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                       From The Greatest Generation To Strong Young Hands:

                          Passing The Torch Of Democracy

 

 


By Susanna Kelley

This week a very special story will be told by OntarioNewsWatch's Sarah Watson.

It's the gripping, haunting and emotional tale behind a simple ceremonial plaque unveiling in Germany earlier this month, how it relates to an Ontario man and his grandson, a former political staffer at Queen's Park, and to the future of Canada and this province.

It's the horrifying story of Edward Carter-Edwards and 167 other airmen who found themselves illegally imprisoned in the barbaric concentration camp at Buchenwald, Germany during World War II, where they teetered near the edge of death - and many succumbed - by starvation, disease, forced labour and the cruelty of sadistic beatings and murder by Nazi guards.

A story that governments - Canadian and others included - tried to hush up.

And it's the story of how that terrifying experience inspired his grandson, Craig Carter-Edwards, to try to safeguard our democracy, first as a political staffer at Queen's Park for some time and now by bringing people together for projects that make the world a better place. 

It's the story of the terrible sacrifices it took to save our democracy from a madman.

And the story of passing that responsibility on to strong young hands.

 

To you, with failing hands we throw

The torch:  be yours to hold it high

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders' Fields.

    - John McCrae, Flanders Fields

 

In both Ontario and in Ottawa, there has been much discussion in the last several years about the increased and seemingly deliberate weakening of that democracy.  

Political interference in our democratic institutions is the number one worry. 

There is concern over the precedent set by Stephen Harper's former Chief of Staff Nigel Wright, who wrote a $90,000 cheque to pay for improper expense claims by Conservative Senator Mike Duffy. 

The nervousness lingers still, despite the RCMP's statement that "the evidence gathered does not support criminal charges against Mr. Wright." 

Stephen Harper has ordered that the RCMP clear any statements with his government before making them public, so it is reasonable to wonder what was massaged, edited, re-worded or just plain left out of that statement.

Federal scientists have been muzzled.

Important data from Statistics Canada's formerly excellent census gathering is less useful, and downright suspect, because the long form census was arbitrarily discontinued by the Harper Conservatives over the heads of the most experienced and knowledgeable statisticians at the respected agency.  

And now even the impartial and supposedly independent Elections Canada is having its powers to ensure election fairness curtailed in a number of worrisome ways by the same control-obsessed Prime Minister.

And these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Here in Ontario, former Premier Dalton McGuinty's then-Chief of Staff David Livingston may be charged criminally for what police allege is his part in the wiping of 24 computer hard drives days before McGuinty left office. Who knows what information has been lost forever in that fiasco.

These are all instances of serious political interference in the hard-won democratic institutions set up or sustained by those Tom Brokaw aptly named "The Greatest Generation" - the people who suffered through a 10 year Depression only to go to war in WWII against a tyrant so we could all live in freedom today.

So any attack on these democratic institutions can't be taken lightly.

But it is another gift The Greatest Generation, and their offspring, have given us that could well be our province and country's saving grace.

That love of democracy and the commitment to defend it seems to have been passed down to their grandchildren, the children of the baby boomers - right here in Ontario.

An unexpected plus of ONW's telling of this story has been, for me, watching Ms. Watson do her story.

A so-called "Millennial" by birth (also known as Generation Y or Echo Boomer) it was so interesting to watch her reaction to the incredibly intense, excellent documentary The Lost Airmen Of Buchenwald, with its dramatic raw footage of the forced-labour concentration camp and interviews with the remaining "Lost Airmen," including Edward Carter-Edwards. It is a documentary that should be required viewing for every high school student in Canada.

Her widened eyes seemed to be opened for the first time to the reality of the horrors and sacrifices that were made.

And it was encouraging to hear the discussions the story prompted between Ms. Watson and other young ONW staff members.

This wasn't the first time these young people have inspired me. ONW's workplace is constantly filled with discussions and debates about the economy, the market, how to create jobs, the role of government, taxation, human rights, racism, gender rights and many other topics.

Some Millennials have been accused of having an attitude of "entitlement," but this feeling, if it ever really existed, faded quickly when these young people ran smack up against their own generational challenge - a more than 50% youth employment rate. That means more than half of them are failing to find jobs. 

Their willingness to stay in school for a good education means that they have a great understanding of the world, including the imbalance in our society, where much of the wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few.

And as the student tuition protests in Quebec, the democracy protests led by the young in many other countries and the Occupy Movement in North America has shown, they are not afraid to say so - loud and clear.

One of the great things about being a journalist (and there are many) is the opportunity to constantly observe and learn new things.

It has been my delight to be able to watch the development of the Millennials as they launch their careers.

If what I've observed is any thing to go by, people like Edward Carter-Edwards need not worry.

Their passion for democratic freedom and their determination to safeguard it has been passed down from the Greatest Generation to the Baby Boomers, with their protests against an out-of-control war in Vietnam and insistence on women's and racial equality, and on to the Millennials, who fight in many ways for a more equitable society.

Read Ms. Watson's story on Tuesday about the "Lost Airmen." You will be horrified and moved, but incredibly inspired.

And be content in the knowledge that the coming generation is determined to protect our democratic institutions, in whatever manner they may choose to express that.

 

About Susanna Kelley

Susanna Kelley is Editor-in-Chief and Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for Ontario News Watch. A veteran political and investigative reporter, documentary-maker, host and media commentator, Susanna oversees and has final editorial control over all news production at Ontario News Watch. Susanna has reported for the CBC, the Canadian Press and served as Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for TVOntario for 13 years. She has also hosted a number of documentaries for CBC’s The Current, CBC Radio News and TVOntario’s Studio 2. Passionately dedicated to excellence in political journalism, and having covered both Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park, Susanna believes quality political reporting is essential to a healthy democracy. You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley
Posted date : April 28, 2014

View all of Susanna Kelley's columns
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