A COUNTRY FOR THE WAITING © David Watts 17/09/03

In a world of rapid change and constant crisis, we’re continually hearing calls to Do Something.

As a member of the G-8 and neighbour to a superpower, Canada is frequently on the firing line:

In democratic politics our representatives are expected to be on top of whatever issue arises from national security to disease control to global trade barriers. Failure to act is seen as incompetence.

In earlier times those who served a queen or king were called attendants from the French to wait. Their job was as much to wait for as to wait on the sovereign—to simply be there for him or her. Simply doing things was not a virtue. It distracted the attention from the Person being served.

Canada occupies a unique position in this world. Like our often maligned Upper House of Parliament, we exist to offer a sober second thought, an alternative to political polarization.

We find ourself in this situation for three reasons. First, as a country to have emerged within the last 200 years, we’ve been able to observe and avoid the experience of many of our elder states.

Canada as the first modern state to emerge without revolution or civil war. This is an important contribution to the global legacy.

Second, because we’re such a diverse society ourselves, hasty political action is often impossible.

For many countries war is a time of national unity. For Canadians it was not, due to differences over conscription. As a result, our leaders have not been in a hurry to join international conflicts.

To amend the Canadian constitution in a number or areas requires unanimous agreement of our governments. This commits us to be the ongoing meeting place that the word Kanata means.

Leading Canada takes less of decisive action than of moderation and restraint: a balancing act.

That is what the world needs at a stage of growing democratization. Democracy is based on reflection, not reflexes. Polling in the midst of calls to action serves only to inflame the passions.

Calls to action are calls to deal with something in an old accustomed way, rolling out of our beds, half awake and going off to work as we’ve done before. They’re not a time to deal with change.

The brain can deal with limited input under stress before it goes into shutdown or survival mode.

The body politic can only deal with so much change in a short space before it becomes paralyzed.

The job of politics is to provide a delaying mechanism: to allow opinion to develop creative alternatives to seemingly irreconcilable opposites.

That is why bills of Parliament have to go through three readings in the House of Commons.

When passed by the House, they have three additional hurdles to clear—approval by the Senate, Royal Assent and proclamation—before they become law. Each step is an opportunity to finetune

This is a role Canada can play in world politics: to try to delay hasty action until it becomes more conscious, inclusive and broadly based.