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Whither Canada?

Canada is languishing because of a dispassionate citizenry, said history scholar Ken Coates. "There is a sadness that has fallen over Canada," said Coates, the dean of arts at the University of Waterloo and a former Yukoner.

Canada is languishing because of a dispassionate citizenry, said history scholar Ken Coates.

“There is a sadness that has fallen over Canada,” said Coates, the dean of arts at the University of Waterloo and a former Yukoner.

“There’s a lack of commitment to the country that has become commonplace from coast to coast to coast,” he said.

Canadians might have different views on what the country should be, but we aren’t engaged in a vigorous public debate about it.

And it’s only when a country engages in heavy, if divisive, debate, that the country receives its vision.

“The country is missing out - either in a way to become better or to avoid some serious problem,” said Coates, who will be holding two presentations on Saturday in Whitehorse on Canada’s growing malaise.

People are disenchanted “not so much with the political process, but with the very political structures themselves,” said Coates.

“There’s a strong sense of entitlement in Canada,” said Coates. “Our primary concern is what government gives to us and how little they can take away from us.”

Ottawa is disconnected from the country it represents; citizens and leaders aren’t integrating anymore.

“We need to realize that political decisions have real authority in this country,” said Coates.

Federal politicians do have a heavy load of policy issues to work on these days, but they don’t affect serious questions about the nation.

It’s the politics of low horizons.

“We’ve fallen into a comfort zone,” he said. “There is a feeling that we’re doing OK, that the country’s not bad.”

A national railway, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and bilingualism were all once nation-building projects that inspired Canadians.

But most government projects now are either very local or regional.

The government announced two new regional economic development agencies this year, one in the North and one in Southern Ontario.

It reveals how bad we are getting at articulating a national integrated economic vision, said Coates.

We end up sidestepping debate about what’s not exactly best for Nova Scotia or Yukon, but what is best for Canada as a whole, said Coates.

The danger is fragmentations caused by fast growth in Canada’s cities, where seven to nine “city-state economies” are becoming the main drivers of political and economic decisions.

And the big picture - what holds us all together - is being missed.

“We have a national problem about rural depopulation, a national problem about the state of infrastructure, a national issue around the place of indigenous peoples within Confederation, a national issue with social cohesion - which is integrating new Canadians into the Canadian fabric,” said Coates.

But we don’t feel threatened, and thus we don’t feel a need to change.

Coates believes a nation finds answers through either a crisis or an opportunity.

Just look south of the border.

In last year’s US election, Americans were engaged in tough debates over a recession caused by a deregulated economy, two controversial wars and the country’s long struggle with race.

Americans knew there was a problem and felt someone should solve it.

But all is quiet in the Great White North.

“How do you get people feeling strongly about their country again?” said Coates.

He would rather have a national awakening happen outside of a crisis, and that can only occur with fiery debate starting from the ground up.

“You and I can disagree about our views on how the world should operate,” said Coates. “The fact that we debate and disagree over different ideas will send us both to the polls, or perhaps convince you to run for office or otherwise get us involved.”

If people get energized and take strong stands on issues, the political system will eventually have to respond.

“The politicians will have to choose sides,” he said.

On September 19, Coates will

present Why Don’t Canadians Care? Strategies For Political and Electoral Reform in Canada to a youth audience at 2 p.m. in Hellaby Hall, followed by an open presentation at 3 p.m.

Contact James Munson at