becoming proper again

Since Stephen Harper’s election, Canada has taken a decidedly wrong turn from which it may be very difficult to recover.

Since Stephen Harper’s election, Canada has taken a decidedly wrong turn from which it may be very difficult to recover.

By ignoring the solid evidence now available to us on global warming and by sending our military — under the guise of peacekeepers — into the war in Afghanistan, our current leader has clearly failed his first big tests.

That said, in all fairness, Harper had few options.

The previous leadership under Chrétien and Martin were equally shallow on substance in these two critical issues.

This however is no excuse.

Real leadership means crafting viable options where few seem to exist.

Combating the seeds of both international terrorism and dramatic climate change will require levels of thoughtfulness and decency never before realized.

Let’s face it; we are not on stable ground here.

On both fronts, Harper has clearly not done his homework. He is woefully unprepared to lead this country through either challenge.

Harper, as far as I can tell, has refused to visit the rich storehouse of good and constructive information on either the principles of pacifism or the science of climate change.

I will leave it for others to comment on why Harper has chosen to ignore the reality of climate change on the one hand, and on the other, to carelessly send young Canadians to prop up America’s failed war on terror. 

What I do know is that it is just plain old ignorance on his part to place Canadians armed to the teeth in the middle of combat situations and hope for anything beyond increased violence.

We are just now beginning to see the escalation that is inevitable.

I have equal disdain for Harper’s notion of allowing industry to voluntarily regulate its own CO2 emissions without the strict guidelines and targets of Kyoto.

It is pure folly to believe we can keep the peace internationally without first appointing a “minister of peace and reconciliation.”

It is equally foolhardy to hope to find alternatives to fossil fuels without a “minister of alternate energy.”

As the global temperature continues to rise — and there is no doubt it will — war, hunger, and disease will also increase.

Without leadership at the top government echelons, we will fail on both fronts.

While the creation of these two portfolios will not happen overnight, it is imperative they happen.

Canada has always found the wisdom to return to its cultural roots when meeting serious challenges. Now is the time to revisit one of our oldest cultural landmarks: propriety.

Webster defines propriety as “… the standard of what is socially acceptable in conduct or speech, fear of offending against conventional rules of behaviour.”

But the term is much broader than just finding a proper social setting. It has an important role to play in the formulation of public policy.

Propriety signifies the necessity of learning to live in such a manner that we do not speak or act out of context.

It suggests that how we live directly affects the lives of everyone around us.

Given the use of the word in its broadest sense, it literally means that we are given a standard to live up to that we did not establish in utter isolation.

If our actions influence those of others, others will also influence our behaviour.

In its deepest and most obvious sense, propriety is all about our behaviour toward the natural world: this planet we call home and all of its characters.

Clearly, propriety, acting properly, is a collective enterprise. It is the opposite, in fact, of acting in one’s own self-interest.

Propriety, within the context of war and peace, has religious overtones: love thy enemy; blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God; turn the other cheek.

Within the context of climate change, propriety suggests we take our lead from knowing how natural systems work, what keeps them working and what derails them.

Government recognition of a workable peacekeeping standard should follow the lines of the Peace Corps.

It should be instituted by an academy for the study of personal peacefulness and international peace processes.

Government recognition of a workable standard in climate change means creating energy incentives and alternatives, it means setting goals and limits in technology, science, industry and community.

Propriety in both instances means training the right messengers — those who understand how all of nature works, which of course includes human nature.

We can only move forward by pushing the good and avoiding the negative. To do that we should first fall back on what Canadians know as proper.