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Rational discussion absent this election season

With the drop of a hat, a lot of summers were ruined across our fair nation.

It wasn’t the weather that was the problem. It was the spectre of four politicians criss-crossing the nation looking for your vote. That spectre was amplified by the fact that the vote begging would last much longer than usual.

Let’s be clear. An election, in theory, should be the time to discuss important issues for the future of our country. One need only to compare the philosophy of the Conservatives and the NDP on dealing with ISIS, their policies with respect to taxation, and the list goes on. Perhaps for the first time in a generation, one gets the feeling that this election is a choice between at least two very different ideologies. In that sense, it should be a momentous choice for our country because it represents two divergent paths.

However, by my estimation, this fundamental choice has been papered over by the desire of some to render the election (and the opportunity for a real discussion on the future of our country) insignificant. That is, some with vested political interests are turning this election into a chance to demonize, among others, Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

To be fair, the Conservatives have done a number on Justin Trudeau in much the same way. Though Trudeau (and, in the same vein, the NDP) has failed to provide many details as to how he would pay for his multi-million dollar promises, or how he would go about reforming Canada’s electoral system, or the social and economic implications of decriminalizing marijuana, the Conservatives have unfairly portrayed him as a dilettante, a nobody. Some of this may be true. But, of course, exaggeration is the name of the game — and it doesn’t help our political discourse, to say the least.

What those on the left have done to Harper is no different. Let’s take two examples, both from an article by Anthony Furey that recently appeared in Sun News.

The first issue raised by Furey is Bill C-51. I agree with Furey that the bill is controversial and may raise significant constitutional questions. It changes the way police can collect data, creates new offences and changes the power of CSIS, among other things. These changes are designed to help Canada remain vigilant in the fight against terror.

The legal issues involving Bill C-51 will be litigated and will be canvassed in due course, but let’s look at the political issues. One headline in particular caught my eye — an article by Tony Burman entitled “Why Harper (and friends) are a bigger threat than [the Islamic State].” This article was littered with similar comments. Of course, the critical commentary on Bill C-51 has mirrored this sort of sensationalist rhetoric; I think a particularly representative comment is from a protestor who wrote on a sign “I am more afraid of Stephen Harper than terrorists.” Is this rhetoric helpful in clarifying the issues in this important election?

The second example raised by Furey is an article by Torontonian Stephen Marche, printed in the New York Times. Its title was auspicious: “The Closing of the Canadian Mind.” In all-too catastrophic language, Marche argues that Harper has cloaked himself in secrecy, refused to participate in debates (even though, as Furey points out, he has already done one and has committed to several more) and cancelled the long form census while muzzling scientists. A representative quote, one I particularly love, goes something like this: “The darkness has resulted, organically, in one of the most scandal-plagued administrations in Canadian history. Mr. Harper’s tenure coincided with the scandal of Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto, who admitted to smoking crack while in office and whose secret life came to light only when Gawker, an American website, broke the story. In a famous video at a Ford family barbecue, Mr. Harper praised the Fords as a ‘conservative political dynasty.’
Connecting the crack-addicted Ford to Harper is a stretch at best, but the claim of “darkness” and secrecy is even more of a stretch. What is darkness? Who can measure that in any conceivable way? Is this a fair and well-thought out charge against the prime minister?

All of this comes to a simple conclusion. It is fine, and even well-founded, to disagree with Harper and the Conservatives. It is expected and welcome. But the disagreement has to be delivered in a rational way. The above examples are only representative of what we see on our Facebook and Twitter feeds every day — people taking extreme points of view, discussing “dictatorship,” “rights violations” and the like. This is hyperbolic rhetoric that doesn’t do justice to the fundamental choice in front of Canadians at the current moment; it makes us all worse off as Canadian citizens; it blurs the real choices in front of us; it appeals to the lowest common denominator of human nature: fear. The rationale is that making people fear Stephen Harper is better than presenting honest and well-argued disagreements.

The people who are wringing their hands feverishly about the “closing of the Canadian mind,” the death of our democracy and the end of Canada are all contributing in some small way to our collective dumbing down. Sort of ironic, don’t you think?

1 Comment

  1. JulianRenaud Reply

    Rational discussion has mostly been absent since the advent of television. The most commonly used media these days (including Facebook) are not particularly well-suited to dealing with complex issues. I agree that this is a major problem, and that all of our political parties are major contributors to it (with the possible exception of the Greens, who seem to have neither the money nor the inclination to engage in sustained smear campaigns).

    Having said that, the intention behind this article seemed to be to relay a non-partisan appeal for a discourse driven by calm rationality rather than hyperbolic sound bites and attack ads. However, by focusing so heavily on criticisms of poor Mr. Stephen Harper while mostly glossing over the very extensive Conservative attack ad campaign, taking jabs at the proposed policies of Conservative political opponents, and writing that Bill C-51 is “designed to help Canada remain vigilant in the fight against terror” (a statement taken almost verbatim from Conservative talking points), among other things, it actually comes off as hyper-partisan. It seems unlikely that an adult could read this and conclude that the author would vote anything other than Conservative, no matter how many were to try to persuade him otherwise with the rational arguments that he professes to desire. To borrow the language of the article’s conclusion, that is sort of ironic.

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