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Dear Prime Minister Chretien | Poem

Government of Canada 

Dear Prime Minister Chretien, 

"O Canada" 

I am a mature student living in Ontario, attending Nipissing University. I have lived in several provinces in Canada as well as in United States.  Most of my working career has been spent in social services, yet I also have a background in business and computers. My studies have been from a sociological perspective, focusing on global and development issues as well as social welfare.  I feel I must express my feelings. 

"Our home and native land!" 

Part of me is no longer proud to be a Canadian, and I feel little hope for the future. What will become of our young people, and the ruggedness, wildness, abundance and beauty of our land? What contribution will Canada choose to make in the Global Village?  Will Canada use its power, its contribution, to exploit, or will we make choices that contribute to a peaceful and equitable country and world? 

"True patriot love" 

I have observed and experienced the impact of the dismantling of our social systems. I see slashes to welfare, employment/unemployment benefits, health care, housing, education and so much more. Increasingly, more people are losing their grip on the middle class, becoming part of a landslide, toppling head first into poverty; a seeming vortex into the abyss.  They enter the ranks of the working poor, the un-and underemployed and social assistance, at a time when our governments slash away at our social protections and programs and Premier Mike Harris leads the chorus in poor bashing.  Child poverty is growing in every community and all of which I find unconscionable. 

I observe the propaganda and the poor bashing that is controlling and making predictable the 
behavior of Canadians and others world wide. I have been studying the dynamics in Mexico and other Third World countries and am aware of our involvement in these immoral acts.  I  have studied the treatment and current conditions of our Native peoples. I have explored globalization and the wholesale exploitation of nature and people everywhere.  I am so disheartened that I find I am lacking the language to express the deep sadness and revulsion I have in my heart. 

As I view the conditions and events of today and scan the horizon of the future I do not see the makings for a peaceful, equitable world.   I am concerned for the families; the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, the elderly, the suffering, the underprivileged, the disabled, the lakes, the wildlife, and the forestsàthe vulnerable. I am concerned about the conditions and agendas I see today, and the impact these will have on the future.  I am concerned about life in Canada and the world. These things are precious and we are not giving them the care they need and deserve.  It seems we have lost our way and become unbalanced.   We have ceased to value that which can never be replaced, and upon which all life is based.  We have fallen for the illusion that something is valuable only if it can be turned into wealth and power.  We deem some people as deserving and others as having no value and legislate accordingly.  We are setting the stage for a future consisting of the Have's and Have Nots.  This is not a good thing, and I believe it can take us only to places that none of us would want to go. 

"in all thy sons command" 

Has our government become a malleable power and source of cash, by which the power elite 
of this country and the world legislates and controls the flow of power and resources into their own hands? Who pays the expenses of these global initiatives, for example, the IMF, World Bank, GEF, UNCED, WTO, NAFTA etc.? I wonder about the expenses of our social systems as compared to the expenses of underwriting "global initiatives". Do institutions and agreements like these serve primarily or exclusively the global elite?  How many people, outside the politicians and elite have a voice in these arenas? These are some of the questions I have. 

I can understand that individuals with decision-making roles in government must find themselves between a rock and a hard place, as the hold that both the development and globalization projects have on governments is far reaching and complex.  Perhaps in rapidly changing and confusing times, one needs to step away from the confusion of the interwoven details and explore issues from the simplicity of 'The Golden Rule - "Do unto others as...".  I contend that the individuals responsible for policy and legislation would make quite different decisions if they thought they would have need of, or be vulnerable to the systems and institutions they create. I have wondered that if they really understood and could truly imagine what it is like to suffer from oppression or poverty, if many would not do that to someone or something else. 

Removals of environmental protections allowing export-driven wholesale harvesting of resources will never be in the best interest of the present or the future. I believe there are other ways of redistributing income that could heal the land and the people.  I look around; Rwanda, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Algeria, Africa, Chiapas, Guatemala, the Philippines, Russia, India, Thailand, Ghana, Brazil and so on and so on. What makes us think we are so different and therefore, not vulnerable to the social and environmental devastation?  If Canada (and the planet) is to continue with any of the freedoms and beauty that we have enjoyed in our lifetime, we must take the initiative and do something different than what is going on right now. I'm not interested in, or meaning to point fingers, but simply wish to point out that the current plan doesn't appear to be working and doesn't seem likely to take the world into a future with much joy left for anything or anyone. I am interested in solutions. What can we do? 

