Political opponents are not mortal enemies

The level of discourse within political parties could use a tune-up

Like a lot of immigrants who came to Canada from Europe, my father was a life-long Liberal. For him it was a matter of loyalty.

It was the Liberal party that opened the door wide and invited him in. “You dance with the one who brung you,” as Brian Mulroney used to say. It was a maxim my father lived by.

That’s not to say my dad didn’t respect other political traditions. He had all kinds of admiration for Robert Stanfield and even once supported a New Democrat in a provincial election. But he remained a federal Liberal all his life.

When I was growing up, I was quite enamored with politics. I remember reading that many Liberals and Conservatives would excoriate each other in the House of Commons but then go out for dinner at night. They even played together on the same hockey teams.

What could be more Canadian than that?

It showed that at its heart, our democracy was imbued with mutual respect. We could all fight hard for the policies we believed in but at the end of the day, we were Canadian — bound by shared dreams and love of country.

That mutual respect extended right into our very conservative neighbourhood. When Dad had the temerity to put up a Liberal campaign sign, several neighbours ordered Conservative signs. Within hours we were literally surrounded. But it was all in good fun and everyone stayed friends.

Unfortunately, the world has changed since I was a boy. Just a few weeks ago, Conservative Dean Del Mastro objected to Justin Trudeau speaking at Catholic schools suggesting that he isn’t a good Catholic. In fact, Mr. Trudeau attends mass every week. And Del Mastro? He attends a different church.

But how did we get to the state where politicians seem to detest each other so much that they would dare attack each other’s faith?

Firstly, please don’t think it’s just the Conservatives who are at fault. NDP member Pat Martin recently sent a text to a Conservative in the House using the F bomb. Whatever his point of view, surely he could express himself without resorting to such crude language. After all, aren’t our representatives supposed to be the best and the brightest?

And what about the Liberals? In some ways, I think they started all of this: first in the eighties with the Liberal ‘Rat Pack’ and then in the nineties when they painted Reform members as hayseeds and religious zealots.

Whoever is at fault, it’s the government that sets the tone. Insiders say that the Conservatives want not just victory but the complete destruction of the Liberal party. What a cheerless ambition. When the Progressive Conservatives were reduced to two seats in 1993, I felt deeply saddened at the thought of losing such a great political party and Canadian institution. In that regard, I hope the Liberals make a credible comeback because the country needs three vibrant federalist parties to avoid the hopeless gridlock that now grips our neighbours to the south.

Pierre Trudeau was no angel. But I remember at his funeral, Justin Trudeau related an incident that spoke to his better instincts. Justin had told his father a Joe Clark joke, thinking Pierre would be pleased. Instead his dad walked him down the hall and knocked on Mr. Clark’s door. When he introduced his boy to the Leader of the Opposition, Justin soon realized what a nice and decent man Mr. Clark was. And he never told another Joe Clark joke.

That’s the kind of leadership we need now from all of our politicians. No matter what their political stripe, their fellow legislators are Canadians just like them. They are political opponents not mortal enemies.

Isn’t it time they stopped treating each other that way?


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