Saturday, October 25, 2008

People who make the world a better place

Once again, I find myself riding the rails - VIA Rail, that is. I'm on my way to Toronto to have dinner with an old and dear friend. Luc is a couple of years younger than me. He is a Quebecois, and one of the finest and funniest guys I've had the pleasure of knowing. He is in Toronto for a board meeting of the ALS Society, a cause he took up when his brother was diagnosed with and ultimately succumbed to it. Even though our lives have gone in different directions since we first met 23 years ago, we have always kept in touch. Above all, Luc is a kind hearted and genuine human being. Luc lost his brother to ALS in June. Now, as a member of the ALS Canada board, he and his colleagues fight for their share of charitable contributions in an ever widening field of diseases that afflict our species. According to Luc, because ALS kills a relatively small number of people each year, efforts to raise awareness and money for research have had limited results. I can't help myself from doing the mental math to calculate the cost per life lost of retaliating against the events of September 11th. I find myself overwhelmed with grief as I consider this statement and what it says about our society. As the train winds its way along the north shore of Lake Ontario, I contemplate the difference between Toronto's urban sprawl and 2 U.S.cities I just returned from - New York and St. Louis. While all three of these cities have ghettos, the U.S. situation is dramatically different from what you find in Canadian cities. Block after block of burned out, boarded up buildings have become a common feature of American cities. Americans born into these neighbourhoods face a constant, uphill and dehumanizing battle. In Canada, it seems as though the gap between the rich and the poor isn't quite so wide. Perhaps its because Canadians have evolved towards a comfortable cross between socialism and capitalism, where the Americans still seem to cling to an "every man for himself" mentality. The fact that Republicans John McCain and Sarah Palin are trying to brand Barack Obama as a terrorist and a socialist for his vision of a kinder, gentler America demonstrates some of what ails this once bright beacon of hope for a new world. Canada's record isn't perfect - we have work to do, for sure. But whether we like it or not, we are intrinsically tied to what happens in America. Maybe an Obama presidency will focus on fixing what's wrong in America, rather than interfering in other parts of the world. Just before parting company with Luc as I head to Union Station to catch my train, I encourage him to think about running in the upcoming Liberal leadership race. Luc tells me that he has considered this, but has also considered the tremendous investment that is required to run for political office. We extend our hands to shake, and I pull him in for a hug. I hope our friends in America put Barack Obama in the White House so that he can bring the troops home, stop the spending on a pointless war, and bring the focus back to health care and compassion. Even though Canadians are not Americans, we are North Americans, and we are a mouse sleeping with an elephant. What would it look like if the world could vote in this election? Have a look at the video on this website. We can only hope.

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