I see the world running amuck and those at the helm are unchecked and unaccountable -- focused on making a fast buck.  Everything is fast right now.  Everyone is spinning.  So much technology and attendant impact--so fast that most people have no idea what is going on or what to expect.  Cause and effect are often not modifying forces because in global issues, it seems that by the time the effects make it back to the cause, it is too late to do very much about it.  A person can smoke a lot of cigarettes before they get cancer. 

"With glowing hearts we see thee rise," 

An example of this is the issue of the peasants of Chiapas.  Their suffering was far removed from the lives of yourself, Brian Mulrooney, President Zedillo, and President Clinton, as you celebrated lavishly the signing of NAFTA.  I consider that some portion of my tax dollars, may have financed some of that suffering.  Certainly the shareholders of the transnational companies and banks, and the many other investors, do not feel the hunger, the fear for their lives, and the hardships of the often-homeless peasants as they create extremely good marketing campaigns to solicit investments from unaware citizens to promote their own interests. I wonder how they feel with the awareness that mothers, children, brothers, sons, grandfathers, pets and babies, lie murdered by the death squads and the other appendages of the PRI.  I am not meaning to offend you, but rather hoping to get your interest and attention. 

I wonder how we might feel if the same thing were happening to us and why is it acceptable 
when it happens to someone else?  I am also most interested in knowing the details of the 
involvement of Canada Post in Guatemala and look forward to a response. 

"The True North strong and free!" 

Mexico is only one example of the sanctioned greed, often backed by military power, which 
exists worldwide.  Can we expect this sort of thing in Canada at some point in the future? 
Would the Canadian Government have any control if we were in a similar position of 
indebtedness and are we now?  Would the Canadian government be forced into these same 
sorts of actions if, as a government, if Canada were in a position of vulnerability and therefore had no control?  If Chase Manhattan Bank suggested to your government that those who speak up against injustices be eliminated, would you do as you were told? Is the APEC issue the harbinger of things to come? I reason, given history's abundance of examples, that Canada would be no different than Mexico, or Germany under the Nazis..   Is the global elite now ruling Canada?  Are we already past the point of return or can we have another look at things?  I hope we can. 

"From far and wide," 

 I have had many reasons in my 42 years to contemplate this thing called life.  To simplify 
my thoughts I will say that in the end I realized that our time here is short and that each and 
every action we choose will either harm or heal.  Do I want to contribute to a world where 
love, honor, integrity, kindness, good will etc. are honored or would I rather live as a parasite 
and take what I need to instantly gratify myself at the expense of others?  I made my choice, 
and I think it is time for many people in the world to ask themselves these sorts of questions. 

I see a nation and world of people where more and more people are suffering unnecessarily. 
I observe the attitudes of many of those who are still maintaining middle class or higher life 
styles. There is fear that there may not be enough to go around and therefore, many feel they 
can justify almost anything to make sure they will remain in the ranks of the "Haves".  I've 
noticed it doesn't bring out their best. A national identity based on fear does not spell optimism for the future. With current trends I see widespread crime, massive prisons, suffering on a grand scale and all kinds of issues of power and control in our future-all taking place upon a devastated landscape within a polluted environment.  Does anyone care or do we do the ostrich thing? 

"O Canada, we stand on guard for thee." 

