Monday, June 2, 2008

Michael Ignatieff on Canadian Values

This summarizes a talk by Michael Ignatieff as part of the Canadian Leadership Orientation for North American MBA Students sponsored by ACSUS, HEC Montreal and the University of Ottawa Telfer School of Management.

The first talk of the Canadian Leadership Orientation was given by Michael Ignatieff about Canadian values. Mr. Ignatieff is a member of parliament for Etobicoke-Lakeshore, and the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. He has an undergraduate degree in History from University of Toronto, and he received his PhD in History from Harvard. Mr. Ignatieff’s talk discussed Canada’s values and the structure of government that has contributed to the “liberal consensus” that exists.

First, Mr. Ignatieff framed his talk by discussing the nature of how a nation’s legal systems codify the value system of people. This is not necessarily a universal set of values, but what is encoded in Canadian institutions to reflect how issues were decided to a certain extent. Systems of politics must find ways to get closure and these are some areas where Canada has reached different conclusions with regards to the United States:

  • Interestingly, in Canada, the government has no authority to take human life.
  • In Canada, a women’s right to choose is considered a settled issue. Abortion is legal in Canada.
  • Medical care is right, not a privilege in Canada. This is a moral choice that the Canadian political and legal system has made. While universal health care mandated by the judicial system sounds appealing, this is exceptionally expensive, eating up more than 50% of budgets in some provinces.
  • Conversely, bearing arms is a privilege, not a right in Canada. Within this interpretation, this is a heated issue similar to the way it in the US.
  • Equal rights extended regardless of sexual orientation. There are full marriage rights accorded to gay and lesbian couples.

Beyond these liberal stances, Canada has a preservationist approach towards minority groups. There are provisions for preservation of the French language, along right to educate in whichever language parents which to educate their children in. A number of laws reconcile individual and group rights but create complicated issues about schooling. The laws protect the Francophone minority through the majority of Canada, and the English speaking minority in Quebec.

Aboriginal groups also have cultural and language rights that must be respected. Overall, Canada can be thought of as much less “assimilationist”, due to both philosophy and the constitutional structure and treaties that formed their government. Mr. Ignatieff feels Canada, because of its large size and dispersion of people, must have a strong government that contributes strongly to unity by building rails and connecting people, yet the charter of the Canadian government tends to allow distinct cultural identities to remain distinct.

Another interesting point Mr. Ignatieff made was with regards to the intermingling of religious belief with political discourse. For some reason, religion is considered more personal in Canada. According to Mr. Ignatieff, it is more difficult politically to invoke religion to justify one’s position. This is especially in contrast to the United States, of course. Very interesting to hear this as someone who doesn’t follow Canadian politics day-to-day.

Mr. Ignatieff concluded his talk by discussing whether these values are distinctively Canadian. Mr. Ignatieff mentioned a paper that he wrote of a few years ago about the “narcissism of minor differences”. At the end of the day, Canadians aren’t that different from Americans, he argues. Rather, Canadians take a certain pride in the differences and see themselves as more progressive. However, at the same time, the government in many ways isn’t as progressive. For instance, the Canadians have trouble pulling off ambitious projects. Globally, Canadians are perceived as more moderate, more liberal and generally kinder with regards to human and cultural rights. These values are very similar to many European countries, but the way Canada has arrived there is very different. I’ll add Massachusetts to that mix as well!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Apparently, quite a few people think he could some day be Prime Minister, along with Frank McKenna (former Canadian Ambassador to the US and current deputy chairman of TD Bank), another gentleman we met.