A rare, happy moment

I spend a lot of time bashing our political system. It’s a formula that has yielded a fairly consistent source of not only blog fodder, but commenter agreement as well. After all, who doesn’t love complaining about politics? It gives us an opportunity to appear erudite and superior to those who would try to represent themselves as the “ruling class”. Plus we get to spread indiscriminate blame on all politicians as being morally deficient hucksters.

It brings me no personal satisfaction, however, to live in a country with crappy politics. As a liberal, I believe that government can be a force for good in the world. That as a representation of the collective will of the populace, we can do more as a group than we can as individuals pulling for our own selfish ends. That there is room for giving up a bit of personal liberty to gain a greater measure of mutual success.

It is not the failures of the body politic that make me happy. It is stories like this:

The Conservative government has thrown its support behind a Liberal bid to improve access to drinking water in first nations communities. Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae introduced a motion in the House of Commons Thursday asking the government to address the fact there are still first-nations homes that have no running water. The motion also asks the House to recognize “that the absence of this basic requirement represents a continuing affront to our sense of justice and fairness as Canadians.”

This story stimulates my political clitoris like a Rabbit with a nitro booster. It’s got all the good stuff in there: bipartisan support, protection and development for vulnerable communities, origin in the minority caucus, and an appeal to our shared sense of Canadians that explicitly includes First Nations people in that group. All that stuff has got me squirming in my sheets already, and then I read this:

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger said Thursday his province would be a willing partner in the federal effort to get running water to the communities that do no have it. “We are already training people in the north to have the trade skills necessary to do the work. We are already investing in roads, up there,” Mr. Selinger said in a telephone interview.

I promise the masturbation references will end here 😛

There is something truly wonderful in the conservative notion of teaching someone to ‘do for self’. I am absolutely happy (overjoyed, in fact) to give credit to the principle that an action taken by someone under their own power is preferable to receiving something under the guise of charity. “Teaching a man to fish” and all that. What often gets lost from the equation, however, is that teaching a man to fish requires someone to pay for a teacher, and probably a rod and reel as well. Maybe even a tackle subsidy.

I am under the impression that this is particularly true for Canadians who are First Nations. Not because they’ve become “entitled” from “government handouts” or any such nonsense, but because generations of neglect and broken promises have left many of Canada’s First Nations communities deeply skeptical of governmental intervention. This, coupled with severe underinvestment in community infrastructure and education, leaves many communities between a rock and a hard place – not being able to do for self, but not trusting the wide smiling faces of government workers stepping in to “fix the problem”.

What the role of the various levels of government needs to be, with regard to First Nations communities across the country, is as an investor. We know from population health that attempts to make “improvements” in at-risk communities that come from outside are often doomed to fail. They have a habit of ignoring important community values, or bypassing the accepted way of doing things. In this case, training people who live in these communities to build and maintain drinking water facilities is precisely the kind of intervention that government should be supporting.

There may be, hopefully, a wide variety of benefits from this investment. First, most directly, there will be two immediate benefits: clean drinking water and people with new skills. Second, over time, clean drinking water facilities will raise the quality of life for the entire community, averting a health crisis and giving new generations of Island Lake residents increased opportunities for future success. Third, increased skills in construction and other skilled trades don’t expire when the project is finished, and there may be a ‘knock-on’ effect of sustained job creation. Fourth, and perhaps most optimistically, it may represent a chance for the federal and provincial government to mend some fences with the community there, providing an enduring view of government caring and co-operating rather than exploiting and oath-breaking.

This bill has a balance between the liberal wish to provide targeted aid to populations in need with the conservative principle of personal responsibility. In so doing, we see an actual bipartisan balance between different ideologies – compromise not achieved as a watering down of a good idea but by taking the best of each philosophy and forging them into something practical. The fact that this initiative is embraced by the provincial government as well is delicious icing on a truly respectable cake.

I have sent a letter to John Baird, Bob Rae and Greg Selinger thanking and congratulating them for this development. There aren’t enough stories like this out there – of people finding a way to work with their opponents in ways that are constructive rather than adversarial. I am not opposed to partisan politics, nor do I think that compromise is always the best way to progress – the truth is rarely found halfway between sense and nonsense. However, when we can find ways to blend the better angels of our separate agendas, and can rise above our entrenched positions to address a real problem, we can occasionally achieve great things.

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  1. TMartins says

    This reminds me of efforts that some countries are doing in Angola, teaching and stimulating the population to grow again their own coffee, in order to improve their economy. This, of course, is balanced by the autorization of their government to allow more foreign capital to be invested there, but that’s sort of a win-win…

    Granted, supplying water is a much more critical need, but shows that give the people the “how to” and initial means, and you’ve not only improved a community quality of life, you’ve also gained, in the long run, a better ally.

  2. says

    Though I remain aghast that in 2011 there are communities in Canada without safe drinking water. This issue didn’t occur to politicians, I don’t know, in like, 1955 or so?

    P.S.- Not to beat a dead horse, but in your sidebar in this post was an ad soliciting money for the Anglican Church for “indigenous ministry”.
    Give A Gift Of Hope.

    I hear hope tastes better with a clean glass of water.

  3. nowoo says

    Even more optimistically…

    Fifth, this could serve as a model for other initiatives with a chance to build bridges cross-culturally and across the aisle.

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