‘The dark side of excellence’

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Sure, Harper’s reforms might make the economy more efficient, but at what cost?

Edward Dodd

Op-Ed Editor


Have you ever heard of “the dark side of excellence”?


Twenty-four years ago, Pierre Trudeau warned that for too long, Canada had “experimented with the dark side of excellence.” Rather than building the “just society” Trudeau dreamed of, in which the government ensured that every Canadian was treated fairly, Canada was beginning to put the idea of economic competitiveness on the world stage ahead of the basic needs of its own people.


Liberal senator Jack Austin characterized this dark side as “the loss of tolerance, the absence of compassion and the downgrading of fairness.” To Austin, there was a “hard edge” in the Conservatives pursuit of economic competitiveness, a hard edge that meant the one thing that mattered was staying competitive, no matter the cost in comforts that Canadians enjoyed. 


Twenty-four years later, the words of these former political heavyweights ring more true than ever. One has only to look at the headlines to see the hard edge of Conservative politics at play in everything from Old-Age Security to Employment Insurance to collective bargaining rights of workers. The social safety net, an idea once sacred to many Canadians, is slowing being snipped away by the scissors of the efficiency squad. The government justifies these changes as absolutely necessary for the future of Canada, saying that if we do not act now, our country won’t be competitive where it matters – economically. 


People need to work longer because to stop working is to start taking handouts we don’t want to find a way to pay for. Anyone who holds out for a job they are trained for and uses their Employment Insurance is lazy and needs to take any job that comes their way, be it McDonald’s chef, hockey referee, or tar sands worker. And if you can’t find a job where you are living, you should get up and move. In many cases, this means “get up and move to Alberta”.

 


 "[The dark side of excellence is] the loss of tolerance, the absence of compassion and the downgrading of fairness.” – Jack Austin


This “dark side of excellence” is even more obvious in the Conservative government’s treatment of workers who look to engage in collective bargaining. Workers cannot strike because striking slows the economy down and hurts immediate growth. When Canada Post locked out its workers last summer for taking limited collective action, the government wasted little time passing a law that put postal employees back to work. When Air Canada employees threatened to strike, Lisa Raitt imposed another legal settlement to quell the conflict. CP Rail employees barely had time to step onto the picket lines before they were legislated back to work. Ignore the fact that these settlements are temporary solutions for serious grievances. Efficiency must be defended at any social cost. 

This is the downgrading of fairness. This is the loss of tolerance.


The Conservative changes to Canada speak to a drive to make more money regardless of the cost to average Canadians. If “economic excellence” means giving short term economic gain to companies that frankly don’t care about us rather than investing in education, or social programs, or higher wages for average people, perhaps it is time to re-evaluate what our definition of excellence is. Because that definition is a very dark one.

1 comment

  1. James 31 July, 2012 at 09:02

    Why should I bother working if I end up paying a higher percentage in taxes than someone who doesn't work, collects government handouts and pays a lower percentage in taxes. Why should anyone work?

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