AGAR ADAMSON: How much value in the duty of government?

Agar Adamson
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Does government have a duty to protect its citizens?

What’s the job of government?

What do we expect?

These are questions which often arise at this time of year, as we are all wrestling with our income tax returns. Do we get value for the taxes we pay? 

These questions are all about government not about political parties. The parties are but agents who attempt to gauge the public mood and implement the necessary policies which will prevent the citizens from rioting or even throwing the party out of office next election.

As we know, political parties come in many shades of activism: the political left are often more active than those on the right, especially in the field of human welfare. Put it another way: do we wish to have a Samaritan state, or that advocated by Spencer and the Social Darwinists, who advocate “survival of the fittest?” We have just recently witnessed this debate in the United States over health care reform and, if we listen to the Republicans, this debate is far from over. One of the more fascinating sides to this debate is the issue of Christian philosophy in a country where religion plays a major role in political discourse.

In Canada, the debate continues within the Conservative Party. There are those who, perhaps, trace their political ancestry back to the days of the Red Tory within the Progressive Conservative Party; and those who were supporters of the Reform movement and its ancestor, Social Credit. At the moment, Stephen Harper has managed to keep this debate from breaking out into the open. However, the issue will come to the fore when Harper retires or is defeated.

In the meantime, we as citizens - and voters - are both witnesses and victims of this debate. We watch with interest the policy proposals of all the parties; we are also the victims of those policies. We noted, perhaps with pleasure, the tax policies of the Conservatives: now we wonder about the future and the national debt we are bequeathing to our grandchildren.  One can strongly support the Conservatives’ desire for a national securities regulator - unless of course you are a Quebecois.

Government ... has the constitutional duty to protect all of its citizens. The issue is, is it doing not only an adequate job, but doing it equally?

Perhaps the issue that underlies this debate is that of  “liberty.”  In a democratic state, what are the limits the state should impose on its citizens’ individual liberties?  A former justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, when writing on Freedom of Speech, stated there are limits. He used the example of an individual yelling “Fire!” in a theatre, just for the fun of it. The state does impose limits on our liberties: the question is, when are those limits acceptable? Unacceptable? What action should the state take to promote “the common good?” This question is the basis of the Republicans’ opposition to President Obama’s healthcare reforms. We also experience the issue in Canada. Our recent federal budget has, for example, reduced government assistance to the Inuit, thus curtailing many of their liberties. Despite the fact the current minister of health is Inuit, this group of Canadians has a weak voice in national politics.  Mary Simon, a national Inuit leader has pointed out “closing gaps in basic Inuit social wellbeing is a problem that confronts Canada as a G8 country, as well as Inuit as a people. It requires candid recognition and the investment of a further political energies and financial recourses by the Government of Canada, as well as by everyone else who has a part to play.”

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Organizations: Republicans, Progressive Conservative Party, Conservatives Social Darwinists U.S. Supreme Court First Nations General Motors

Geographic location: Canada, United States, Ottawa Grace Fiord Afghanistan

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