EDITORIAL: Let’s keep tone civil

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With the profound political polarization in U.S. politics on full display last week, it’s a good time to ask whether the politics of anger and division are leaching into Canada.

There is no question Canadians have been captivated by the fireworks surrounding the confirmation hearings of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and the sexual assault allegations levelled against him.

The composition of the U.S. Supreme Court and the decisions it renders are not likely to directly affect Canadians, but the hearings themselves delved into universal issues. Sexual assault and the fate of women who come forward are as problematic in Canada as in America.

The Kavanaugh hearings have exposed deep divisions even among Canadians, as was evident in the flood of reactions to Bruce MacKinnon’s Sept. 29 cartoon of Lady Justice being pinned down by Republican hands. Debate in our Letters to the Editor section was highly polarized; writers called the image everything from “startling, true, brave” to “hate speech” and “near-hysterical.”

Are incendiary rhetoric, perpetual outrage and a deepening political divide becoming a normal part of the Canadian conversation, too? The short answer is no. For now.

Canadian politics remains a place of civility, and for the most part politeness is the rule. There have been outbursts, but expressions of anger and raw emotion have not boiled over into our day-to-day discourse.

The biggest difference between Canada and America today is the Donald Trump factor. In his tweets and speeches, the president has hurled insults at opponents, immigrants and reporters. He has even insulted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, calling him “dishonest and weak.”

When the commander-in-chief makes name-calling a part of his political vocabulary, he sets the tone of the discussion. Add to that the silos of Twitter, Facebook and online comment forums and you have the makings of a self-perpetuating rage machine. Name-calling begets more name-calling and that drives further polarization.

Of course, there is more feeding the political divide in America. Immigration, racialized violence, the #MeToo movement, the collapse of certain industries and a growing wealth gap have all added to the volatile climate.

Those forces are present in Canada, though to a lesser extent. For example, we too have witnessed the election of a populist in Doug Ford who, as premier of Ontario (lest we forget), is the leader of almost one-third of the Canadian population. Meanwhile, Quebec MP Maxime Bernier has broken away from the federal Conservatives and started his own party which is fuelled in part by anti-immigration sentiment.

As well, there are regional resentments and wide chasms in views across Canada on issues like pipelines, fracking and Aboriginal rights. It wouldn’t take much to make the divides deeper and darker. We shouldn’t fool ourselves into believing we are above an American-style free-for-all. Things could change fast.

Yet even when faced with separatist crises that threatened its very existence, Canada has distinguished itself throughout its history as a country where we may disagree on fundamental beliefs without being disagreeable. Let’s try our best to hang on to that.



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