This week is bound to be dominated by the news of the massive leaks of U.S. diplomatic cables, with Thursday set as the big day for Canada and its alleged "inferiority complex." (Whatever can they mean? Are they talking about our tendency to see everything in the United States as better than what we have here? Tea Parties, Fox News, etc.?)
In the Star's own story on this "diplomatic 9-11" today, Washington bureau chief Mitch Potter puts his finger on something interesting. What's at stake here, he writes, is the U.S. struggling to keep its authority in the world, amid popular uprisings against anything that smacks of authority.
That prompted a little aha moment here. Canadians have been in mild-mannered revolt against elitism and authority for a good couple of decades, all the way back to the constitutional dramas of the 1990s and the rise of the Reform Party. (Need I remind anyone who was one of the founders of the Reform Party?)
But we have a government that still needs to have citizens defer to authority, in the case of taxes and full-body pat downs at the airport, for instance. In Ottawa the last several years, we've been experiencing the most authoritarian (some call it "disciplined") government I've witnessed in two decades here, with respect to PMO control of bureaucrats/caucus and secrecy around the media.
How do you sell authority to an authority-averse population? Well, there are places where we still accept hierarchy and deference -- the military, the sporting world and (with notable exception to the Ottawa police lately), the whole world of law and order. There's the aha moment for me. Our federal politics this past few years seems to revolve almost entirely around issues related to soldiers, cops and robbers and sports. If you think that the only purpose of government is to cling to authority, you need all the police-military-sports metaphors you can lay your hands on.
But it does strike me that this approach to government puts its practitioners on the wrong side of the popular uprising against elites. As Potter's article highlights, this is a citizenry that has been told it has to get used to invasive body searches and the Internet-age end of privacy -- all the while watching governments get more secretive and obsessed with guarding their own goings-on. And why we wonder why the voters are angry?
And in that spirit, with no advance knowledge whatsoever of what's in Wikileaks, a question: Could it be that Canada doesn't feel "inferior"? It just may be that we're questioning whether the U.S. is superior -- which is the sign of a healthy, grown-up nation, and person.