Justin Trudeau’s Canadian style liberty goes in the right direction, but its success is not a matter of balance
With a federal election to be held by October, a potentially damaging Senate scandal trial to begin in April, and the Canadian economy facing oil-driven uncertainty, the Conservative government has directed the people’s attention towards national security through its proposed Bill C-51 which would grant enhanced but vaguely defined powers to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to preemptively react to threats. This was partly in response to radical terrorism, including two incidents on Canadian soil last October, but has been roundly criticized for its weak oversight, potential use against other forms of opposition, and the risks to privacy and freedoms.
While the NDP, led by Thomas Mulcair, has firmly opposed the Bill on these grounds, Liberal party leader Justin Trudeau has tacitly supported it, choosing instead to voice his concerns through a 40 minute speech delivered to a Toronto audience last Monday. On that occasion, Trudeau used the issue to further distance himself from Prime Minister Stephen Harper by promoting his vision of Canadian liberty and pluralism based on inclusion, the interplay between individual rights and collective identity, and the role of political leadership to sustain it.
Whereas Harper continues to reinforce his image as a strong leader and Mulcair portrays himself as the government’s true opposition, Trudeau is seeking to make Canadian values and principles a central platform in the upcoming election campaign.
In this atmosphere of fear and suspicion being fostered by the governing Conservatives, Trudeau’s idea of a Canadian liberty is a welcome opportunity in a country whose identity if often questioned. The debate over individual freedom is nothing new, one Trudeau includes in his address, but critically, where he distinguishes his brand of liberty is his recognition that the best freedom is the one “we work to provide for one another”.
As I wrote in my dichotomy of Freedom post, progressive freedom, one that works towards broader interests and greater societal growth, is based on the recognition that the best freedom is not that which we seek for ourselves, but that which we help others achieve. A critical aspect of any society that determines how it effectively functions is how it handles the issue of conflict that naturally and regularly emerges between its people, even more so with our increasingly interactive and wider reaching world. In this vein is a realization that the true obstacles to another’s freedom are often derived beyond his or her control, including that which we create ourselves, intentionally or otherwise.
That is why it is more vital in a society to encourage an emancipating freedom rather than one centred on self-interests. Self-interested freedom, where one acts based solely on his wants, places no assurances or responsibilities towards others and thus is more likely to produce rather than resolve conflicts. Self-interested freedom serves to shape individual identity whose uniqueness can contribute to the wonderful diversity Trudeau refers to in pluralism, but as he also noted in quoting Nelson Mandela, it should also be practiced “in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
It is insufficient, then, for the role of government to be to simply protect and expand freedoms for its citizens. Political leadership, in this case, means leading by example. To demonstrate and encourage through its policies and actions the conduct it hopes to inspire in its people.
Unlike what Trudeau stated, the approach towards progressive freedom is not a matter of balancing individual freedom and collective identity, but in persuading its people to expand their perspective beyond their self interests. To grow as a nation and a democracy, we all must be better supporters of the interests and freedoms of others which will help us all prosper, individually and collectively. To trust in one another to respect, support, and defend each others’ dreams instead of fighting for them alone. To understand that if everyone cared for the freedoms beyond themselves, their own liberty would be assured as well.
Trudeau’s challenge on this issue is very well worth pursuing in this year’s election, especially under the current political and economic environment, both in the national and global context. Canada’s future path as a nation will largely depend on the vision of freedom given by its leaders, and this idea of Canadian liberty demands serious consideration.
Some other commentary on Justin Trudeau’s March 9th speech: