Friday, June 03, 2011

A Question of Civility

Like any Canadian progressive, I am not thrilled that Stephen Harper won the election. But it would seem that I am much less upset than one Brigette DePape, recently fired from her job as a senate page for holding up a "STOP Harper" sign...during the speech from the throne. As spunky, defiant moves go, I think it's kind of boss. As politics go, not so much.

Ms. DePape seems to be a woman possessed of intelligence, creativity, and courage. She is worthy of respect. But so are the institutions of Canadian parliament. Her statements against the worst policies of the Harper government DO have merit, but I think that it is important to voice these complaints in the proper forum. That sounds very stodgy and conservative of me, but I think there is a good reason to believe that, in the long run, civility is just as important an issue as climate change.

My reasoning is this: because of how charged our political debates can be at the best of times, we need to have public fora that are as neutral as possible. If a Conservative protester interrupted a Liberal or NDP speech, it would not be very polite. I don't think we can make a good case that Ms. DePape's conduct should be judged by a different standard, just because we agree with what she says. No, I think that as a private citizen she had every right to say what she did. But as an agent of our Parliament, she had a duty to remain impartial - no matter how offensive she found Harper's agenda. There are all policies that we find offensive, but if we allow Parliament itself to become polarized and partisan, we have failed.

The good thing about Government and Parliament being separate is that we may remain loyal to the institutions of government, even while we have vehement disagreements with the present ruling party. This separation reminds us that the Government is not the ultimate authority - it is subservient to the good of the country and the will of the people. The Conservative party and its disastrous policies are a temporary thing. Showing disrespect to the Conservatives is not so bad; it may mean that you are uncivil, but it will pass. To show disrespect for parliament, however, shows a lack of faith in Canada and its people. I may not like that we elected Harper, but that does not mean I'm going to take out my anger on democracy, civility, and neutrality.


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