As hearts across the country light up with national pride and the eyes of the world focus on Vancouver, Canadians would do well to remember that our Parliament remains empty at the whim of the prime minister – that our democracy has been suspended. With this in mind the Olympics should be, in some respects, a source of deep embarrassment for Canadians, and remind us that we are living through an unprecedented political crisis as well as a much-publicized sports tournament.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t enjoy the Olympics for what they are – a celebration of the world’s best athletes competing all at once on a global stage. And if you are a desperately passionate fan of ski jumping, more power to you. It’s natural to feel pride in your country during the Olympics, to follow medal results, and to pray for hockey gold. But if the Games are a forum for sentimental patriotism, they should also be an opportunity for national reflection. And what is it that we Canadians have the privilege of seeing when we burrow into our national conscience at the moment? We’re faced most glaringly with the grinning, narrow-eyed face of Stephen Harper, a prime minister who is arrogant and cynical and autocratic enough to cancel the Parliament he is supposed to answer to with no pretense of justification other than the protection of his own political fortunes. This is a shameful stain on our national self-image, and should give us pause before we indulge in the sort of self-congratulatory patriotism that the Olympics stir up. This is doubly true for us as the host country, as we submit not only to self-scrutiny but also to the judgment of a world watching us intently for some weeks.
If you agree with my earlier characterization of our Dear Leader, you will also agree that thwarting his autocratic vision for the country is an end in itself. Maintaining a vivid awareness of Parliament’s prorogation achieves this in two ways. First, Harper’s impetus for prorogation was an inquiry into his government’s complicity in the torture of Afghan prisoners of war, an investigation he clearly felt would leave him embarrassingly exposed during the Olympics. Instead, he should now be shamed in front of the world for his dictatorial response to the scandal he evidently fears so much. Second, his strategy for escaping the prorogation scandal has been to bank on the apathy of Canadian voters, an apathy he must have thought would be deepened by the distraction of the Olympics. He should not be allowed to get away with such ugly cynicism.
In order to live up to a deeper, truer kind of patriotism, Canadians must not only cheer on our slalomers and biathletes, but also face up to the uncomfortable reality that our most important democratic institution has been deemed disposable by the prime minister at a moment when our country and our values are on full display to the world. We can’t succumb, especially in the face of the Olympics, to cynical political games, nor lose sight of the fragility and the enormous value of democracy.
Eric Andrew-Gee is a U0 Arts legacy. Show him true patriot pride at firstname.lastname@example.org