The Five Cent War
(AKA – The Birth of Apathy)
A foreign friend once asked me why Canadians seemed so apathetic. Why didn’t we fight to stop the rise in prices, rise in taxes and lowering standards? Why did so few of us seem to care that our country was sliding from a shining example held up to the world, down a steep slope past mediocrity and into a realm of pity generally reserved for third world countries? I’ve often wondered this myself over the years.
Once upon a time, Canadians were a proud people. We held our heads high. Our stubborn dream-filled forefathers and ruggedly determined foremothers braved this wild and dangerous land with practically nothing but their bare hands. We were made of pure grit and wrestled this country into a beautiful land of prosperity.
Less than a century ago, Canada was among the first countries to send troops against Hitler and the last to return home from the fight. Evil would not be tolerated. We championed justice, integrity and loyalty. Canada would not stand by and allow the weak, defenceless and innocent to be harmed.
Just a few short decades ago, Canada was a world leader in healthcare and education. We had reasonable taxes, a wonderful standard of living and decent wages. We were the envy of most countries and humbly worked to maintain that honour. So, what happened? When did we stop fighting?
Sure, Canadians are unhappy about things and will grumble. But, when asked to take action – even to write a simple protest letter or sign a petition – the disturbing response is usually an apologetic shrug. “What can we do about it? No one listens. Besides, it could be worse.”
Time and again, I’ve seen that shrug. Over and over, I hear how unhappy Canadians are about one thing or another only to have the complaint followed by a sigh and semi-consolation statement about how much worse it is in other countries. It makes me cringe. Sometimes, it makes me angry and I have to vent. Other times, it makes me weep and I despair. The thought of raising my children in a country that allows itself to be pushed around by the people who are supposed to be serving our best interests leaves me cold inside.
I often wondered if it had anything to do with the drug testing that happened in the public schools during the 60’s. I’ve heard stories from several adults that remember being given different pharmaceutical drugs regularly during class and observed for reactions. Some of these stories include kids going insane, becoming violent, falling into commas and even committing suicide. I try not to think about it most days … That level of betrayal is horrifying to contemplate, but is that what led to Canada’s conversion into well-trained sheep?
I didn’t know how to answer my foreign friend until I came across a write up for a documentary called “The Five Cent War.” At first I rolled my eyes as I read the description. Then, I was horrified. By the end, I was sobbing. I had discovered when, how and why Canada went from the Righteous Defender of our grandparents’ era to the Apathetic Apologizer we are satirized as in today’s media.
According to this documentary, shortly after the end of the second World War, candy bars increased in price from 5 cents to a whooping 8 cents per bar. The economy was blamed, but Canadian youth weren’t going for that nonsense. A revolution began from one end of the country to the other. In protest of the price hike, the youth of Canada refused to purchase candy bars until prices returned to 5 cents. They picketed and staged events to garner public support. Candy bar sales plummeted 70% overnight. The store owners and candy companies were being crushed by children who united an entire country by refusing to pay more for a product than they knew it was worth.
Then, someone got an underhanded idea. Newspapers began spreading a lie that frightened adults more than the thought of diaper-duty. Headlines began screaming that Communists were behind the revolt. The leaders of youth groups who supported the protest were targeted as insidious commies trying to corrupt Canada by using innocent children to do their dirty work.
Support for the 5 cent movement dropped immediately. No one wanted to be persecuted as a Communist. Teachers, parents, priests; every adult that should have supported the children fearfully turned against them in an effort to stop the protest and, by extension, any suspicion of Communism from heading their way. Faster than a cat sneeze, the nation-wide protest was quashed underfoot like a repugnant bug, leaving a generation of youth feeling confused, angry and helpless.
This generation is commonly known as the Baby Boomers. They are our grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles. I fear they never recovered from that betrayal. The great and mighty Powers That Be had dealt them a vicious blow at a critical age. When their self-esteem, confidence, independence and free-will should have been blossoming under the guidance and encouragement of authority figures, they were instead turned upon by every adult they knew and trusted.
In my gut, I felt the reverberations of that heinous crime. The apologetic shrug of the Canadian who says, “But, what can I do?” suddenly had an origin. That is the cry of a helpless child who feels they have been unfairly treated and knows from experience that the situation will not be righted. It is the motto of the innocent who has repeatedly been wronged and feels powerless to exact justice. It is the sob of the youth who has been muzzled at every turn. It is the question asked by the victim who is half a step away from rage and creeping closer …
“What can I do? How can I stop myself from being hurt? Who do I have to lash out at to make this pain stop?” Eventually, those questions get answered. If answered in a healthy way, the person stops being a victim by creating and enforcing reasonable boundaries in a positive manner. If left unguided, the person stops being a victim by adopting the traits of those who have hurt them in an effort to survive … and the cycle starts again.
I’m one of the lucky ones. My father came to Canada from Italy. He taught me that if you don’t like the way something is working, fix it. I watched my mother stand against the city council to bring public transportation to our community. After bumbling through a marriage that didn’t work, I took courses on assertiveness, boundary setting and healthy relationships. My life wasn’t working so I fixed it. I stood up to the unhealthy people in my life and brought about radical change. I felt like there was nothing I couldn’t do, so I turned my gaze outward and took a hard long look at what Canada had become during the years I was swamped by my own minutia … and I trembled with outrage.
What the blazes happened to our health care where trips to the dentist and eye doctor are no longer covered? How had we let our taxes get out of control to the point that 6 months worth of income is handed over in taxes every year? When did the cost of monthly groceries begin to match or outstrip the increasing cost of rent? How did we allow all day kindergarten, staggered bells and an “everyone-passes-so-no-one’s-feelings-gets-hurt” policy into our schools? Where was the Canada I knew as a child? What sadistic witch stole it away while I was sleeping? Well sure, it could be worse, but it has been better and we can make it better again!
I turned to my fellow Canadians for support to stop the introduction of HST tax in our province … to raise the standards of education and the quality of food in our stores …. fix our healthcare … do something – anything to reclaim our country and our dignity as a nation.
All around, I was met with nods of agreement followed by those dreaded shrugs. My fellow Canadians agreed with me, but what could we do? My letters of protest against the HST were “misplaced” by government officials until after it had been accepted in legislature. Items with aspartame were coming from the USA whose FDA had been bribed to overlook its deadly side-effects. Poor quality food was blamed on bad weather, travel time and that bored stock clerk who just overturns the crates to place fruit in their display …
I tremble with frustration. Brick walls. Dead ends. Red tape. Unreturned phone calls and emails. Shrugs. Helpless looks. Pleading faces that say, “Don’t ask me to stand up. I can’t afford any more pain in my life.”
I tremble and grind my teeth. I can’t fight alone. Maybe I bit off too much? Maybe I can change something small, like the OB I see. No go. There is only one in town and I’m not permitted to seek regular healthcare from doctors out of town. (Is that local policy or OHIP restriction?)
What can I do? I spend hours reading the stats of other countries and savouring half a candy bar I splurged on at the dollar store. Surely there must be somewhere on this green earth that has standards I want to live by? The very thought of abandoning my home country burns in my heart. Is it betrayal or am I fixing something that doesn’t work for me by finding something that does? Am I being a coward or making a wise life choice?
I tremble with indecision … I could stay. After all, things could be worse.
© 2012 Rosa Marchisella