On Civility and Understanding in Politics

No man is good enough to govern another man without the other’s consent.

  • Abraham Lincoln

So let me put my cards on the table. In 1993, when I lived in Toronto, I joined the Ontario Liberal Party and the Liberal Party of Canada. At that time, I tended to describe myself simply: I was an independent Liberal. The phrase seemed appropriate because I tended to disagree with some of my parties own positions. This streak of independence is something that I hold onto to this very day.

For example, for years, I have said that the Royal Canadian Navy should have a few aircraft carriers. Those carriers should have fighter aircraft and helicopters which are piloted by RCAF members who are qualified to land and take-off from the deck of those large ships. For the most part, these vessels would be floating joint command bases where the RCN leads ship operations. One can see that such an approach would easily match our historical foci: joint missions with our allies and protecting citizens abroad. Just think about the Lebanese Crisis in 2006. About four months after Stephen Harper became Prime Minister, he faced a huge decision: how to deal with an extraordinary number of people with Canadian Citizenship in Lebanon? For those Canadians had suddenly found themselves to be in the middle of a warzone.

An aircraft carrier would have been a perfect solution. We know that such a vessel could have been there in between 4 and 7 days because the ocean liner record for a crossing of the Atlantic Ocean – set in 1952 – is 3.5 days. Subsequently, it is safe to surmise that Canadian Navy ships could have been in the vicinity of Lebanon within days of the problems occurring. An aircraft carrier configured with some capacity to carry personnel could have been a way point in such a crisis.

Now, that is an unusual point of view for a Liberal to have. In fact, when the Stephen Harper was leader of the Opposition, he proposed it. With this being said, Mr. Harper was mocked by many Liberals, New Democrats and media pundits for that opinion. I my opinion, though, the notion of an aircraft carrier was, and still is, a great idea. For, if Canada wants to have more influence in the world, it should have an aircraft carrier or two. Don’t believe me, then ask Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope. He was the former head of the Royal Navy and was quoted as saying: “To put it simply, countries that aspire to strategic international influence have aircraft carriers”. This thinking would not be a surprise to those Canadians that know that Canada had aircraft carriers in our navy from the 1940’s to the 1970’s.

This contradiction, between my party and my views, has taught me one simple thing: my party is just as fallible as I. My party is not always right, nor are other parties always wrong. This thinking has left me with a bit of independence and an open mind. Accordingly, my independence has caused me to have respect for other parties and a willingness to understand their positions. In the end, only by understanding the “Other” can I evaluate whether their positions match my tests of reasonableness, rationality and evidence. Such an approach matches the liberal democratic traditions that I lean towards, while it might put me at odds with the Liberal Party of Canada or the Alberta Liberal Party.

Increasingly, to my chagrin, this type of independence is fading. For, most partisans regard their political parties more like “religious creeds”. Or put differently, when a Canadian partisan is a member of Party “A”, he or she will tend to degrade the policies of Party “B”, even where those policies are superior in outcome. It is almost reflexive and, for me, it is sad. Just think about Tommy Douglas’ project: Medicare. While, he faced opposition in the original plan, subsequent Governments, both federal and provincial; and of all stripes, added to the concept. Tommy’s socialist idea became the seed for a beautiful flower: Canadian Medicare.

Would such a thing happen today? In my opinion, the answer is no. Mr. Harper alone has gutted Canada’s environmental legislative framework: A framework that was developed over forty years by several Prime Minister’s. One particular example were the changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act. The Act was given Royal Assent in 1882 and was updated every so often until Stephen Harper came to power. The Act allowed the federal government to regulate many bodies of water from some pretty small streams to great bodies of water like the St. Lawrence River or the Great Lakes. However, by 2012 as Nathan Cullen, NDP House Leader and MP for Skeena Bulkley Valley, noted, the Conservatives in one day removed more than 2 million lakes and rivers from federal protection. Or put differently, “From one day to the next we went from 2.5 million protected lakes and rivers in Canada to 159 lakes and rivers protected. The Skeena is one of the few that was saved but none of its tributaries. You name the river, you name the lake and it is no longer protected by this act, and this has nothing to do with the budget that the government rammed through, it has everything to do with pipelines, because you are able to now are able to ruin navigation and not trigger an environmental assessment.”  (Protecting Canada’s Lakes, Rivers: 2012 Media Fail, by Robin Rowland, by Huffington Post, Posted: 12/26/2012 7:21 pm EST Updated:

02/25/2013 5:12 am EST) So a policy that had been protected by Diefenbaker, Pearson, Trudeau, Clark, Turner, Mulroney, Campbell, Chrétien and Martin was just suddenly destroyed without the usual conversation that has typified Canadian Politics.

By respecting and listening to the Other, we can have the best possible solutions. While, Mulroney had his problems, one cannot argue that his idea of bringing a “cost platform” to government wasn’t good. This cost platform came through a combination of policy changes. For example, many airports were turned over to self-governing, not-for-profit entities. Those entities became responsible for themselves. Known as Airport Authorities, these entities had to figure out how to balance the books. Before the creation of Airport Authorities, most airports had been either underfunded, undercapitalised or mismanaged or sometimes all of the above. While, these policies had pleased their political masters, it had become obvious that over time, the policies didn’t serve Canadians.

However, by having an Airport Authority run these airports, revenues could be raised by local interest for local benefit and terminals could be brought up to date. Sometimes that meant issuing bonds or increasing airplane landing fees. Other times, it meant increasing parking rates or allowing airports to have so many commercial stores that they looked more like shopping malls than places where people arrive or depart from. Either way coupled with the Mulroney Government’s implementation of the GST, the implementation of a cost platform for government made it easier for the Chrétien Government to balance the books.

As I hope I have shown recognizing the successes of another party is fundamental to the success of Canadian Politics. Consequently, let us recognize that simple truth. By understanding the Other, by being civil to each other, we can do more and get further. I have already noted that Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party had a good policy proposal in developing a series of aircraft carriers for the Canadian Navy. Such an admission should not be radical or surprising, however, in this modern day it is.

While, I disagree with the Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper about a lot of things, I should not find myself degrading everything he says. However, when I listen to Mulcair, Trudeau or Harper these days – or their staff – I don’t think that they get that we all live in the same country. A country called Canada. This continued childishness needs to stop. The NDP will not “destroy” this country, nor do we have to “take this country back” from the Conservatives. Trudeau is not a boy but a forty three year old man. Or put differently, he is three years young than Stephen Harper, when Mr. Harper became Prime Minister. Mr. Trudeau has Bachelor of Arts, a Bachelor of Education and would likely have received a Master of Arts in Environment Geography from McGill if he had not decided to run for office. While, Elizabeth May is more than an environmentalist. She is a lawyer, a single mother and author.  Elizabeth May, Stephen Harper, Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau are all capable people who could be Prime Minister. So let us be more courteous during this long election. Abraham Lincoln once said that: “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”  Today, I think the same thing could be said of Canada. So let us stick together because after October 19th, we all have to still live together on this land girded by treaties signed with our first nations as a bilingual, multicultural country called Canada. Please remember that none of us are evil, we just disagree. Hug a Tory if you are a Green, Liberal or New Democrat or vice versa, vice versa or vice versa because we are all still Canadian after all.

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