Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

A little more humility

It will come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog regularly that the hardest thing for me about being involved in Canadian politics is the wanton, screechy hyperpartisanship. You know: the thing about our political culture that says that if one of your political opponents has a good idea, you'd damn well better pretend you hate it anyway, and if you can't find anything to dislike about them right now, you'd better look a little harder. I find it terribly disappointing, and it makes it harder than just about anything else in this business does to "resist the pull of cynicism."

Well, after hearing Nathan Cullen speak this weekend, this proponent of interparty cooperation, fair play, and coalition governments has a new hero.

Some quotes:

"We exist in a political forum that says that only one can be right at any given time, and that's just ridiculous when it comes to such a complicated issue. I believe we need to have the Greens at the table, we need to have the Conservatives at the table, and the Liberals--and a little more humility in our governments so that they're forced into situations like [the special committee on the Clean Air Act]."

"I'll tell you this: all the way through the Cold War, we always talked to the Russians. You never stop talking to your opponent. Because the eventual solution will involve your opponent. It must."


More here.


Jacques Beau Vert said...

Politicians can get along respectfully - they choose not to, because it's more dramatic. Politics is show business for ugly people - it attracts primadonnas and bitchiness who satisfy the cravings of partisans, and ignore the cravings of folks like you and I (and many, many others). The Jason Cherniaks and Kate MacMillans make up the biggest cheerleading sections, because those who involve themselves in politics tend to be side-choosers and boosters. Politicians are, alas, giving (those) people what they want.

Jacques Beau Vert said...

Why is that I can type fine, but can never get Word Verification in right until the third try??

Do we type familiar words cleaner than unfamiliar strings of letters? Or is it my imagination that I make more mistakes in WV than other places?

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


The thing is, it doesn't have to be that way. I mean, sure, politics is always going to attract ugly people with charisma or connections or both. But the antagonistic way things work in Canada, where they go at each other like wild animals, really isn't the way it works in most of the world.

I mean, in Germany, the centre-left Social Democratic Party and the conservative Christian Democratic Party were at odds for years while the former was in government and the latter was in opposition...until the results of the last election forced them into forming government together. This was nearly two years ago, and it's still going strong. The fact that we can't imagine that happening here is an abject failure of our political culture, and it needs to change.

Unknown said...

I like this! I think a lot of the reason people tune out politics or become apathetic is because of the "you must hate your political opponents and never give credit where it is due" attitude that is so present in Ottawa and Edmonton. Until politicians can learn to work together in actual discourse, rather than showmanship (perhaps TV in question period etc. has an effect on how "showy" politicians are) then the common thought of people will always be "they're all slimy, they are all alike".
Thanks for the post

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Thinking about it, it seems to me that the assumption in our merger-happy political culture is that you have to disagree with your opponents about everything, all the time, or risk being conflated with them (either in the eyes of the voters or quite literally). That's so not the way most people--or even most partisans--think, though. I'm a card-carrying New Democrat, but I can still think that people from the other parties have the occasional gem of an idea without that meaning that I want to join them completely.

KevinG said...

I agree. Partisanship is often difficult to stomach.

For example, the very first thing I read on the apparently reasonable Nathan Cullen's blog was statement the the BC Liberals were unethical in their decision about which programs should get more or less funding. Most people I know, and you may agree with this, reserve the word unethical for things that are, well, unethical as opposed to things which merely represent different priorities.

I'm not trying to point out any apparent hypocracy, although that's how it struck me at first. I'm agreeing that systemic change is required to blunt partisanship. I doubt it would have any effect on the low level things like I've pointed out but it may provide a brighter future for good ideas developed by parties that don't happen to be the government at the time.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Yeah, we all succumb to it sometimes, don't we? I'm sure you could find instances of screechy hyperpartisanship in this blog, too, although I try hard to avoid it. Steering away from making myself as Idealistic Pramatist any sort of spokesperson for my party helps, but when the others are doing it, it's so tempting. It's only by changing the system to one that makes you less successful by screeching rather than more so that we'll really be able to see real change.

Anonymous said...

Cullen's message of working together is a good one, but I hope he has some strategy for working with pathological liars. It never ceases to amaze me how the Harper government seems capable of saying anything, no matter how disconnected from reality, as if people will actually believe it. Here is today's (in connection with why they are already opening up their expensive election headquarters and launching new attack ads):

Environment Minister John Baird said the party has taken the "big and costly step" of opening the headquarters because Dion has made it clear he wants an election.

Like Harper, Dion has insisted in recent weeks he does not want an election. But Baird said the Liberals' opposition to the federal budget demonstrates their rush to head to the polls.

"Clearly, Mr. Dion has an urge to campaign. We, on the other hand, have a genuine desire to govern," said Baird.

I'm not implying that one shouldn't try to work with people like this, just that it clearly requires some special approach.
Also, if Cullen is referring to a Conservative Alberta riding where the incumbent doesn't have to get out of bed, it isn't necessarily arrogance -- he may be stating a fact. One can certainly find multiple examples of groups who believe that Harper will give them what they want after he has a majority. No other party will. I don't see that as arrogance. They simply want and need a majority as much as Harper does.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this excellent post. Partisanship and blind ideology are indeed what's killing our democracy and the political process.

More recently, the NDP in particular has shown good signs of becoming more pragmatic. I give them and Jack Layton tons of credits for that.

Dion, the anti-example of pragmatism, however, opposes everything, good or bad, if it doesn't fit into his own ideological and partisan scheme, and that's extremely unhealthy and detrimental to our democracy.

At this point, I'd rather have the NDP form the official opposition than the Dion Liberals.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand your comment about who you would like to see in official opposition, Werner. Who then would you like to see become Prime Minister and form the government?

Unknown said...

Catherine, the events of, say, the last 6 to 12 months have made me lose confidence in the two big parties -- none of them seems able anymore to act professionally and do what's right for the people of this great country. As I wrote on my blog a while ago, I am putting my hopes on the smaller parties, as they have shown themselves to be more professional (and I have to say, Layton, in particular, has cut a good figure recently).

I am well aware that the smaller parties will not come to power (at least not in the next election), so what we need is a very strong and healthy opposition to keep whoever resides at 24 Sussex (Conservatives or Liberals) as honest as possible.

Anonymous said...

Werner, thanks for the clarification. I understand your position, although my own is different. I am still getting to know Dion, but I have been listening to and/or reading his speeches and like what I hear. I am also *much* more comfortable with the current Liberal Party platform than with the Conservatives.