BRAVE NEW EPOQUE
Essays on the MILLENNIUM
ALLAN R. GREGG
Birthdays. Anniversaries. New Year’s. These are celebrations of the most important passages in our lives. Around the world and throughout the ages, these milestones have provided continuity for people and societies. They have served as benchmarks against which we measure time and our own progress through life and history. But the end of the second millennium and the beginning of the third is something else again, a time to reflect on where we are going.
What does the future hold for Canada? Will the millennium bring the same advances in medicine and science we have seen in our lifetime? What will work be like in the year 2005? How will the global economy function? Where will Canada rate? Will the environment be safe? Those are the kinds of questions Maclean’s will explore in a series of monthly ESSAYS ON THE MILLENNIUM. The first, which examines leadership in the next century, was written by Allan Gregg, chairman of the polling and consulting firm The Strategic Counsel.
But before peering into the future, it is helpful to first look back to see how we have changed. Canadians’ modern-day belief system began to gel after the Second World War. Four decades of prosperity caused us to believe that our next car would always be faster, the next house unimaginably bigger, the next paycheque impossibly fatter, and the next generation’s standard of living immeasurably better. In short, we came to believe that progress was both normal and inevitable.
We started to question that belief for the first time with the erosion of real income brought on by rampant inflation and interest rates in the early ’80s. The failure of time-tested solutions (mainly governmental) to provide relief further eroded the belief that progress was normal. Today, Canadians accept that we live in a world of diminished opportunities. The public also has concluded that not everyone in society will share equally in the diminished opportunities that are available.
Both conclusions—that there are limits to progress and that the haves will be participating more than the have-nots—are revolutionary. They stand in stark contrast to the mainstays of our postwar sociopolitical culture. As well, in the past 15 years we have witnessed a breakdown in trust of traditional authority, whether government, union or church. That transformation has resulted in a population less ready to rely on leaders and more likely to have higher expectations of itself.
That is a profound break with our past traditions. When the late Canadian historian William Kilbourn characterized Canada as the Peaceable Kingdom, he underestimated how impor-
tant the progress ethos was to the preservation of the Canadian peace.
As long as each passing generation bought into the notion that opportunities were limitless, the need and demand for radical reform or restructuring of society’s institutions and rules were minimal. Canada was not only peaceable, but it was also one of the most deferential societies, if not the most deferential, in the Western world. We accepted authority more or less without question, and looked to our leaders to arbitrate, and if the need arose, to actually provide for the public good. The product of this disposition was a public-policy landscape that was radically different from the unfettered laissez-faire environment of the United States, and resulted in distinctive measures such as medicare, regional development programs and an income-support network for the disadvantaged.
If there is any doubt about the popularity of government intervention in a crisis, one need only recall that the single most popular initiative by government in modern times was the implementation of the War Measures Act in October, 1970. According to a Gallup poll conducted in December, 1970, the Trudeau Liberals’ popularity soared from 42 per cent to 59 per cent.
All that has changed. Far from deferential, Canadians rarely extend the benefit of the doubt to present-day leaders. This change has resulted in a decidedly less complacent electorate with demands as diverse as public consultation before major initiatives and byelections to resolve broken promises.
The loss of faith in traditional authority, in turn, has been offset by a growing sense of individualism and entitlement. Partly accelerated by the entrenchment of the Charter of Rights, and a natural outgrowth of the public’s conviction that traditional power centres such as governments can no longer provide solutions, Canadians in the ’90s have increasingly turned inward. They have sought new rights and powers necessary to wrest decision-making from their leaders. They have also gathered into groups of like-minded citizens to advance their causes, all the while ensuring that others would not
receive more than their share of our dwindling national entitlement.
