By PATRICK HUNTER
After President Barack Obama was re-elected to a second term, I made the observation that he needed to be bold in his administration now that he had an added opportunity to prove himself. Well, it seems he has finally submitted to that advice. The president, last week, introduced an executive order to act on one of the most controversial subjects of any administration in the United States – immigration.
One of the most controversial aspects of the president’s executive order would allow illegal immigrants who have been in the U.S. for more than five years, and those who have children born in the U.S., to come out of the shadows and pay their taxes like other citizens or legitimate resident – they would not be deported. Of course, they should not have a criminal record either.
President Obama made it clear that this will not qualify them to become citizens. After all, they entered the country illegally – they had broken the law.
This is a bold action by Obama especially since he was cowed in the recent mid-term elections that saw both Houses of Congress being taken over by the Republicans. In the current session of Congress – commonly known as the lame duck session – the Senate still has the Democrats as the majority. In January, that scenario changes.
I mention this action to illustrate a point – that this is, in my view, a great example of political will. One of the other actions that the President took earlier on that would classify as exercising political will, was the passage of the “Affordable Care Act” – Obamacare.
Political will, to me, can be defined as government action taken, not because it is popular, but because it is right and just to do so. The controversy over Obamacare could have cost Obama his presidency. He survived it. The principle of affordable medical care in a nation that can afford it was that important. It was something that many administrations had talked about but was afraid to do.
We have had a few circumstances in our province where political will has been exercised. For one, former premier Bob Rae introduced and enacted the Employment Equity Act. It was by no means a perfect solution to the inequities that existed for racialized persons and other members of the designated groups – women, Indigenous peoples and persons with disabilities. It was however the first reasonable attempt by any government to correct an injustice against members of these groups – an attempt to level the playing field – a field that was largely in the control of White males.
The struggle to get the Employment Equity Act through, as expected, awakened the racist feelings of many. Yet, it went through. Of course, they eventually won the day as Mike Harris’ Conservatives repealed the Act.
There were other changes that the political will of the Rae Government introduced. It introduced stronger anti-racism policies, required better attention to school curriculum that better represented the makeup of the province’s population and appointed racialized persons, as well as other minorities to high profile positions. The political will was spurred in part by the Stephen Lewis report – a task assigned by the Premier following a large demonstration in the wake of the “not guilty” verdict in the Rodney King beating by Los Angeles police officers.
It was unfortunate that many of the positive policies implemented at the time were reversed. That reversal, in many ways, has set the conditions for which many of our community problems stem today.
But the fact that they were implemented in the first place showed that some leaders have the guts – the political will – to pursue just and reasonable reforms in the face of strong opposition, and knowing that some of those reforms can cost them their political lives.
So, the Province of Ontario has elected its first openly-gay, female political leader. Somewhere in there I anticipate a strongly progressive agenda. In this case, I expect measures that strongly suggest a strongly anti-racist program – a program that undertakes to try to level the “playing field” and address many of the inequities that still exists.
Somewhere in there I expect the Premier to insist on closer and better approaches to correcting the inequities within the Ontario Public Service. After all, it would be a good idea to start “at home”.
I expect the Premier to review and put in place some of the measures that the most recent report her party as government requested – the one produced by Alvin Curling and Roy McMurtry, The Roots of Youth Violence. I know that some preliminary actions have been taken. These need to be stepped up.
I am not naïve to believe that governments do not govern with a view to winning the next election. What I am looking for is a gutsy, daring move by our leaders to do the right thing. It is still early in her mandate to make that kind of move to change things that will be more difficult to reverse. Besides, the opposition Conservatives are in a bit of disarray now. That should make things a bit easier.
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