Erin O’Toole, former leader of Canada’s Conservative party has a podcast called Blue Skies. A recent blog post associated with it featured an excellent opinion piece bemoaning the way Canadians have become accepting and complacent about the aggressive often violent language in current political discourse and the tone of division and distrust which seems to permeate it.
O’Toole expresses the hope that in 2023 he will see fewer profanity-laden flags and placards and signs about Justin Trudeau. According to O’Toole, they are a symbol of a kind of hyper-aggressive rhetoric he fears is normalizing rage and damaging democracy.
O’Toole is dismayed at the way extremists on both the political left and right are treating one another like enemies. They refuse to even listen to opposing perspectives. They make no effort to persuade people to change their minds in a reasoned fashion. Instead, they resort to pandering to the views of those who already support them with attention-grabbing insults. This only leads to greater polarization.
O’Toole suggests some sources of this polarization – the amplification of angry voices by social media, the influence of the American political scene and the frustration brought on by the pandemic.
Mr O’Toole’s remarks reminded me of a Steinbach friend who was driving his grandson home from school one day during the convoy protests. The child saw an expletive referring to Justin Trudeau on a sign and asked his grandfather why adults were allowed to say things about the prime minister he had been taught were impolite and disrespectful. I remember going for a walk in the nearby community of Mitchell with a friend around the same time and seeing a similar profanity about the prime minister on a building there and thinking children see that every day.
Mr O’Toole says he made it very clear to his own children during the last election that the Prime Minister was “not his enemy” but his political opponent.
Ironically the former Conservative Party leader is a prime example of just how easy it is to forget one’s laudable goals of sticking to policy critiques rather than personal ones. It took only a minute to find a news article online from the last federal election campaign where Mr O’Toole slammed Justin Trudeau as “privileged, entitled and only looking out for number one.”
I give him credit for suggesting in his recent podcast he is having second thoughts about that kind of rhetoric.
Although Mr O’Toole says both politicians on the left and right have been extremists in their actions and words conservative politicians have an even greater responsibility to affect change because seeding division and disorder is contrary to the very foundational principles of modern conservatism.
Mr O’Toole references the philosopher and economist Edmund Burke who he suggests provided the framework for the modern conservative movement. Burke warned that rash actions and disorderly conduct were not the hallmarks of true conservatives and that rage could quickly tear down things prudence and deliberation had spent centuries building.
Although anyone who reads my column regularly knows I have never been a Conservative Party supporter I find Mr O’Toole’s advice both wise and timely and something I personally need to take to heart when I write about politics.
In the coming year instead of treating other Canadians who we may disagree with as enemies, and becoming outraged with them, we need to try our best to refrain from personal attacks and engage in reasoned debate and respectful interaction.