 In Ontario, Mike Harris is leading the way.  Poor bashing and environmental devastation are 
two of his specialties Ralph Klein is his kindred spirit.  Poor bashing diverts people's attention, for example, the provincial government stating publicly that 'welfare mothers' are too lazy to get up and cook breakfast for their children.  They created highly publicized and visible welfare fraud reporting lines. They have successfully re-created the stigma of needy people being lazy and of inferior moral character, thereby assigning blame and justifying cuts. Meanwhile they have been working very hard behind the scenes, making massive legislative changes that will allow the industrialists of this and any country to harvest the province's crown land among other things. In this way they have unilaterally traded our prospects for quality of life for the future into cash for the elite today. Revenue is not redistributed equitably-low wages and low or no benefits prevail. Given this, the "make work" argument holds no legitimacy with me.  Exploiting the land will not do anything for the people who 
live on or near it other than a quick, short-term fix. It would be a token drop in the pan and would leave the land and prospects for the future raped in its wake. 

 It was not the average Mexican citizen that prospered at any level in Chiapas (or anywhere else) as a result of the massive wholesaling of their vast resources.  They lost their land, were relocated, had no means by which to care for themselves, no means to an adequate income and most are living in squalor with no hope for their future whilst destroying valuable rainforests.  This is demonstrated over and over, throughout the Third World.  What are we doing to prevent this in our country?  What are we doing to protect human rights in other countries?  Are we all spineless cowards? 

"God keep our land glorious and free!" 

It is a shame that many of those with power in this and other countries view power as a privilege, a ticket to opportunities and wealth, when in fact power is a good thing only when it is viewed as a responsibility towards others.  These people seem incredibly myopic to me.  Do they really want to raise their children in walled communities and cities, and hope to God that it isn't their child that gets shot in the head by an individual who grew up trapped within the daily stresses, hardships, limitations and endless crisis and hopelessness of poverty?  Perhaps someone should educate them as to the likely outcomes of a country or world where it is predicted by some that approximately seventy to eighty percent of the population will live in poverty within the next fifty years while the world population doubles.  What does the government project for lifestyle in 2050? 

It all seems so complex yet, I think it is as simple as the old adage of "the chain being as strong as its weakest link".  In this context, quality of life here in Canada (and elsewhere in the world given the interconnectedness) is the chain, and the weakest links are the growing numbers of disempowered and oppressed individuals, regions, minorities and countries - in other words, the lowest common denominators.  Perhaps it is time to focus on the weakest links, as those with power seem able and motivated to take the very best care of themselves only. Things are out of balance.  We could start right here at home. 

At a time when the land is suffering, it might be great timing to empower our Native Peoples. They could offer us much in these times.  We need to empower them and we owe it to them.  What has happened with the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recommendations?  These things are very important.  We need to make things right in order to move forward in an honorable way. 

The pressure to exploit our lands will become more intense as resources dwindle elsewhere in 
the world as countries, regions and individuals find themselves pushed against a wall.  Desperation is a powerful force when it comes to justifying abhorrent acts. What will the Federal Government be doing to ensure the redistribution of wealth to the masses and the needy, and how will they help us protect OUR land? 

It seems uncanny to me that Ontario's land is wielded as though it is Mike Harris's (and industries') personal property.  I was of the understanding that politicians and bureaucrats are the appendages of the citizens, not the other way around. What is happening to our country?   Has it happened to the citizens too?  In Indonesia the government blatantly states that the land belongs to the state and the people have no rights to the revenue it generates.  Is this the case in Canada too? 

I think it is a shame that the Federal Government no longer demands accountability from the provinces in many areas.   This has unleashed power without values or accountability-so often it is the bullies that make it to the top.   It is unfortunate, yet true, that throughout time, power has corrupted the best of intentions and men and probably at the very least, confused them. Furthermore, without accountability, many fail to maintain their good intentions and high standards if in fact they had them at all.  Our values have fallen quite low; we have retracted the checks and balances - what else could we expect? What can we do about it? Mr. Prime Minister, if I had somewhere else to go I would contemplate leaving this country. I do know that in relative terms, this is one of the better countries in which to live. I don't expect this to last very long.  I know things must change if we care about future generations. If we wish to leave a world and legacy that we would not be ashamed of, our values need an overhaul and they need to be applied accordingly.  Other than expressing myself in this letter I don't know what to do.  I know that there is no place to run and I want too be part of the solution. 

