lie that Donald Trump actually won the last presidential election. She correctly blamed him for the insurrection on January 6, as did many of her Republican colleagues, until Donald Trump ordered them to speak out of the other side of their mouths and they humbly obeyed. For them, cult culture trumped reality. Pun intended.
Liz Cheney is a pariah in her own party for daring to speak the raw truth, for standing up for principle rather than for an individual who has hijacked the Republican party, and for refusing to bow down to a cult culture of praise for Donald Trump that ignores reality and challenges the democratic process. She must be very lonely.
But she is also very important. Cheney may, for now, be a voice in the wilderness but she symbolizes the need for truth, honesty, and transparency in government which is in great danger of disappearing from the conservative movement in the United States. Millions of people there today are willing to support Trump’s claim that he won the last election, even though all evidence is to the contrary.
The real tragedy, the clear and present danger, is that most people who support Donald Trump and the movement he has created know the truth—deep down they know the truth. But the truth is less important than their allegiance to a single individual, to their fear of crossing him, and for what they believe Donald Trump can do for them. When you think about it, this is history repeating itself and it is very dangerous.
I probably have many of you in agreement with me to here. But now, let’s get to Canada. Never here, you may say, this couldn’t happen here. Well, yes, it could, and as mentioned above, the seeds are planted.
As tragic as the COVID-19 pandemic is, it is also a political opportunity. Even Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland has attested to this. It happens that the Liberals are in power right now, so the opportunity falls to them. If the Conservatives or the New Democrats held government, they would have had the same “opportunity” and likely would have used it. But it is the Liberals who are there, and it is the Liberals who are using it to solidify their power around Justin Trudeau.
Let’s first look at the cult issue. Lorrie Goldstein, a veteran journalist, said this recently: “…In my 40 or so years of covering politics, I’ve never seen anything similar to the cult of personality that surrounds Justin Trudeau compared to any other Canadian prime minister, including his father. In some (not all) media as well.”
Clearly, there is a culture of personality that surrounds Justin Trudeau. Whether or not it surpasses that of his father is another question. But he has gotten away with much, both by the media and by a large segment of the general public, and one has to wonder why. Is it simply, as in the United States, that people don’t like the other guys and are therefore willing to put up with decisions and behaviour they would not otherwise tolerate? That, in my view, is when it becomes dangerous.
I had a glimpse of this last week. I wrote my article on Justin Trudeau’s record as a self-described feminist. I know of a number of people who read Listen Up regularly and who are left of centre in their political thinking and are also dedicated feminists. I know what some of them think about Trudeau’s record on women’s issues, most especially related to matters surrounding sexual abuse in the military because I have heard from them privately and it isn’t good.
But not one of these very fine people, some of whom I am privileged to have as friends, saw fit to comment on this aspect of Trudeau’s record, even though I am sure it is of great importance to them. There were a few comments, but none of them dealt with the issue I was writing about, and that is Trudeau’s record as a feminist. It is difficult not to conclude that they were reluctant to come out and be critical of Justin Trudeau on this issue when they would otherwise be inclined to support and defend him.
I find this, as small of an example as it is, concerning. To me, it is far more important to hold those whom you support accountable for their actions than it is to be critical of those who you do not support. The only way to do that is to stand up and speak out. Otherwise, the person becomes more important than the policy.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Trudeau government has attempted a number of things to solidify their power. At the outset, they introduced a Bill in which was buried a clause to give them absolute power on pandemic issues without reference to Parliament until 2022. Had they a majority instead of a vigilant opposition, they would have gotten away with it. And then there is Bill C-10, parts of which promote the possibility of censorship and the suppression of free speech. As well, deep in their budget was a clause to regulate how we must act during an election campaign. All scary stuff when it comes to protecting democracy, not to mention giving government too much power.
No matter who the government is, we need to speak up about these things. It doesn’t mean we have to vote for the other guy. It does mean that we should insist on principled, honest government from whoever is in power. It also means that we reject the cult of personality, demand accountability, and place our emphasis on the truth, transparency, and sound governance.
In Canada, we may be a long way from what is happening in the United States, but we are not immune to it. If you look for it, subtle as it may be (after all, we are Canadians), it is there to be seen.
Democracy is a precarious thing. If you believe in our way of life, the freedoms we enjoy, then as imperfect as it is, we need to protect it at all costs.
That means standing up when things are wrong.
Hugh Mackenzie has held elected office as a trustee on the Muskoka Board of Education, a Huntsville councillor, a District councillor, and mayor of Huntsville. He has also served as chairman of the District Muskoka and as chief of staff to former premier of Ontario, Frank Miller.
Hugh has served on a number of provincial, federal and local boards, including chair of the Ontario Health Disciplines Board, vice-chair of the Ontario Family Health Network, vice-chair of the Ontario Election Finance Commission, and board member of Roy Thomson Hall, the National Theatre School of Canada, and the Anglican Church of Canada. Locally, he has served as president of the Huntsville Rotary Club, chair of Huntsville District Memorial Hospital, chair of the Huntsville Hospital Foundation, president of Huntsville Festival of the Arts, and board member of Community Living Huntsville.
In business, Hugh Mackenzie has a background in radio and newspaper publishing. He was also a founding partner and CEO of Enterprise Canada, a national public affairs and strategic communications firm established in 1986.
Currently Hugh is president of C3 Digital Media Inc. and enjoys writing commentary for Huntsville Doppler.
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