*This post is stemming from my earlier posts “Life & Death” and “It’s All Politics”.
As I wrote the last post and continue to read different perspectives about the robocall suspicions and everything else happening at all levels of politics, I continue to drift back to previous thoughts and posts I’ve written.
This week has been a keen reminder about the frailty of life and has made me think more about myself and who I want to be/what I want to accomplish, and the type of life I want to lead. I want to be a more connected and engaged citizen and person, to live as the best possible person I can be even as I continue to struggle to find what that could possibly mean. So, muddling through life the way we all are, more or less.
Arguably on the other end of the spectrum, we see politics. Over the ages we’ve worked to construct the best system to have governance over people that manages to represent all people fairly and somehow manage to have their voice and perspective heard while not trampling all others. Or at least pretend to, with many of the uglier aspects of human nature leading to all kinds of abuse and corruption.
In the process humanity has struggled through many different forms of government from all over the political and philosophical spectrum, and we’re still struggling. Through it all, instead of having the epicenter of our government being an arena of intelligent debate and sound reasoning, it often dissolves into nothing more than bitter personal disputes and vendettas publicly funded. In Taiwan, the Legislature has been cleared by all-out brawls. In the United States, it wasn’t too long ago the country faced a budget crisis where members of the House wanted to vote on their principles of smaller government and not raise the ceiling, despite the fact it could plunge the country into bankruptcy (a sword of Damocles that only continues to hover overhead). Here in Canada, name calling, bitter positioning and even allegations of voter suppression win out over representation of the public’s interest.
Tempers flair and personal interest takes over. This is all very human, but it can be argued that instead of creating a culture and atmosphere of mutual cooperation, government can create situations where members are more willing to make a poor decision than to admit wrong, and more willing to damage the public and public perception than accept defeat.
For a little while, all of it fell into the background for me this week.
I received many kind condolences for our family’s loss this week, I’m so grateful for them all. One I received on facebook did surprise me though, received from London-North Centre Conservative MP Susan Truppe (@susantruppe). I wasn’t at all surprised because of how I understand her character, but because we’ve never met, and I have often commented on her facebook posts since she was elected to give (I hope fair) criticism of her posts. I was very touched by her thoughtfulness, and we’ve since talked over facebook. What struck me most is the pure humanness of it – despite our differences she knows what it’s like to lose a loved one and expressed her sympathy. She has also encouraged I and others to provide feedback regardless of if it is in agreement or disagreement with what has been said. Although I’d like to be wrong I believe this kind of quality is very rare in politics, I hope we may see more. I often disagree with her/the federal government on policy, but to know that she is listening means a lot. We should all be able to expect as much from every member (MP, MPP, City Councillor etc.) representing us in the different public spheres, but that just isn’t the case.
Andrew Coyne (@acoyne) wrote this excellent article this week, titled “Robocalls and the moral wasteland of politics in Canada”. In it he describes the difference between amateur and professional athletes, where the higher you get in a sport the more allure there is to take an win-at-all-costs attitude. He argues the same goes for politics, and it’s what has produced the murky reality we now face, where strategies like voter suppression may become very tempting. This is disturbing though unfortunately less than surprising, as Canadians continue to leave interest in politics of all levels in droves as statistics like our abysmal polling numbers continue to show. He also observes how parties tend to object and attack on issues where they are most similar, meaning that the bluster is geared to produce an inflated idea of difference instead of accepting and encouraging mutual strategy and understanding. In short, instead of cooperation where it seems most possible, partisan politics wins out. Andrew concludes the article with the words
Watching the Tories defend themselves today, with their characteristic mixture of bluster and spite, it seems more of a piece with the behaviour of which they are accused than a refutation. Scandal may be the symptom, but partisanship is the disease.
In response to Andrew’s article and the sharing/conversation that followed online after, Chris Loblaw wrote this blog post, “In defense of Partisans”, offering clarification on the word partisans, reminding us that “‘partisan’ isn’t a dirty word”, and a partisan by definition is “a supporter of a person, party, group, or cause”. To continue the sports analogy, it can be like the fan base of any team, with a wide range of people and ideas within any pool. Some may be blindly partisan, but others cheer for their “team” because they truly believe they are the best and will be all too happy and qualified to tell you why. However, for those that are devoted to the game as well as those that play it, it’s all about being the best while playing fair. Here, some common ground can be found with Andrew’s article – we shouldn’t be ready to accept everything our team does as just when there is proof to the contrary, despite the fact we don’t want to hear our team has behaved badly. We should demand a group willing to both fairly represent us and to get into/maintain power fairly. Have we and will we ever truly see such a group of people? Perhaps not, but I hope we still strive for that goal.
Finally, Glen Pearson (@glenpearson) wrote this terrific blog piece this week, “We Found Love In A Hopeless Place”. In it, Glen describes his reasons for not seeking re-election nor other political positions, and why his place is with his community. He describes how he was able to have some leniency from his party during his time in politics to speak with members from other parties, and how he had moments of quiet to speak with Conservative members that, like him, wanted to see compromise and cooperation in the House. Although the current PMO could never permit such cooperation and the atmosphere in the House suffers for it, times will continue to change. He says:
There will come a time when the present PM will move along and the war games will be pared down. Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, Bloc and Green alike will suddenly sense that the windows to the place have been opened. The bars on Sparks Street will again be filled with MPs of various stripes supping together. Committees will find compromise and a sense of personal responsibility and dignity will quietly take their seat in the Chamber.
So where does this leave us? For me, at least, with hope. I struggle with political affiliations and how I want to be civilly engaged, especially in these times of political pessimism and cynicism. I will hold out hope that we may in future see more examples like Susan’s and Glen’s, where members of our government reach out to those opposite them in compassion, humanity and understanding. We need more people willing to come across the real and perceived barriers that divide us and find real solutions that find that almost mythical place between individual need and compromise. Politics has been likened to sport, but I believe a situation that encourages any one group to “win” doesn’t reflect the fact that they are working on behalf of all Canadians, including those that have not and may never avow to be in their fan base.
How do we do this? I still believe our answers lie in alternative election methods like proportional representation, but I will continue to read and learn about it and the different forms it can take – as well as brainstorm what can be done in the meantime. Even if we were to move to another election method, it would take a great deal of time and it would seem an active and informed electorate – which is the ultimate goal regardless.
As always I complete this with more questions than answers, but I hope that we as members of a community, province, nation and world can all start and continue meaningful conversations. May we all live boldly and break barriers as others have done. We need to find affirmation and support in those that agree with us, but even more so, we need to find genuine conversation with those that don’t.