Civility and respect make for better politics

You may have heard that you catch more flies with honey.  It is a simple axiom promoting civility that rings true time and again, yet it is so often missing in politics.

When parliament resumed after the last election, people questioned whether the New Democrats would be able to deliver on the decorum promised by Jack Layton.  Observers suggested that politics is too much of a blood sport making civility an improbable goal.  Yet, during the first sitting of the 41st parliament, we were able to deliver a much more respectful and well behaved opposition that bore little resemblance to those in recent parliaments.

The driving force in this is a commitment to respect that transcends party lines or ideological differences.  Respect not just for the institution, but for individuals as well.  From that seed a better brand of politics can grow.

This is not to suggest that we should abandon our commitment to and passion for the issues that we were elected on.  Instead, we can pursue them in a more thoughtful, creative and hopefully successful way once the personal attacks are abandoned.

Ultimately, I am talking about a small thing that makes a big difference.  It is the difference between 'excuse me' and 'get out of my way'.  It is the lesson we learned as young children that we somehow forget in the heat of debate.   It is in fact, ‘the golden rule’. 

Some may misread the goal of decorum as a sign of weakness, but it is exactly the opposite.  Once a respectful debate is underway one has to rely on the strengths of their ideas and policies and the ability to convince others along the way.   Debate based on one’s convictions is more difficult than exercises in character assassination. 

Not to be deluded, parliament will always have fiery debates.  That is in fact a good thing.  People will continue to bring their personality along with their ideals and experiences to the chamber as we work through legislation and Question Period.  This was the case in the sitting that ended in late June.

If you will recall, despite closing out with a protracted struggle around the terms and conditions of back-to-work legislation, the tone of the House was still much improved from that of the previous parliament.  It was not perfect and cannot be expected to be so, but it was obvious that people were trying and that makes it easier for others to follow suit.  

If we can continue to change the culture of parliament and engage more Canadians in our national debates it can only be a good thing.   In the end, we will increase participation and do away with a feature of Canadians politics that is consistently rated as a major turn-off for most people.