Sometimes I wonder what is happening to us in this new era of populism, where freedom is being redefined and cancel culture, disinformation and even fake news are rampant.
In my view, the tipping point was the recent COVID-19 pandemic where individual freedoms were in some ways trumped by government control in the national interest. Many Canadians objected to this especially when it came to vaccines, mask mandates, and freedom of movement. This resulted in a serious challenge of scientific credibility, the emergence of conspiracy theories, and to a significant extent civil unrest.
Freedom, as noted in a recent Toronto Star article, has become weaponized. There is now a real tug of war between those who believe in extensive individual freedom and those that feel the government should control many parts of our lives.
I am one who believes that government has a clear mandate to act in the public interest and at times, that restricts individual freedoms. We do not have the right to commit murder or harm others either physically or through the spread of disease. We do not have the right to discriminate against others or to restrict their fundamental rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
But I am also one who believes that government can not be, and should not be, all things to all people. Individuals should have as much freedom as possible to control their own lives and make their own decisions. They should have the freedom to succeed and yes, the freedom to fail. And I certainly agree with former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s well-known declaration that “government has no place in the bedrooms of the nation.”
I do find it somewhat alarming that freedom has become politicized to the extent that it has. It has become a rallying cry for those who oppose the government and enabled actions and behaviours that would not have previously been tolerated.
Every time I see one of those Fxxxk Trudeau flags I shudder, not because I have any love for Justin Trudeau but because it is a desecration of our national flag and a total lack of respect for our democratic institutions, including the office of Prime Minister.
I also have a problem with governments that cater to populism such as Quebec’s thinly veiled Islamophobic legislation banning so-called religious apparel for people in public service. This is pure discrimination, likely popular with many people, but still, fundamentally wrong. Equally wrong is the failure of the Trudeau Government to confront it, even though they have the tools to do it.
Another concern I have in this regard is the apparent movement to dilute the sanctity of life. We already have legislation allowing consenting adults facing terminal illnesses to access medically assisted dying. This is actually no more or no less than assisted suicide. Now, however, politicians are contemplating allowing this for people who suffer from mental illness, and young children. I have some trouble with the existing legislation related to assisted dying but, allowing it to be accessed by people unable to give informed consent is, for me, a bridge too far, populism notwithstanding.
On the other hand, I have trouble with politicians who want to control what we can say, write or read within the boundaries of hate speech and libel or defamation laws.
Recently, Leah Gazan, an NDP member of Parliament, advocated legislation to combat Indigenous “Residential school denialism”. At first blush, this may seem reasonable given that much of the history of residential schools is tragic, but to make it a criminal offence to have reasonable discussions about this part of our heritage is an assault on the freedom of speech. If it can be used here, it can be used in other places where activists or governments alike can decide there are issues on which we should not be allowed to have an opinion or an ability to express them.
Of course, the evolution of the Internet has had an incredible effect on fake news and disinformation resulting in heated discussions about whether it should be controlled. In my view, some regulation is necessary just as it is today with radio and television being accountable to the CRTC.
However, we must ensure that government does not morph this regulation into the censorship of opinions, news reporting, and the freedom of expression by individuals. At least one government minister has associated controlling the internet in a manner compatible with government policy. The thought of that is appalling.
There is also talk about introducing legislation to ban Internet access to children under, I believe, 10 years of age. While I understand the concern about this, such a move would also ban online learning. As well, I question whether this kind of legislation is really the role of government. Government should not take the place of parents whose responsibility it is to decide what is good for their children.
And so, I ask, what is the real meaning of freedom? How much control should government have over our lives and what should be the proper balance? Whether we like it or not, that is a fundamental question in our public discourse these days.
Freedom today, in my view, is a moving target. We need to be very clear about where we stand.
Hugh Mackenzie has held elected office as a trustee on the Muskoka Board of Education, a Huntsville councillor, a District councillor, and mayor of Huntsville. He has also served as chairman of the District of Muskoka and as chief of staff to former premier of Ontario, Frank Miller.
Hugh has also served on a number of provincial, federal and local boards, including chair of the Ontario Health Disciplines Board, vice-chair of the Ontario Family Health Network, vice-chair of the Ontario Election Finance Commission, and board member of Roy Thomson Hall, the National Theatre School of Canada, and the Anglican Church of Canada. Locally, he has served as president of the Huntsville Rotary Club, chair of Huntsville District Memorial Hospital, chair of the Huntsville Hospital Foundation, president of Huntsville Festival of the Arts, and board member of Community Living Huntsville.
In business, Hugh Mackenzie has a background in radio and newspaper publishing. He was also a founding partner and CEO of Enterprise Canada, a national public affairs and strategic communications firm established in 1986.
Currently, Hugh is president of C3 Digital Media Inc., the parent company of Doppler Online, and he enjoys writing commentary for Huntsville Doppler.
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