Of course, you know – it spreads around. It is why there is chlorine in pools. Because they are shared spaces, in which we all swim. That is why there are toilets in swimming pool areas, and why parents make sure their children go to the toilet before they enter the pool.
In a lot of ways, our political system is much like the pool. It’s a shared space, shared by all of us – not just by the people we elect to govern us.
I have been reflecting on this, during the election campaign and more recently, as I have been collecting stories about how we are welcoming Syrian refugees. I found lots of wonderful stories of welcome, as Canadians engage enthusiastically in what has been termed a great Canadian project.
But I also found something that disturbed me. I found that a number of Members of Parliament had written letters to the Prime Minister, saying that many of their constituents had been contacting them to express concerns about safety issues related to the arrival of 25,000 refugees.
Some of the MPs posted the letter online or on their website; others posted messages on their Facebook page. Most of them seemed to have gotten a fair amount of local coverage for their messages.
The first one I found, I thought – well, yes, that is the role of the Opposition – to ask questions and raise concerns.
But as I found more, I began to wonder about what seemed to be a similarity in tone and message. I found only one that seemed different, reflecting what seemed to be the strongly held views of that particular MP.
Then I visited the Conservative Party website, and discovered that it had a message with the headline “Tell Justin Trudeau – put safety first”.
The message under the headline read:
Canada has a proud history as an inclusive country. Canada’s Conservative (sic) strengthened that reputation, welcoming record numbers of immigrants over our nine years in government.
The safety of Canadians must be the top priority of any government when dealing with immigration.
But Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have admitted they have no process for a security review of the 25,000 refugees they are bringing to Canada. They’re more focused on meeting arbitrary deadlines than on ensuring the safety of Canadians.
When it comes to our national security, tell Justin Trudeau to put safety first.”
People were then invited to add their name and email address and postal code, and click.
Many of the MPs letters that I saw contained a similar message. For example: “Many constituents are contacting me to insist that Canada ensure thorough vetting of potential Syrian refugees to Canada. We want Canadians to be confident that each and every one of them is identified and pose neither a security nor health risk. ”
The words on the Conservative Party website, about security screening, didn’t seem to reflect what I was seeing in the media. They didn’t seem accurate. And I reflected on Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s comment that of every 10 citizens he spoke with, eight were completely supportive, two had concerns about security, and about .02% were choosing to be uncivil or abusive (often anonymously). So if that was an accurate reflection of the rest of the country, it seemed comparatively few of us were worried about security.
I also noted the use of terminology on the Conservative Party website, and I didn’t like it. Even when I did not agree with Stephen Harper, I did call him Prime Minister Harper. I don’t like the way the media and the Conservatives talk about the “Trudeau” government or the “Liberal” government. Our government is the Canadian government (Mr. Harper’s attempts to have government departments refer to the “Harper government” notwithstanding). It is not the preserve of any one political party. Our Prime Minister is the Prime Minister of Canada. We need to take care with our language and our terminology – and you need look no further south than the US to understand why this matters.
And so that is why I started this post with that question about peeing in the swimming pool.
Our governance “pool” is a shared space. We all need to take care in how we swim in it. And one thing I have come to realize is that, if someone is pissing in the pool, we need to call them on it. The horrific results of what happens when people are allowed to spew hatred and thus give others permission to do so, which we see in the US, embolden me to speak out for civility and honesty in political discourse in Canada.
I listened to the Opposition critic on immigration on CBC tonight. My impression was that she was not so comfortable in talking about her party’s approach on this issue, and it seemed that there was more keenness to find fault than to offer the constructive and collaborative approach that her interim leader talked of shortly after she was chosen to fill that position.
I have found the collaborative working style modelled by our Prime Minister to be a refreshing breath of fresh air, and an example for the rest of the world. It is a respectful way to approach our shared political space, in my view. The language and strategies that he and his Cabinet are using echo much of what I consider to be good facilitative practice. And my sense is that most Canadians are delighted to have the opportunity to engage in a grand way in doing our small part to address the worst refugee crisis since World War II.
And, while I apologize for using a term that may be offensive to some, I wanted to offer one more piece of advice to the Opposition on this theme.
The late US President Lyndon Johnson, who could be rather earthy in his language, offered this advice about dealing with opponents. It is better, he said, to have them inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.