I have never written a letter to the Prime Minister, though there have been lots of things I'd like to say to him. So today, day 11 in my year of resolving to daily do some new thing, I sent the following letter to Stephen Harper:
Dear Mr. Harper,
I read some time ago that your government named categories of Canadians according to demographics, and that my name was “Chloe”, since I am a female university graduate who lives in a city and eats organic food. “Chloe” was of no interest to you according to the piece, since she was never going to vote Conservative.
I decided to write to you now because I want you to know what is important to me as a Canadian, even if it feels futile for me to do so. Maybe the article was wrong. Maybe you have not named women like me “Chloe”, and maybe you value my views just as you would those of a blue collar suburban man with two to four children and a mini van, whose demographic name, I believe, was “Joe”.
Last summer I visited Canada’s Arctic. It is one thing to hear about the Arctic and another thing to go there and experience it. I became profoundly aware of how important a place it is, not just to Canada but to the world. My family immigrated to Canada from England’s industrial north when I was a child. I am now 50, and only now begin to know, upon seeing Nunavut, what it might mean to be Canadian. Going to the Arctic did something to me on a deep level and made me appreciate Canada more than I have ever done before.
I have some concerns about the way we are being governed under your Conservative government, but rather than go into a lot of rhetoric let me first say that I have a lot of respect for the way you came to where you are now. I remember your time with the Reform Party, and I don’t think you could have become the leader you are today without a great deal of patience and restraint. But I am worried, and I think a lot of people are worried, that the core identity of Canada, and its effectiveness and respect in the world, are being seriously eroded.
While I am glad we got rid of the federal Liberals, who were behaving in a manner complacent and utterly corrupt, I am not happy to see what I believe is a decline in Canada’s commitment to the environment, to culture, health, community, education, civil liberties, veterans, people of the First Nations, safety and public ownership of our water, nutrition, literacy and the public good. It seems to me that, detail-by-detail, over the years your government has been in power, your commitment has been to appear to support these things through the use of expensive advertising campaigns, while pulling support away from them in practice.
I think our polarized way of pitting ideologies hurts us a great deal, and there are ways we can communicate though we may seem to have opposing viewpoints. For example, while it worries me to hear you imply your government would like to end the CBC, I do think there are many ways the CBC could be improved: I think it does waste money and is often self-congratulatory without just cause. What I do not want to see is the strangulation of free speech or the evolution of a media – and a country – centred wholly on business interests. In my Canada there is a place for culture, for humanity, for the land, for value that is not necessarily monetary.
Perhaps the best example of what I mean is the rather surreal newscast I saw a few weeks ago on CBC’s The National, announcing that your government has assigned economists the task of deciding the monetary value of a polar bear. The ciphering is to include the value of the meat, the fur, and the tourism component, as well as numerous other factors. I can only hope that the end result will be a very great figure, perhaps an 8 lying on its side.
Thank you for reading this, if you have read it. Of course it doesn’t begin to scratch the surface, and it is hard to be as clear as I would like to be, since so much is at stake. I would just like you to know, Mr. Harper, that I think these are some of the things we should be discussing as a nation, and we should be discussing them in a Canada whose government delights in a healthy, educated population inclusive of all demographic groups, and does not fear or dismiss discomfort like mine.