The Canadian Imagination

What it means to be Canadian; examining and reworking Canada as a nation.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Utilitarianism

We don't often see its naked form because it is a brutal thing. What its extremes amount to, in effect, is to determine a desirable level of general welfare for an acceptable percentage of the population -- and discard all the rest.

Ralph Klein has raised it into an art form.

Any first-to-the-post demographic system will naturally tend toward utilitarianism, balancing optimal poll numbers against public perception. It could even be argued that public perception, as conveyed through the lens of the mass media and by word of mouth, is the only thing truly protecting the minorities: for Canadians do like to see themselves generally as "nice guys". During the last Qu├ębec referendum we may have heard again and again that even a fraction over 50% would give sovereignty association the clear win; but the reality in the Information Age is that politicians dare not risk any action that is likely to antagonise so great a number.

Conveniently for politicians, public opinion tends to be comfortably reluctant to look too closely at what lies behind the mirror.

In Alberta during the boom years, doors were opened, migration strongly encouraged, and skilled labour even today continues to be poached from all parts of the country. (Curious that the monetary ability to draw ready-trained labour negates the local need to spend money to train that labour.) Frontier mentality, corporate priorities. The land of opportunity welcomes all who are able to work with open arms, leaving it to the generosity of the system itself to abandon the largest profit numbers in order to develop the necessary infrastructure, sanitation, even basic housing.

But if you happen to fall between the cracks?

Availability of job is only one part of the equation. Housing, support of our children and our parents, medical ability to work: spinning an unseen network, a surprisingly fine spiderweb upon which our ability to sustain ourselves depends absolutely. A single accident can bring it all crashing down in an instant.

Some places will help you get back on your feet, insofar as you can. Some will support your continued ability to survive, and maybe even try to help you thrive. Some will give you a panacea of support, and then leave you to fend on your own. If you do succeed, you become evidence of the validity of the system. And if you don't: well, we did try.

And after that, public opinion having been served, you may as well have ceased to exist.

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