On a larger plane, the breakdown of trust in traditional authority and solutions has also caused many citizens to question the very premises through which we have understood our universe. If progress was normal, then the foundation of normalcy was accepted as science and rationalism. We were to be ever-propelled forward by scientific advancement and a rationalist approach to all problem-solving. Once progress no longer seemed inevitable and problems appeared to be getting worse rather than better, we began to re-examine the rationalistic prism through which we viewed our world. The result has been a growing tendency on the part of Canadians to experiment and to begin a quest for meaning outside of a traditional scientific/rational model.
The success of an entire series of new-age “bibles” such as the bestselling The Celestine Prophecy, the appearance of angels on the covers 3f popular magazines, and the explosion of life-affirming seminars in inference rooms throughout the land are manifestations of this questing. In the marketplace, the endless extension of new brands and products and the decline or demise of institutions like Eaton’s, signal i population that refuses to accept unquestioningly the norms of the aast, and their readiness to embrace the unknowns of the future.
Canadians have not rejected their past, but they have merely learned :o adapt to the present. If the next paycheque is not going to be fatter, hen maybe self-employment will be the best way of attaining the inrinsic reward of work. If government can no longer be expected to prodde the public good, then the public good can be realized by the private sector. And if science cannot provide all the answers in an incertain world, then there is always spiritualism.
Rather than feeling alienated or fatalistic about their new circumstances, the population is more resilient, with a renewed sense of em-
powerment. However, even in the face of this altered outlook, Canadians can still be seen clinging tenaciously to those aspects of our character that we regard as unique. Indeed, perhaps the most enduring aspect of the Canadian identity has been the very desire to remain distinctive and different, even if we cannot define what precisely it is that makes us distinct. While we seem loath to trumpet tangible accomplishments, we still point to our civility, charity and peaceableness as the central characteristics of our national self-image. And if we have difficulty articulating who we are, we are nonetheless steadfast in our refusal to submit to the juggernaut of American culture.
The Maclean’s 1997 year-end survey of attitudes within different age groups underscored a rock-solid commitment to social liberalism that appears to have been transmitted across generations and is now being amplified by Canada’s youth culture. Our willingness to accept diversity in others and to protect the foundations of our universal healthcare and social welfare system underscores the essential small “1” liberal character of our culture.
If our desire to preserve our distinctiveness and embrace liberal social values has withstood the tumultuous ’80s and ’90s, there is every reason to believe that these same characteristics will carry over into the new millennium and continue to shape public discourse in the next century. This confluence of our enduring character, coupled with our transformed outlook, invariably will produce new and unanticipated turns in the nation’s journey forward.
For the first time in two decades, Canadians now report that they can see past the quagmire of government debt and deficits. The recognized limited financial capacity of the state, perhaps more than any other public-policy development, has cemented the conclusion that governments cannot solve major social ills. But this situation masks a
Essays on the MILLENNIUM-
deeper and lingering desire for leadership. Canadians do not believe that governments and traditional authority are powerless in the face of future problems. Rather they have concluded that their concerns cannot be addressed by the same old solutions that failed in the past.
The first indication of the direction this debate may take rests with the understanding that Canadians have never wholeheartedly embraced the tenets of neoconservatism. Instead, the modern-day rejection of massive public spending as the panacea to our ills flows from a pragmatic response to problems which have grown deeper and more complex as prescribed solutions went unaltered.
However, even as Canadians have come to accept the necessity of fiscal restraint from governments, they continue to see themselves as a generous and caring people. Add to this the growing knowledge that the gap between rich and poor has widened while the role of governments has shrunk, and it is not difficult to predict a significant shift in the policy focus as the deficit decreases in importance.
In fact, the post-deficit agenda of the future is most likely to be preoccupied with social policy questions. This is because demand for change and reform, for the first time in two decades, is not likely to come from the right and the business class as it is from the left-of-centre and the have-not elements of society who view themselves as the real victims of the growing inequities of the ’90s. Paradoxically, they are also likely to be (at least initially) supported by more right-of-centre and “have” elements who, I polls show, are prepared to concede that 3 they have thrived while others have sufS fered. Indeed, the limited appeal of tax-cut £ proposals by the Reform and Conservative parties among the very constituency at which they were aimed—the wealthy—is evidence of the relative satisfaction and complacency of that group today.
