A recent increase in the number of organizations that have been branding themselves as policy-related thinktanks and institutes has seen some of them take positions like stating that Canada has no issues when it comes to its public policies. These organizations are taking a rather extreme position on the different challenges that are facing Canada, but also by confusing the meaning of the word “systemic”. Perhaps their confusion can be attributed to how the word “systemic” is often associated with the word “racism”, to describe a condition of perpetual racism, which is a condition that I do not believe plagues today’s version of Canada. However, there is such a thing as systemic policies and systemic inequities that exist within today’s Canada, and they are likely the result of unexpected outcomes and unintended consequences, outdated and in need of revision.
What makes issues around systemic policies and systemic inequities even more complicated is that, in today’s polarized culture, where the main focus is centered around going viral, context and substance tends to take a back seat, and it has created the conditions for the unhealthy rhetoric that seems to permeate across all elements of society. To get to a more even playing field requires coming to the realization that the root of many challenges can be traced back to how people do not get left behind, they start behind.
Approach policy from a different perspective.
Canadians are lucky that we live in a country that is not as constrained by the inequalities that plague most of world like access to social supports, education, healthcare, and more. Our starting point is far more favourable, and the privilege of living in a stable country that is populated by forward-thinking people is such that good policies can be leveraged to serve as solvents that scrub away at the staining aspects of life. Although there have been instances in Canada’s history where we have not always lived up to the standard we set for ourselves, we are still a young country with our best days ahead, even in the face of disagreement. Despite these disagreements, what matters most is approaching the policy making process with the intention of accelerating the positives and reducing the negatives around a policy-related issue, so that the disagreements that do arise will have more to do with the most effective way of achieving the end goal.
Perhaps this approach to policy making can be as simple as starting with the end in mind. While there are sure to be differences on the best way to arrive at the end goal, that should not be an obstacle when those differences originate from individuals committed to the process and with the right attitudes about the situation. So, while every one of us has a singular story that is unique to them, there also exists a shared destiny that is dependent on us all. That shared destiny is comprised of a shared community, a shared prosperity, and a shared sense of commitment between people to aim for the best outcome possible, and it is why good policies matter.
Policy as matter of factual analysis.
The biggest advantage that today’s version of Canada has compared to versions from decades prior is that there are vastly larger amounts of research and data on a variety of issues, which allows for us to have a greater understanding of these challenges and how they intersect with the different elements of society. When it comes to addressing challenges through policy adjustments, these changes should be the result of factual analyses and with an understanding for how the policies may reduce the inequality, instability, and unsustainability from a challenge. Not to be underestimated in this process are the unintended consequences from policy adjustments, as well as the legacy of historical occurrences. So, it should not come as a surprise that people sometimes may lean toward information that reinforces their personal biases, which may even be correct, but which will likely be too narrow and not paint a holistic picture of the challenge or its intersecting components. Good policies are based on facts and with a holistic understanding of the challenge, not by taking shortcuts or the path of least resistance.
Deal with the world as it is while having a vision how it ought to be.
One glaring systemic inequity related to healthcare that I have spent the past couple of years attempting to get addressed has to do with the reason that some children are growing up without a designated family doctor while other children are not, and it is entirely the result of an inherited outcome. For young couples that are looking to grow their family, whether by birthing, adopting, or fostering, as long as the couple have a designated family doctor then their child is all but guaranteed to have one too, even if the family health clinic has a sign outside that reads, “Not accepting new patients”. But children with parents that do not have the privilege of having a designated family doctor, are not eligible to obtain a family doctor in that manner, especially if the clinic is not accepting new patients.
There are countless real-life instances of an inherited outcome being why some children are getting access to designated family doctors while others are not, which, by definition that makes it a systemic inequity. This “designated family doctor” inequity tends to disproportionately plague children that grow up in low-income communities, those that are members of racialized groups, and is most common among early-generation Canadians. However, there are also bound to be countless other policies that have given way to unforeseen inequities that we can do something about. The argument behind doing something is as simple as understanding that we do not have to save everybody, we just have to save everybody we can.
Living the full arc of the Canadian Dream
The reason that policies are so important is that they often serve as a representation of “who we are” and “what we stand for”. Perhaps it is far easier to say things like, “go forward with principles and morals, not vengeance and grievance”, especially for people who have never been on the receiving end of systemic policies or systemic inequities, or whose family have not been the victims of such circumstances. However, it has also been said that anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured. Maybe the answer to getting policy right lays not in any single person being a teacher, but rather having people pull up desks beside one another and learn from each other.
All in all, what makes living the full arc of the “Canadian Dream” possible might be best symbolized by two distinct monuments that make up Canada: the Peace Tower and the Confederation Bridge. Where the Peace Tower stands for the belief that to whom much is given, much is required, along with the responsibility to help others, and the Confederation Bridge, which holds the world record for the longest bridge over ice-covered water, stretches to show that the path towards the golden door of Canada is certain to remain open even in the harshest of times, and even to connect it with even the most forgotten corners of the world. All of this, thanks to all of us.