Archive for September, 2017

The anachronism of partisanship. Are we over it yet? #canpoli
September 12, 2017

In my last column, I alluded to some concerns I had about the public dialogue regarding women in politics.  Upon reflection, what I really think concerns me is the damage extreme partisanship can cause to public dialogue. It divides us. And it needn’t do so. In fact, we may not need partisanship at all. 

I think it’s human nature to be partisan to some extent. We are safer in a cave we share with people we know and trust. But we evolve by venturing out beyond our comfortable cave. Really, we do.

As for me, I am partisan when it comes to baseball (Jays) and hockey (sometimes Leafs, sometimes Le Canadien – depends on the day) and football (Go Argos!). It’s a reflection of where I grew up, who I spend time with and with whom I want to share memories, and ultimately, victories. Sorry Canucks friends. I do still love you.

But that’s the point. We might not like the same teams but I don’t hate yours. The exception makes the rule when it comes to politics. We seem to have set the amplifier to 11 on that front because, I suggest, we don’t always listen to each other as much as we should.

Here’s my challenge. For a world astonishingly adept at advancing in science, technology, arts, business, education, health and environmental research despite mounting global challenges, why is it that partisan politics and their lead personalities take up so much air space. Trudeau wears fun socks. Melania wears high heels. Putin isn’t crazy about hunting with a shirt on. Trump likes the occasional spray tan. Are we really that shallow? Is it the last frontier of conflict? Do our caveman brains still like a scrappy drama? I’m thinking maybe it is so.

So I cast my mind back to the Quebec Referendum of 1980. My dad understood the impact of the outcome for a half-French, half-English family and told me, in no-uncertain terms, that despite my inability to cast a vote, I might have to decide if I was a Canadian or a Quebecer. Would I need a passport to visit my family in Quebec, my place of birth? From that moment on, I was hooked. I knew every name and every portfolio of every Cabinet Minister in the Federal Government. And still do, for the most part. There’s just less room in my brain than there was once upon a time.

I quickly turned my hero-worship to the Honourable Flora MacDonald, which re-inforced my love of the Argos (watch the movie and you’ll understand why). She was a Progressive Conservative. And how progressive she was. There have been many progressive women leaders, I’m just not so sure we’ve been progressive enough to appreciate their work.

As it turns out, I didn’t have to make that fateful Canada/Quebec choice but it gave me a love of politics even those closest to me still don’t quite understand. Shortly after that, I was offered a scholarship as a Parliamentary Page in the House of Commons and spent my in-between first year post-secondary courses observing proceedings in the House, while delivering messages and water to our MPs at work. And I must tell you, never did I see the vitriol I see now in public discourse. Sure, you can blame Twitter and Facebook, but I think it’s more than that.

And it distresses me greatly to the point where I am really questioning the value of partisan politics. Imagine, if you will, just for a moment, that there were no political parties. We elected representatives from our community. This model still exists at the small municipal level and, dare I say, it works. And I say it with a clear conscious: I’ve voted every colour of the rainbow at different times and in different jurisdiction, for different reasons. I’m also an independent Councillor for the City of Salmon Arm. We’re all independent. Collaboration and criticism are key to the decision making for our city. And partisanship is not. Sometimes, we agree. Sometimes, we don’t. Sometimes that’s more important than the vote itself. We have that option and it doesn’t carry any sanctions. You can’t say that about partisanship in higher levels of governments.

It’s possible, all be it remote, that political partisanship is anachronistic, meaning that it’s a tradition that no longer has a reason for being. It’s centuries old and from a time when the masses simply didn’t have either literacy or the permission to access information. While I’m not suggesting we have perfect access to information now, we are certainly more educated and more able than ever in the history of the world to access it.

And yet, despite recent democratic election results at the provincial and federal levels, I continue to witness terrible things said about well-meaning, extremely talented elected officials of all political stripes, who, despite the incredible sacrifice, are subjected to terrible criticism, most of which is driven by partisanship and not based in reality but in the hope the constant blows will weaken their opponents and improve their chances when next they battle.

Sometimes Members are kicked out of the House for unparliamentary language. Is parliamentary language only for Parliament? Does it not extend to the public statements of Parliamentarians, be it household flyers, social-media feeds or public rallies?

I’d like to see the bar reset. If we stopped electing parties, a number of things would happen. One, the party nomination process would be no more. Candidates would be the choice of communities, not parties. Two, we would have a government based on meritocracy and authentic community representation. Three, while It would take longer to form government all questions of electoral reform would be addressed because partisanship is the barrier to elector reform, voters aren’t. Four, MPs and MLAs are elected to legislate in the legislature. All members can present bills to the House. They would have to work collaboratively and collectively to get bills passed for the good of their respective jurisdictions. As opposed to the amount of time used now to oppose new initiatives. It would be transformative to elect partisan-free Parliaments. The work would still get done. There are 425,000 employees in the federal government alone (source: StatsCan 2011). We’re in plenty of good hands. There are 338 Members of Parliament. Isn’t it possible that the partisanship influence is out of balance?

The quality of public dialogue speaks to the strength of our democracy. There’s room for improvement in my view. So in the spirit of back to school, please sit with someone you don’t agree with and ask them why they hold a certain point of view. When we learn something new, it changes the way we think and ultimately, makes for more rationale, compassionate and effective decisions.

And please, listen twice as much as you speak. That’s why we have two ears and one mouth. But we’ve always known that. My question is, and maybe you have the answer, why we don’t make better use of it?

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