Given the population’s proclivity to reject traditional spending solutions, it is unlikely that support for any new thrust into the social policy area will be forthcoming unless the approach and framework is also new.
Consequently, even as the demand for social initiatives is likely to grow, broad-based support for traditional policy options, like government-financed day care or pharmacare, is remote. Those are policies of the past that would have been applauded by the old Canada but will be rejected as impractical and ineffective by the new. That does not mean elected leaders will be able to duck their responsibilities for dealing with widely recognized issues like child poverty or the health of the aged. Government will have to demonstrate that it can do something about the root causes of those problems. The litmus test for good public policy in the future, therefore, will no longer be how much their sponsors care about the problem (or how much they are prepared to spend on a solution) but how effective their solutions are at getting to the source of the problem.
In fact, this criterion will virtually eliminate uni-
versal day care or pharmacare as solutions. More likely to be approved is a framework which is based on the long term, is focused on the so cietal context of the problem, and integrates diverse partners into the solution. In this scenario, rather than provide more subsidized daycare for all mothers who wish to work, a new framework might involve the following: making child care available only to single mothers who agree to further postsecondary education, which, in turn, would be paid for by prearranged employers; introducing monitored nutritional programs for children at risk, which might be delivered by private sector organizations; and establishing parent-mentoring centres, which would be run by the local church.
While the challenge will be to stop spending in the same, time-tested patterns, a massive transference of leadership from one generation to another offers the prospect of doing the nation’s business in a fundamentally different way. Today, Jean Charest is the only national figure who represents the largest generation in society. The fact is that virtually all other leaders in government, business, labor and the church come from a generation that grew up in the period immediately following the War. In the next 10 years, they will pass along the mantle ol leadership to those who grew up in the ’60s.
Those in power today grew up in a time that stressed the importance of continuity and conformity. On the other hand, the socialization of the
Essays on the IVIILLENIMIUIVI
Big Generation placed the priority on diversity and change. This difference will produce leaders who will want to define themselves in contrast to the practices (and styles) of their predecessors. That very act will make new leaders appear more in tune with those they govern and once again bring the electorate and politicians closer together.
The transfer of power to a new generation should also accelerate even more far-reaching change in the years ahead. Now that baby boomers are firmly ensconced in, or fast approaching, middle age, they will peer into the abyss of their own mortality and thus are likely to further the tide of spiritual questing. Already we see this generation slowing down and de-emphasizing work and materialism as priorities shift to relationships and family. With this, we are also beginning to see a reattachment to more traditional notions of responsibility.
Evidence of this impending shift has been revealed in a recent Roper Center Review, published by the Connecticut polling organization, which looked at the growth of the the so-called gender gap.
Normally discussed exclusively in terms of “the women’s vote,” the phenomenon of diverging patterns in male-female voting has emerged as a result of men changing their preferences, the study demonstrates, while women’s behavior has remained essentially unchanged. Indeed, this analysis documents a trend among men to become progressively more conservative over the past 20 years: males have become progressively more of the view that personal and social responsibility is not a core value. However, the study concludes that with the baby boom aging, this pattern is starting to reverse.
A new generation of leaders, more spiritually centered, embracing more traditional notions of responsibility, might indicate that ’90s curiosities like the Promise Keepers—men rededicating themselves to their roles as fathers and husbands—will not be viewed as aberrant. Rather, movements such as these may well be in the vanguard of a more all-encompassing definition of family values—away from a fear of nonconformity and towards a celebration of relationships and the responsibilities individuals assume towards one another.
At the other end of the generational spectrum, we might also witness the emergence of a more indigenous youth culture.
