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A Memo from Citizens of the Near Future to the Leaders of Today


By Frank Graves

[Ottawa – October 28, 2014] If we were to pick one date that demarcates the period of Western decline (and upper North American decline in particular), it would be September 11th, 2001. On that fateful day, the triumphal optimism celebrated in the End of History was halted by a whiplash-like inversion of the traditional balance of security and other issues such as civil liberties.

Although not obvious at the time, Canada participated at least as enthusiastically in this new normal (as did the United States), despite not having suffered terror on our soil. The initial collective shock of the attack was quickly replaced with enormous resolve to solve this terrifying new problem. This resulted in a blend of effort to: a) protect ourselves at home; and b) reduce the external threats through some sort of viral democracy efforts that would root out the perpetrators and install some sanguine mix of democracy and free markets in the supposed source countries. This quickly degraded from the chauvinistic enthusiasm of the initial shock and awe period to a much grimmer and more pessimistic world view. This is turn fostered increased isolationism in America and a sclerotic economy hobbled by the unproductive and crushing weight of the new security ethic that permeated both Canada and the United States.

It is not merely coincidental that this period saw an inexorable shift from the End of History conclusion to what we have called an End of Progress – or minimally what Tyler Cowan called the Age of Stagnation. The shortfall between the first decade of NAFTA and the second (post 9/11) was an almost imponderable two trillion dollars. Much, if not all of this, can be linked to the corrosive impacts of the security decade on the net output of an economy hobbled with the massive sludge of the security era and the enormous costs of several massive misadventures in the greater Middle East. In the rear view mirror, the vast majority of Canadians now see these missions as having achieved zero net gains and more likely to have moved the yardsticks backwards in terms of the original goals of a more secure North America and more democratic and productive Middle East.

As the second decade of the twenty-first century unfolded, we began to see some important new shifts in the public environment. The overall tilt to security began to be replaced with a pattern of oscillation as the stranglehold grip which the security ethic exerted on North America began to relax its hold. Yes, there were still fluctuations upwards following disturbances and events but they were more modest and shorter lived. In Canada, that weakening of the security ethic was even more pronounced. It is notable below that the tendency to see the world as tilting to danger was once again on the rise under the threats of ISIS, Ukraine, and Ebola. The trend line will undoubtedly be lifted further based on events of last week in Ottawa, but we suspect it will return to a downward track fairly shortly.

Consider, for example, the public trade-off across increased police powers and civil liberties. The pattern is dramatic. The overwhelming lean to providing further powers was replaced by a 180 degree shift where there was now a strong consensus that this was a bad idea. The public felt that the past adventures were ineffectual, perhaps even counterproductive. Also, the relative positioning of dealing with security and terror became much lower in the hierarchy of concerns.

We may well have been poised to now start delivering the post security premium to a relatively moribund economy that needed new stimuli and redirection of resources. While less clear in the American public, the Canadian public seem ready to move to a new era where the dampening effects of the pervasive security ethic were lifted. It was not that we didn’t continue to think that security was important or that terror wasn’t something to be feared and confronted. Rather, there seemed to be a wiser and more balanced outlook which recognized that zero risks was implausible and that some of the very things we had done may have magnified risk and costs us the basic freedoms and spirit which underpinned the miracle of late twentieth century liberal capitalism in North America.

With this admittedly simplified synopsis of the evolution of public attitudes in this century in place, let’s turn to what the lessons might be as we recover from the shock of the spectacle of shots ringing in our centre of government and the horror of young soldiers executed to fanatical causes. We stress that the sense of horror, resolve, and moral outrage which accompany such atrocities is real and that the responses to date have been authentic and commensurate with the shock. Yet we also think it important to recognise some of the emergent public judgement which preceded these latest atrocities.

First, we would remind the public and their leaders that our initial instincts in these affairs are nearly always wrong. They are not wrong in the sense of the justifiable outrage or moral imperative that such events produce. The rational admonition to do nothing but wait and reflect more carefully will inevitably be rejected in such circumstances. It is, however, very important to remind the public of where they have journeyed on these issues and to make them think clearly of where they are likely to be at some point in the future. What we do today, partly to assuage our justifiable sense of horror, anger, and outrage must be accountable to citizenry of the near future. From all we can assemble to make a reasoned conjecture about how the public will feel a few months from now, we would remind those deciding today of the following truths:

  1. Virtually all responses to the spectre and reality of terror in the 21st century have been deemed to have failed in hindsight. Almost universally, the public sees these past interventions as yielding nothing or even worsening the very problems they were designed to solve.
  2. There has been a clear and profound tendency to believe that the tools which emphasize military engagement, and which have profound costs to both public coffers and civil liberties should be rethought in order to come up with a more effective approach which embodies the practices which Canadians see as more reflective of past success and our core values.
  3. The public have lost faith in the security agenda which says this is solvable through further restrictions to civil liberties and are seeking an approach which does not further weaken those. They are also looking for reconsideration and recasting which raises our emphasis on more traditional tools of diplomacy and development activities.

So as we ponder the immediate allure of a tougher security agenda which has proven sorely wanting in recent history, we might want to remind the public and its leaders where we have evolved over the past decade and to consider where we are likely to be once any new measures taken today are in effect. If recent history and public judgements are any guide, the citizenry of the near future, who will have to live with their consequences, will rue and further emphasis on security over civil liberties, personal freedoms, and economic productivity.


This article draws on results from three separate surveys, all of which were conducted using EKOS’ unique, hybrid online/telephone research panel, Probit. Our panel offers exhaustive coverage of the Canadian population (i.e., Internet, phone, cell phone), random recruitment (in other words, participants are recruited randomly, they do not opt themselves into our panel), and equal probability sampling. All respondents to our panel are recruited by telephone using random digit dialling and are confirmed by live interviewers. Unlike opt-in online panels, Probit supports margin of error estimates. We believe this to be the only probability-based online panel in Canada.

The field dates for the first survey are July 16-23, 2014. In total, 2,620 Canadians aged 18 and over responded to the survey. Of these cases, 2,448 were collected online, while 172 were collected by computer assisted telephone interviews (CATI). The margin of error associated with the total sample is +/-1.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The field dates for the second survey are September 21-25, 2014. In total, 1,549 Canadians aged 18 and over responded to the survey. Of these cases, 1,401 were collected online, while 148 were collected by CATI. The margin of error associated with the total sample is +/-2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The field dates for the third survey are October 10-15, 2014. In total, 1,671 Canadians aged 18 and over responded to the survey. Of these cases, 1,511 were collected online, while 160 were collected by CATI. The margin of error associated with the total sample is +/-2.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Please note that the margin of error increases when the results are sub-divided (i.e., error margins for sub-groups such as region, sex, age, education). All the data have been statistically weighted to ensure the sample’s composition reflects that of the actual population of Canada according to Census data.

Click here for the full report: Full Report (October 28, 2014)

1 comment to A Memo from Citizens of the Near Future to the Leaders of Today

  • John

    I’m amazed at the fact that Canada has survived 8 years of Harper’s dictatorial regime, which has targeted Canadian democratic values, and exposed Canada to very dangerous levels of social injustices. I’m really wanting to see Harper’s decimation on October 19th./2015, and a new government of the people’s choice take charge of re-orienting the Canadian way of life, to the point that the majority might admit that 2006-present was a bad dream, and justice will prevail, and another Conservative can keep DelMastro company in jail.

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