On partisanship

Reginald Stackhouse: The purpose of the opposition is to prevent the government and its supporters from using their near-absolute power to govern that way. It cannot be done by sweetness and light. It demands that the opposition have adequate access to information and adequate opportunity to articulate its critical analysis of government proposals – especially when the government doesn’t want the opposition parties to be in the know. That means politics has to be war. It means we, the public, are served best when our parliamentary representatives keep each other honest, making all aware they are living on a firing line where battle is done every day.

Janice Kennedy: Instead of counter-arguments, we get monosyllabic slurs. Instead of witty repartee, catcalls. Instead of inspired ideas coherently expressed, grunts from mouth-breathing goons. The tone is raucous, the atmosphere chaotic. And the daily brass ring goes not to the most verbally adept, but to the one with the most capacious set of lungs. The corollary is obvious. When all you can hear is shouting — that moronic braying that goes on and on the whole time some member is trying to express something — you can be sure there’s precious little listening going on. And zero dialogue.

Rex Murphy: In this war – for war it is – all the petty arts of innuendo, exaggeration and allegation, refined to the highest degree by the stagecraft of scrums and Question Period, are called into play. Partisanship magnifies disagreement into zealotry. Personal rivalries metastasize into raging hatreds. Governments play an identical game in reverse. Slay the opposition from the moment it arrives in Parliament. Mock the leader, traduce the idea, demonize the eccentric. People outside politics cannot fully appreciate how total this game is, how swiftly partisanship twists otherwise benign and decent human beings into angry spouts of bluster and recrimination. Politics shrinks the human soul.

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