It has become the practice in Federal politics these days to hold your opponents in contempt. All parties have descended to this; it is now the norm.
It is also a great liability. Respect your opponents so that you can see them more clearly.
Here’s the liability. Let’s say you are a die-in-the-wool Liberal — say, somewhat like a Toronto friend of mine — who really believes that there is something mentally wrong with anyone who supports the Conservatives, and who believes in his/her heart of hearts that the Prime Minister is Evil Incarnate. This very viewpoint blinds him/her to the reality of the Conservative Party, the Prime Minister, and the actions taken by them.
We saw this in the last session. “You have no Green Plan.” Well, yes, the Government did — it was just founded on different principles than the plans and suggestions offered by others. The Government recognised Kyoto was no longer achievable without excessive destruction of the Canadian economy: the lost years had seen to that. So they admitted it, and put forward their own plan (centred on reduction of pollutants which, incidentally, would achieve a carbon reduction as a natural consequence). But this was not seen or evaluated: “no plan” was the conclusion, simply because the plan didn’t contain the elements expected. The contempt for the Conservatives meant that what was said was not heard, what was published was not seen.
Likewise, the Conservative Party’s contempt for Stéphane Dion blinded the Conservatives to Dion and his policies. Opportunities were lost and fights unnecessarily picked — the blame for a dysfunctional Parliament belongs on all shoulders — and during the election campaign blunder after blunder emerged from the Conservative War Room and advertising policy precisely because that contempt led to excess. (This is not an argument that Stéphane ought to have done better or won the day; it is a recognition of a failing that may well have played its part in denying the Government a majority.)
One need not agree with one’s Opponent; one does need to respect them, their integrity, their intelligence. In a minority situation, this may be essential to finding votes to carry a measure. On the campaign trail, it is essential to not going to excess and thus destroying one’s own case for election. I do not like nor approve of my MP, Joyce Murray (Lib., Vancouver-Quadra) based on her performance to date. Nevertheless I must be sure to see what she does clearly: perhaps she will surprise me and my estimate of her grow. If Deborah Meredith, the defeated Conservative candidate in the riding had had a similar respect she might well have campaigned differently — and won. (The campaign at the end of the day is local, and local expectations must be met: in Quadra, that includes actually engaging with your counterparts on the ballot.)
Here in the wider community of bloggers, there are those of us who choose not to affiliate with a blog roll: these — be it for Blogging Dippers or Tories, or Libloggers — are often mostly closed worlds, echo chambers of a sort. Respect for others includes actually reading others, especially those who do not share your views. When a noted Liblogger such as Steve V. of Far and Wide, for instance, makes a good point, I am happy to acknowledge it, just as I am others who choose to affiliate themselves. Quality thinking and quality writing deserves that from me. (I reserve my more contemptuous moments for those who earn them, such as the syncophants, party messagers and cynical truth-benders, and only read them occasionally to see if things are changing.)
I do not (for instance) much care at this juncture who takes over Dion’s faltering reins: none of the potential candidates seems worth a candle. Nevertheless, the Liberal Party will ultimately select a new leader, who will become Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Leader of the Opposition. Whomsoever it is (and, yes, I do have views as to who would be better or worse for Canada [and for the Liberal Party, not at all the same thing]) will have my respect: I shall want to know where they are taking that institution, and I can’t find that out if I’m not willing to grant them the opportunity to be heard.
As I suggested yesterday in examining the possibility of leader turnover, party by party, this could be an era with many new faces contending the next time an electoral writ is dropped. It is therefore a time when policies and approaches could well be in flux. Attention and respect will go a long way to understanding what this means — and how best to achieve goals related to the issues that matter to me. Contempt would blind me — and surprise me, probably in a manner not to my liking.
One hopes the Government, in this Parliamentary session, will take the first step to respect its opponents on the other side of the House. It must begin somewhere — why not with the victors, who need prove nothing about their ability to fight and win?
Incidentally, respect does not mean rolling over or engaging in destructive compromise. Nor does it mean being effectively thwarted and doing nothing about it. But even in the heat of battle, it does mean paying attention and being willing to respond when appropriate.
We Canadians used to be good at that. Let’s see if we can be again.