I will be very disappointed if I get a token response to my letter and my concerns, or worse yet, some patronizing propaganda.  I don't want the packet of brochures, posters, pins and Canadiana games. I believe my concerns are valid and hope you will consider them and do something creative.  You may find more support for such initiatives than you would expect and then again, maybe not. 

 I think the government must find a way to connect and interact with the people in a meaningful way.  It is beginning to feel to me a lot like the "us" and "them" scenario in how people view and experience their positioning with government.  Divisions of those with power (and those clinging to it), and those without. The trust no longer exists. We don't think our government or anybody has our best interests at heart. There is a lack of trust between individuals, and between groups. In this whirlwind of change, no one knows what to expect-everyone is on guard. It is a time for building bridges before things fall totally apart.  Token measures and insincerity will not work. 

Perhaps the government needs some more "ordinary" people involved in dialogue with "the top" and in positions of power in these global institutions.  How can you trust the feedback you receive channeled through so many, with vested interests of their own? Is it simply that there is a disinterest in realities for citizens?  I figure in many ways that those of you in political and affluent circles have no idea about life for the masses. When I read speeches with statements meant to convey an understanding of the plight of the citizens, and then deal with the realities of finding my way through a system or listen to what people living in the real world are saying and experiencing, and attempt to give feedback, it becomes clear that there is a very wide gap between what is said, believed, and what is. The word or concept of "poverty" and the experience of it are two very different things. 

Today's systems are great to believe in for those who are content with false comfort or in no need of assistance.  With today's economic realities many are and will be forced to access them, only to discover they offer more cracks than ledges and impose more limitations than actual assistance or empowerment. Is it that the more fortunate truly do not understand?  Is it that they are far enough removed that they find comfort in believing that the most powerless of our society are the cause of their own suffering and the deficit, and thereby feel justified in creating punitive, Elizabethan systems for "those types", and privileges for themselves?   Is it simply that the system works quite well for them as is?  Perhaps we should create "Feed the Children" videos and solicit the compassion and funds of the affluent in other countries and bypass our government all together.  It always amazes me that people write checks to assist the impoverished in other countries, yet despise those in similar conditions in their own.  I fail to see the difference. What does this say about human nature? 

"O Canada, we stand on guard for thee." 

There is so much wisdom and creativity wandering the streets, fields and forests of this country; it's a shame you don't make better use of it.  Does the government no longer believe that we can take care of one another? Does the government not think this is important? It strikes me, that in a world where there exists so much knowledge and brilliance that we are able to clone life, send people to other planets and so much more, that a combination of pure intentions and an unwillingness to settle for so little for so many, could create solutions to welfare, preserve the environment, empower our disadvantaged populations and find creative ways of interacting economically in our global environment.  Perhaps our governments have a conflict of interest and are unsure whose interests they are in place to serve.  Industry, business, politicians, the affluent etc. get an audience and action and legislative changes yet, from experience I know the average Jo, like myself, have administrative assistants thrust upon us to wear us down until we go away.  Given that few of us live in the lap of luxury, we ultimately run out of steam with all of our daily responsibilities and hence, the status quo is 

Things are not looking too good out here in the real world. I am challenging, hoping, begging, and writing, as one human being to another that you will do something different.  Surely there is someone in your government with at least a little curiosity and a desire to have a look around, who also cares and believes enough in our potential to see what can be done. There is a country full of decent people (who would like to remain so) who have something to contribute and who need the support of their government.  Our land and our wildlife are spectacular! The land, the people, the wildlife--we are all in this together, interdependent and interconnected, like it or not.  Our choices and the values they reflect will create our future.  If we push the people and the planet far enough it won't matter how much power or affluence one has, or which species, country, gender, ethnic group or religion from which one hails-we will make or break this country, planet and the future together. All else is an illusion. 

When I see action that supports our national anthem I will stand and sing.  Until such time I will do everything I can to help, but I will not stand and I will not sing. 

"O Canada, we stand on guard for thee." 

In earnest, 

Rebecca Duncan 
Human Being 
South River, Ontario

to Poets      to Moongate


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