Last week, the Speaker of the House in Canada’s Parliament, Anthony Rota, finally laid down the law when it comes to acceptable behaviour in that chamber. It’s doubtful it will do any good, but we shall see.
If you are a Liberal, you will happily blame the Conservatives for this. If you are a Conservative, you will blame the Liberals and if you support the NDP you will blame everyone but them. That is the nature of partisanship these days.
You can blame who you want if that makes you feel better, but the reality is, that all of the Parties in the House of Commons are responsible for a state of dysfunction, anger, and personal attacks well beyond anything that has been seen there in decades.
The Commons is by definition a debating chamber, but it was never intended, at least in this country, as a venue for a street-fight atmosphere, where many of the participants on both sides of the House get down in the gutter and shoot from the hip like an episode from West Side Story. The Speaker was right to have a temper tantrum about that.
Some will no doubt believe that what happens in the House of Commons really doesn’t matter, but I beg to differ. In many ways, with members from all parts of Canada, it is a microcosm of what we are experiencing these days across the country; less tolerance of other people’s views, more insistence that everyone dance to the same tune, and a tendency to embrace character assassination when it suits a particular narrative. One really needs to ask if that is really where we want to be as a nation.
In Ontario, at least, there has been much attention paid this past week to a decision by the York Roman Catholic District School Board not to fly the pride flag during the month of June. Most of the online commentary about this decision has been highly critical of that decision and more widely used to disparage the Roman Catholic Church in general.
I admit that my first reaction to the board’s decision was one of disappointment. I believe we all deserve to be respected and treated equally and compassionately for who we are, regardless of our sexual orientation, which most of us do not choose but are born with.
But a day or two ago, a good friend of mine provided me with another perspective regarding the board’s decision. Although he didn’t say it this way, he made me realize that a truly inclusive society includes those who have different views from those in the majority. He asked why, as we accept and often embrace the views of others, should one be criticized for being true to their own beliefs?
The facts are that the Roman Catholic Church and a number of other institutions of faith have doctrinal tenets related to same-sex relationships which puts them in a very difficult place when asked to promote them. In my experience, that does not mean they don’t care, that they lack empathy, or that they do not advocate the well-being and safety of every individual.
And so, after much reflection, while I recognize that it raises a number of difficult questions, I respect the decision of the York school board to stand by their principles related to flying the flag. Whether we agree with them or not, in my mind, they should not be forced to do so.
I use that issue as an example of the challenges we face today. As the world changes as populism thrives, I wonder whether, in actual fact, we are becoming more tolerant or less tolerant of other people’s points of view. We talk about freedom, but I wonder if we are instead suppressing it. Are we expecting everyone today to go along with what is currently politically correct? Are we intolerant of those who won’t? Is that why the House of Commons and much of our society are deadlocked today?
Is it okay for me to tell my grandchildren the good things that Sir John A. Macdonald did in making Canada a nation, in spite of his perceived flaws? When it is politically correct to imply there is nothing good to say about the Indigenous Residential schools in Canada, am I allowed to point out that many dedicated, well-intentioned individuals devoted their lives to serving Indigenous people or that some students from those institutions have done well, including one becoming a Territorial Premier?
Is it politically incorrect to defend the reputation of former Governor General David Johnston when it has been shattered on account of one aspect of his distinguished career? On that one, I am with former Ontario Premier Bob Rae when he said, “I am not commenting publicly on David Johnston’s Report, but I can say, without hesitation, that he is an intelligent, caring thoughtful person and a person of integrity and good judgment. It has been my good fortune to have known him for over forty years. It is possible to disagree with people without attacking their character and integrity.”
The point I want to make here is that the saddest thing that can happen in our Canadian society as we move ahead, is a belief that we must all be on the same page on all issues and that when people disagree or don’t toe the “politically correct” line, they are fair game for ridicule and character assassination. Like Bob Rae, I DO believe it is possible to disagree with people without attacking their character or integrity.
We must always remember, in my view, that people have a right to disagree or to hold opinions that are not necessarily those of the majority. Any other approach to governance borders on a dictatorship
Respectful disagreement and meaningful dialogue works. No one should be afraid of the consequences of stating their own truth or point of view. Certainly not in Canada.
It’s time to lower the temperature.
Hugh Mackenzie has held elected office as a trustee on the Muskoka Board of Education, a Huntsville councillor, a District councillor, and mayor of Huntsville. He has also served as chairman of the District of Muskoka and as chief of staff to former premier of Ontario, Frank Miller.
Hugh has also served on a number of provincial, federal and local boards, including chair of the Ontario Health Disciplines Board, vice-chair of the Ontario Family Health Network, vice-chair of the Ontario Election Finance Commission, and board member of Roy Thomson Hall, the National Theatre School of Canada, and the Anglican Church of Canada. Locally, he has served as president of the Huntsville Rotary Club, chair of Huntsville District Memorial Hospital, chair of the Huntsville Hospital Foundation, president of Huntsville Festival of the Arts, and board member of Community Living Huntsville.
In business, Hugh Mackenzie has a background in radio and newspaper publishing. He was also a founding partner and CEO of Enterprise Canada, a national public affairs and strategic communications firm established in 1986.
Currently, Hugh is president of C3 Digital Media Inc., the parent company of Doppler Online, and he enjoys writing commentary for Huntsville Doppler.
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