The federal election is winding up. Rather than focusing on policy discussions that would support Canadians, however, candidates are demonstrating a predictable version of “gotcha” politics – digging up dirt on opponents and hoping it catches fire in the media.
While nothing may change before a government is formed, it’s not too late to alter hostility in future political discourse.
Here’s a bold claim: politicians aren’t solely to blame for this oppositional rhetoric. Many people running for government aren’t duplicitous or corrupt. They simply want to participate in ways that improve their communities. As citizens, we’re jointly responsible: we give hostile language permission to thrive. Citizens buy divisive language, so politicians sell it.
If we can all shift the social discourse, perhaps we can improve campaigns and government. After all, Canadian politics is a mirror of our society.
What if we invite political language and encourage behaviour that serves our futures by describing plans to enhance the economy, heal the planet, or foster equality? What if we find overlapping strategies between political parties? What if citizens contribute to building a different model of collaborative governance where we hold each other with esteem and share power – even amidst disagreement?
What if citizens contribute to building a different model of collaborative governance where we hold each other with esteem and share power – even amidst disagreement?
Canadians have relationships with everyone and everything, despite our geographic or social differences. Our successes hinge on the collective efforts found in our diversity. Instead of hindering change by competing, our politics could adopt a relational approach.
For a parliamentary democracy to succeed, relationships must first develop with the party in power and then across party lines — including institutions, communities and citizens. If power remains relational, it could sustain a form of government that collaborates effectively.
Change comes when we actively engage, including all citizens, and particularly those who have different world views. Difference creates strength and balance in society, similar to how diversity allows cities to flourish. Our country depends on everyone’s participation.
Participation is foundational to a collaborative governance model. Trusted governments will listen to and engage with citizens long after elections. Collaborative governance means being in a relationship with one another as co-creators of our futures rather than fighting as warring factions in a winner-take-all game.
This doesn’t just start with candidates; it also begins with us. Citizens must learn to be together in difference, to listen to one another’s stories, to abandon ideology for curiosity, and to embrace our relational identities with each other. There is no such thing as a bounded individual or community that isn’t influenced by everything around them.
Richard Wagamese’s “ The Canada Poem ” reminds us: “There are spirit voices talking, weaving threads of disparate stories into one great aural tapestry of talk that will outlast us all – the story of a place called Kanata that has come to mean ‘our home.’ ”
Let’s require a form of collaborative politics based on participating in our relationships, of listening to our many stories, and using appreciative language. Our collective Canadian story, with all of its challenges and dramatic turns, is still being written. Let’s take joy in where we’ve come from and find inspiration for our futures together.
We need a shift in thinking that involves everyone. It’s time to focus on the issues of the future together, to allow candidates to be human, to make mistakes, to apologize, to learn, and to grow. Let’s grow a new era of civility and trust based on the depth of our relationships instead of the shallowness of our division. Respect, collaboration and perhaps even love are needed if we’re going to change.
No matter who wins this election, we challenge all political parties to speak about collaboration based upon horizontal rather than vertical power. Responsible government shares power collectively — with all parties and every citizen. We are ultimately responsible for the governance and wellbeing of this country.
Our futures will change through our dialogue during this election and beyond it. Let’s shift conversations toward what truly matter for our futures, with language that supports positive change.
Derek Gladwin is an author and Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia. Paul Harris served as a municipal councillor for seven years and worked with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. He researches urban transitions, governance and community identity.
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