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Opinion: Bill Walton, Resetting the Compass

Lost, we are rushing off in all directions.

Years ago, I owned a car that had a compass in the overhead console (an upgrade that came with the power windows). This novelty had a small fault that would, over time, lose its direction-pointing abilities. It was something to do with the magneto, my mechanic friend explained.

In any case, to reset the compass back to true north, one found an empty mall parking lot on Sunday (no Sunday shopping back then), held down a button on the console, and with the other hand on the steering wheel, drove in as perfect a circle as one could for three revolutions. Presto.

Nowadays with a compass and GPS on your upgraded wrist communication devices, the compass can still get out of whack, not due to magnetos, but to things as simple as temperature, altitude, and latitude changes. To correct this, go to settings and move the watch in a figure 8 motion and voila, back to true north strong and free.

You may have surmised that my next reveal is the resetting of my moral compass. Not so. I may wander off course occasionally, but I yam what I yam. If I lost you on the ‘yam’ its from Popeye the Sailor Man. Still lost?

What I am wondering now is how our country, Canada, lost its bearings.

Perhaps it is just the changing times we live in but somehow the changes are not pointing to the true north strong and free. The institutions and values that we thought distinguished us from other countries have eroded or washed away leaving us stranded on a beach of problems.

What has happened to our legendary Mounties might be a good place to start.

Police forces around the world are facing more unrest, social problems, and armed violence than in the past but that is only part of the problems facing the force now. The scathing report from the mass shooting in Nova Scotia highlighted trouble within the force. There may have always been racism and sexism in the corps, as there is in the general population from which we draw our police, but knowing this, there ought to have been an awareness of how to change the face of that in the ranks – top to bottom.

The introduction of more women into the RCMP ought not to have been a problem except that a male-dominated institution could not, or did not, want to change.

Again, this may be a society-wide issue but we expect that the people who are charged with upholding the law, ought to have looked to themselves first. Of course, the RCMP is only a window into the other police forces in the country, and their problems in coping with modern society are shared at all levels. How long will it take for the infusion of new blood and modern thinking to change the culture of our police? Having the Mounties ride their horses in a circle three times will not change their compass setting.

Our military has changed as well.

Canadian troops in the Great War distinguished themselves and then again in the Second World War. We gained honour as United Nations Peacekeepers until that crumbled with some failed deployments (think Somalia) and political posturing by governments and the UN. 

Again, there were problems integrating women into the armed forces and sexual misconduct issues were mishandled by the male-dominated corps. Underfunding put added pressure on the forces, not only in deployments but here at home in housing and social problems caused in part by low pay in the junior ranks, and then in added exasperation, support for veterans. Small wonder then that recruitment is an issue: asking men and women to put their lives at risk for low pay and old equipment is not appealing.

Once again though, we expect change from the leaders, who perhaps, unfortunately, have come up through the ranks carrying the baggage of years gone by. How long before we can expect change?  Shouting ‘By the Left, Quick March thrice in a circle’ will not change much unless there are politicians in the viewing stands.

How does one explain the disgusting behaviour of Hockey Canada covering up sexual abuse? Surely, surely, they are not representative of our population. On the other foot, there is the Board of Directors of Soccer Canada and their views of our famed women’s team.

Our Healthcare system has also lost its way.

While racism and sexism may not be as grievous issues as in the previous examples, the Tommy Douglas dream of universal health care for Canadians has floundered. There can be small doubt that the rapid changes in technology, both in data keeping and sharing as well as the advances in medicine, both in methodology and pharmaceuticals, have strained the systems in hospitals and doctor’s offices. Government funding, in our semi-socialist system, is a problem, but I suggest the real issue in our system is the monetization of healthcare.

I do not have Commissioners nor Generals to point my finger at, but the root of the Medicare problem may be with CMA.  Not enough doctors? Not enough medical students at university? Foreign accreditation? Inter-provincial standards? Who is in charge here? Who has the influence on the purse strings? Of course, it should be our elected officials: the politicians we choose, but alas.

We can go back at least a century to see the influencer events that have thrown our Canadian compass off course: The Great War; the Roaring Twenties; The Great Depression; World War II; the Atomic Bombs and the Cold War; rampant consumerism; the drugs and free-love of the mid-century; the globalization of Trade; urbanization, and finally, the computerizing of social media.

Okay, you and I, as Canadian citizens, could not have done much about these world events. But our politicos could have kept us on course.

There may be those who think that the growing secularism in the country is part of the problem. I admit that the threat of fire and brimstone when you are a child can keep one on the straight and narrow. Nowadays, with both parents working, we leave any sense of discipline and responsibility to others – the consequences of that may be appearing in today’s lifestyle choices and work ethic.

Ethics. Therein lies the problem and perhaps the solution to our concerns with the police, the military, and the healthcare (oh did I forget to mention Education and our rotating-door courts) systems.  The pendulum swings of our compass arrow are part of the problem as we waver left and then right, and occasionally on the provincial level, go full circle trying to right the ship of state and reset the compass with the NDP.

The obvious answer to our continuing dilemma is to be rid of the ‘first-past-the-post’ system of elections. (We might also be rid of the old thinkers in the Senate). Cooperative coalition governments, often the result of Proportional Representation, do work.

Enough with the words for this article. In this rapidly changing world, it appears that too many of our institutions and organizations are being led by people who do not recognize their failings or are unwilling to change. We need to reset their compasses.

Or get new leaders.

And if you see me wandering in circles at the mall, I am not trying to reset my moral compass: it’s just my knackered left leg trying to keep up with the right leg. Just saying.

Bill Walton

About the Author: Bill Walton

Retired from City of North Bay in 2000. Writer, poet, columnist
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