As the Big Generation redefined what was “young” and “old” in the first part of the century (remember Mick Jagger promising never to sing Satisfaction after the age of 40?), role models successively also became older and, to everyone’s surprise, were actually embraced by young people. In the ’60s, Jean Shrimpton’s modelling career was over at 20 because she was too old. By the ’90s, cover girls Christie Brinkley and Cher were still considered glamorous as they approached 50. But if those role models are not old hat for people in their 50s, they are simply too old for teens and adolescents to identify with. The result is that new teen magazines are flourishing, skateboard and snowboard cultures proliferate, pop music (à la Hanson and The Spice Girls) is once again exploding. What we are witnessing is the Next Generation discovering its voice and creating its own role models.
More broadly, the ever-expanding reach of technology and media convergence is presenting every segment of society with an endless array of information and options. In the past, problems were often chalked up to “a failure to communicate.” Today, it is the overwhelming presence, and not the absence, of communication that stands to
confound individuals and society. The challenge will be to sift throug the information overload and actually put it to use. It is telling that th only organizations making real money from the Internet are the one that have created search engines and browsers—services whose sol purpose is to sort through the Vesuvian outpouring now available o the Net. And the more empowered and efficacious population of the fi ture, practised at taking matters into its own hands, will respond to th proliferation of technology-generated information by teaching itse and accepting education as a never-ending process.
At the other end, we might also expect more and different demand on organizations and businesses that offer products and services to th public. In the past, the provision of the good or the service itself wa expected to engender customer loyalty. In a future with endless oj tions, businesses not only will have to offer multiple choices, but as central part of their sales pitch they wi have to articulate how their customers ca benefit from the use of their product. Thi will amount to a culture of “meta-service, where organizations continue their involve ment with their customers from purchas through the life of the product. In order t deliver on the promise of lifelong service businesses, in turn, will be forced to inves in human resources and training in a mar ner and quantity never witnessed before.
As challenging as these new set of force might be, the most destabilizing part of ou future may relate to the very health of thi nation-state of Canada itself. Nationalism ii Quebec has ebbed and flowed since thi Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, but has nev er shown any signs of disappearing. Yet a: the notion of equality and entitlement ha: taken deeper root in our culture, Englisl Canada has grown both more fatigued am impatient with what it sees as a never-end ing series of demands from Quebec fo concessions and special rights. There is nothing in our character, in our outlook o: in law that prevents a series of referen dums being held in Canada on Quebec’s fu ture, every decade for the next 1,000 years You do not have to have an in-depth under standing of polls or trends to know that un less something is done to avoid repeatet votes on Quebec’s future, sooner or later : Yes vote will prevail.
So the dominant question of the past 10( years—will Quebec go or stay?—is likely t( continue to reverberate into the new mil lennium. And one thing is certain: if noth ing is done or the same old solutions are or the table, Quebec will leave. Given our po tential and all we have to lose, avoiding breakup should certainly not be beyond our reach. But the key to oui national puzzle in the next millennium must be to cast off the ideas anc approaches that have failed us in the past.
To take a step beyond the confederal system that has kept the coun try together to this point (and, in doing so, explicitly reject the efforts of those who have attempted national renewal before), will requin courage to initiate, boldness to conceive and passion to execute. Re grettably, these are not qualities that we have found in great abundan« in recent years. Perhaps the prospect of a new generation of leaders, : population that will endorse only new approaches to problem-solving and a continuing desire to remain both distinctive and whole—perhaps these characteristics of the millennium can be brought to bear agains the challenge of national unity, and we will be able to succeed in the fu ture where we have failed in the past. □
As the millennium nears, people will be well advised to beware the wisdom of prognosticators, as this sampling of earlier, dubious predictions suggests.
This telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.
Western Union internal memo, 1876
Everything that can be invented has been invented.
Charles H. Duell, United States patents commissioner, 1899
The 20th century belongs to Canada.
Sir Wilfrid Laurier, 1904
Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.
Lord Kelvin, mathematician and physicist, 1895
I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.
Thomas Watson, chairman ofLBM, 1943
There is no likelihood that man can ever tap the power of the atom.
a Nobel Prize winner in physics, 1923