Skip to main content

Kevin Jacobs, manager of the Clarenville Co-op store, who asked a local boat owner to ferry milk and bread to Hickman's Harbour, one of the communities left isolated and without supplies since Hurricane Igor struck last Tuesday. By Friday at 5 p.m. -- barely 24 hours later -- Mr. Jacobs had received more than $30,000 in cash donations, as well as a donated truck and countless volunteer speedboat and longliner trips. Thanks to his efforts, several communities were stocked with fresh food and other desperately needed supplies.

Paul Daly for the Globe and Mail/paul daly The Globe and Mail

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?

Story continues below advertisement

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.

Story continues below advertisement

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.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter