Fundamental disconnects

Michael Ignatieff tries to draw a line between adversaries and enemies.

In his speech, Mr. Ignatieff bore down on the high price paid when politicians treat each other as enemies rather than adversaries. When you think of your opponent across the aisle as an adversary, “you reject arguments, not persons; question premises, not identities; interrogate interests, not loyalties,” Mr. Ignatieff said.

But when politicians look upon each other as enemies, “legislatures replace relevance with pure partisanship. Party discipline rules supreme, fraternization is frowned upon, negotiation and compromise are rarely practised, and debate within the chamber becomes as venomously personal as it is politically meaningless.”

I always have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that something has changed in the way politicians treat each other: that they used to treat each other in a slightly more honourable way. When was this?

Meanwhile, Glen Pearson argues the disconnect is between partisans and non-partisans.

The majority of people who I see everyday are growing increasingly hesitant to say which party they support, if in fact they do support one, because of the rabid rhetoric and practice that increasingly characterizes modern political parties. Most Canadians no longer place themselves somewhere along the political spectrum and are increasingly rejecting the dubious aims of modern hyper-partisanship. It has become extreme enough that we can pick up on Andrew’s observation by adding that Canadians are now split by who is inside and who is outside.

There’s something to this, I think. However politics was practiced in the past, for good and bad, there does seem to have been a greater connection felt between the public and the politics. I don’t think it’s as simple as saying the public is turned off by negativity, but I think you could make a case that the gap between the public and the practice of politics is growing.

If I had to pick the primary problem in Ottawa right now, I wouldn’t nominate partisanship or political combat, but the sort of rote, mind-deadening partisanship that is regularly on display. Beyond the practical fixes that need to be made—QP reform, empowering the legislature, improved access to information and open data—the greatest threat to our discourse is the talking point.

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