What Would You Say to your Children about the Canadian Government? (My two cents)

It’s election time again and, as is the norm, we see teachers using the opportunity to talk to their students about things such as Prime Ministers, parliaments, senates, and, well, basically – how this thing we call the “Canadian Government” is meant to work. My own daughter who is in Grade 4 is in such a class, and has been asking me all sorts of questions: the most prevalent of which is “Who is Alice Wong?” Not a surprising question, since her face is fairly ubiquitous in Richmond, BC where I live, being set against the many blue Conservative signs and placards (she is our incumbent MP).

Because we’ve had a few elections of late, I have a habit of how I deal with such questions from my kids – these opportunities to talk politics. So far, being an educator and scientist myself, my training forces me to be objective, focusing primarily on the different philosophies that each of our political parties represent, including the general pros and cons of each. I tell my children that who you choose is a personal decision driven by what you think is important. Above all, voting is a privilege, as is the act of receiving a vote if you are campaigning. I think it best to not indoctrinate your kids with your own views, but rather to succinctly tell them that voting is something special, and deserves some effort to be informed on the issues. If you take that view, the rest will happen naturally.

Unfortunately, this time around, and to my surprise, I found myself facing my daughter and uttering the following: “I’m not really a big fan of Alice Wong.” This was quite a shift of attitude, and here is why: I have no issue with Conservative ideas and values (I actually agree with some of them), but I am tremendously concerned with the actions of the current Canadian Government.

How I came to this conclusion is due to many issues, but the one that has lit the proverbial “fire in my belly,” is a law that would fix policy to allow life saving drugs to be made at lower cost. There’s merit in this because it permits individuals, desperate in places like Africa, to be able to afford them. HIV/AIDS has the most disconcerting narrative: if you are diagnosed with HIV, now considered a chronic disease with very effective medicines, the choice between living and dying is based on your income. It’s that cold.

This law was called Bill C-393. And it was a good one. It was aimed to be innovative and to fix the previous law, which wasn’t working at all. It took care to protect Canadian pharmaceutical companies so that such generic drugs could only be sold to markets that weren’t in the industry’s bottom line. It had a built in “let’s monitor” clause. It was backed up by robust expert peer review, involving economists, policy analysts, health experts. Cost to taxpayers: zero. Because of all of these facts, it was passed by the Parliament in March – even many Conservatives broke rank and voted for it.

However, in a truly frustrating string of events, it was left to die in Senate, when Tory Senators (a large portion of which were appointed by Harper) continually delayed voting on it, until it was killed by default with the call of the election. A mini screenplay to describe this would consist of four acts, each one with the same dialogue: “We’d like to adjourn because such and such would like to speak, but oh, he’s left for the day, can we do this tomorrow?”

Why were there these four days of delay? Apparently, it’s because the pharmaceutical industry would rather keep things as is, even going so far as to distribute misleading counter arguments, all of which have been firmly discredited by the aforementioned expert peer review process. All of which were delivered top down to the mailboxes of Conservative Senators, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I know that critiquing Miss Wong in front of my daughter is somewhat unfair (despite being one of the few who voted against Bill C-393 in parliament), but she is representative of the bigger problem. She is a small cog in a remarkably unsettling machine. I know the value of strong leadership, but this should not trump ethical leadership. Can you imagine my daughter at school, learning not about how the “Canadian Government” works, but instead, the “Harper Government?”

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