Canada needs more people like Kevin Jacobs of Newfoundland, who helped the hungry, isolated people of Hickman's Harbour through Hurricane Igor in the past few days, by organizing a volunteer flotilla and raising $30,000 in aid.
Canada in 2010 needs to cultivate a culture of personal responsibility, and build what David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, calls the "big society," which he describes as the "biggest, most dramatic redistribution of power from elites to the man and woman on the street."
The City of Toronto tells its residents each winter to "be nice, clear your ice," yet it has 6,300 addresses on file of people who cannot. Instead, municipal workers are sent to chop it up and remove it for them. Why must the infirm and aged rely on a city to remove snow and ice from their sidewalks? Where are their neighbours?
The City of Edmonton already has a program encouraging neighbours to shovel snow for neighbours. Snow angels, such people are called. Canada needs more snow angels.
Why should paid government workers take the onus off people in our big cities to act as good neighbours? We need to overturn our expectations of government, and in its place build a stronger sense of self-help, community - and country.
When Terry Fox recognized a gap in cancer research funding, he set out on his own to do something about it. In Steve Nash's new documentary about him, a woman describes how Mr. Fox embodied Canada's gritty and hard-working nature. Canadians respond to his Marathon of Hope because he had a conviction and acted on it. He didn't wait for anyone's help. He didn't call his MLA. His notion of self-help was unshakeable. The energy he created in this country could never be duplicated by a government program. Thirty years later, annual runs are held in Canada and more than a score of other nations, and more than $500-million has been raised for cancer research. Canadians need more Terry Fox.
And Canadians need more Jean-François Archambault, the Montreal hotel caterer who saw food being wasted, and started La Tablée des chefs - a social enterprise that distributes the surplus from weddings and Montreal Canadiens games to homeless men, and is expanding to teach cooking skills to underprivileged children.
Governments, especially governments whose budgets have been severely strained by stimulus spending in response to the recession, cannot respond to all the problems Canadians face. Government can no longer afford to turn "able, capable individuals into passive recipients of state help," as David Cameron puts it.
The City of Edmonton offers a useful model. It brings volunteers together to help seniors with their needs, in transportation, information, community engagement and home maintenance.
What government can do is prepare the ground for Canadians. It took a step in that direction in 2007 with tax changes made at the urging of investment banker Donald K. Johnson, changes that increased charitable giving. It should not stop there.
For example, governments need to open more public services to charities and social enterprises - the organizations that bring in revenues, even running profitable enterprises, and then channel the surplus back to the community. Already social entrepreneurs are encouraging democratic participation and teaching math to struggling teens. They need every opportunity to expand their work.
This new culture of responsibility is not about turning every Canadian into a Kevin Jacobs, a Jean-François Archambault or a Terry Fox. But it is to adjust the balance between individuals and the state to encourage individual initiative and collective enterprise.