The Demise of Civility | By Finn Timbers

Canadian politics are boring. We lack the large, divisive issues that define us, unlike the United States.  Abortion was decriminalized in 1969 and completely de-regulated in 1988; now, with the exception of a very small minority, abortion plays no role in Canadian politics. Similarly, gay marriage was legalized in 2005, and since then, it has largely been a non-issue (with a few notable exceptions, such as the Wildrose Party and conscience rights).

Indeed, the most contentious issue currently facing politicians is that of refugee healthcare, but even this is minor, as the question is not whether to provide healthcare in general, but whether to provide free dental and vision care to refugees. Compare this to the American fiscal battles or European austerity debates, and  if this is Canada’s most pressing concern, we’re doing fine.

However, you wouldn’t know this from watching the news. Occupy Wallstreet was started by a Canadian magazine, and has been present in such financial minnows as Edmonton, Saskatoon and Winnipeg. At the University of Alberta, there was a march that largely fizzled, and a recent Conservative Party event (of which the author was an attendee) was interrupted by multiple screaming activists. Moreover, in the recent election, American-style attack ads were used and partisan rhetoric was the norm.

Most worrying is the effort, led by the NDP, to “Stop Harper.” Their goal is to stop him and his party from passing legislation, and they have held several publicity stunts to this effect, including submitting 871 amendments to the recent budget omnibus bill and forcing a 22-hour marathon voting session.

There are striking parallels between these actions and those of the Republican party in the US. The Republican party, who control the House of Representatives, have almost completely refused to work with the Democratic party. This has prevented President Barack Obama from having any real electoral successes in the last year and a half, and has certainly hurt his chances at re-election in November. Senator Mitch McConnell, leader of the Republican party in the senate, has said that “[making Obama a one-term President is] my single most important political goal” – a goal strikingly similar to that of the NDP.

By focusing on political attacks, the NDP is forcing the Conservatives to focus more efforts on defending themselves politically, and less to working on policy. If left unchecked, this could lead to a system similar to the US, where parties spend the vast majority of their time campaigning, and have little time left over for governance. If this were to happen, all parties involved would be disadvantaged, and no one gains.

It is for this reason that both parties should calm their rhetoric and work to achieve more bipartisan accord. Through focusing on policy, both parties can achieve more good for Canada, and demonstrate to voters their true value. With the NDP working to calm their base and the Conservatives stopping their use of attack ads, a greater political consensus could be arrived at, which would be a great boon to Canadian governance.

Finbarr Timbers is a third year math student who is deeply interested in developmental economics. When not in class, Finbarr is either running or trying to explain what, exactly, ring theory is to bemused arts students. Finbarr is currently reading A World Restored: Çastlereagh, Metternich and the pushe for peace 1812-1822 by Henry Kissinger.

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  • Kat

    Great article! I’m curious about the title choice. Is civility necessarily related to cooperation? What would you call someone that, by their political bent, oppose political actions that in their mind bring society as a whole towards a more “uncivil” state? Is this uncooperative behaviour basis for being labelled “uncivil”?

  • Finbarr

    1) Not necessarily. Perhaps constructiveness would have been a better word, as the intent was to encourage compromise and constructive disagreement instead of the current binary choice between support and rejection. An illustrative example would be the teachers’ unions in Ontario, where they supported Premier McGuinty as long as he completely agreed with their platform, but when he asked for concessions due to the poor economic climate, the unions completely rejected him.

    2) I’m not sure what you’re asking. The description seems to be that of an anarchist or radical. If you’re asking my personal opinion, I disagree with them, as by withdrawing from the system they will probably accomplish nothing, whereas if they had worked inside the system, they could have had a large effect. Compare the effectiveness of Bashir Mohammed to someone who would join the Liberal/NDP party, work his way up until one is in a point to alter policy. The latter would have a much larger effect, although it would take a lot more effort.

    3) Under the way I used civility, yes. I think we need more engagement between people who disagree. If House Republicans engaged House Democrats more, I believe that the debt ceiling fiasco would actually have been resolved, and not just punted further down the road.