Election or no, respect still missing in Canadian politics

Hill Times, September 6, 2021

Let’s have an election! Why, asked the people? No good reason, he said, just because I want a majority!

The void of reason to blow hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money in an election appears to have created some anger in the people. If we really had to debate some issues in an election and make some serious choices, then let’s name some serious issues.

Here’s one: Parliament doesn’t work, and we should really have a political system that works better.

Let’s start with its lack of representation. Ouellet, Shiab and Gilchrist published on Radio-Canada’s website last week a revealing deep dive into the whiteness of Parliament. “White men make up a third of Canada’s population but a majority of MPs”.

Granted, this is the responsibility of party policies and ridings. Except policy follows values, so our national parties must value keeping the power in white men. There is a repeated tendency in some parties to parachute in candidates and overrule their own riding offices (as occurred in my riding of Kanata-Carleton). So who really knows how candidates get selected? Who knows how parties and ridings are held accountable to reflect all Canadians in the riding?

But then it gets worse. Cabinets are selected that are predominantly white men. To be clear, I have nothing against white men. I also have a great deal of respect for Black Canadian women and men, Indigenous Canadians, Canadians of colour. Why are they not overrepresented in cabinets and in the front seats in the House?

So we have a political elite which doesn’t look like a huge swath of the children in Canada. Candidates have a moral responsibility to reach out and listen to the voices of citizens in their riding. Elected MPs have a legal responsibility to continue to represent all, and maybe there should be a requirement for every MP to have a citizen’s circle of representation that advises that MP on a regular basis. Otherwise, how do Indigenous peoples, youth, LGBTQ2S, new immigrants, Black and people of colour get represented in Canada’s democracy? It doesn’t happen by accident. It only happens with intent.

Our political system seems hellbent to maintain the myth of majority like it’s the gold in politics. It seems that political leaders just don’t want to play nice with others. Minority governments function quite well in many democracies based on supportive structures, and the expectation of citizens that they make it work. Doing so requires parties and MPs to work together.

What if candidates had to prove their empathy for each other across party lines? If candidates were role models on how to respectfully agree and disagree with each other? Let’s together expect MPs to have integrity, to prove they can collaborate. Maybe that should be the requirement to run.

Then there’s the heckling. Many would not let our kids behave like this in public, so why do we roll our eyes and let the MPs dumb down life-affecting discussions and debates into schoolyard heckles? There is no place for heckling in the leadership of a country. Let’s put it another way—there’s not much room left for an MP or party leader to call out the angry bullies staking out the campaign trails, while heckling continues on the House floor. This type of disrespectful behaviour is all on the same scale of distasteful.

Some returning MPs along with some new MPs are going to make up the next House in this election about nothing. How about MPs work together as our team to eliminate heckling and disrespect this year? Set the bar high, and be role models of how to work through disagreements as caring adults.

Or we might well be on the slippery slope to our own January 6 here in Canada.