Thursday, December 14, 2006

You can’t please all the people all the time

A couple of articles in today’s newspaper brought home to me just how complicated modern politics and issue-based decision-making has become:
1) A bill has been introduced by Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice which would give natives living on reserves the right to object to decisions made by chiefs and band councils and to file human rights complaints in the Canadian courts. Sounds pretty reasonable at first hearing, but it seems to have split the native community down the middle.
It would give an avenue of redress for women who have seen their property rights trampled by the largely male-dominated band councils, and to some extent it might help to ameliorate the effects of nepotism and power abuse which apparently abound on Canada’s reserves.
But many First Nations people see this as just another move to assimilate them, and to deny their distinct native culture, and who are we to be doing that? Even the Native Women’s Association of Canada has come down against the bill.
So what at first sight appears to be a laudable extension of democracy can also be seen as a denial of minority rights. It is an example in small of the issues raised by the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq (among other examples): should or should not a sovereign country be allowed to carry on in their own sweet way, however barbaric we outsiders happen to find their customs or their politics?
2) A planned extension in Ontario of the concept of High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes has also generated more discussion that I would have anticipated. This is the idea, increasingly common in North America, whereby dedicated lanes on major roads are reserved for public transit and private vehicles with 2 or more passengers.
Surely a smart and laudable environmental move to reduce the wasteful practice of single occupant journeys? More people get from A to B quicker and with less associated pollution.
But there is another side to this coin too. Many environmentalists argue that this freeing up of the roads and the shorter travel times encourages more long distance journeys which would otherwise not have been considered, so we are actually encouraging urban sprawl in commuter dormitory towns ever further afield.
So, go figure. Whoever said “You can’t please all the people all the time” (Abraham Lincoln?) only had it partially right. It seems that these days you can’t please all the people ANY of the time.

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