(Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

B.C. VIEWS: A toast to civil debate in the new year

Not only is name calling juvenile, it is unproductive

With another Christmas behind us and a new year ahead, thoughts often turn to the future.

Most resolutions never see the end of February, but if I have one hope for the new year it is a return to civility – both in politics and everyday life.

This is not a new call, and most leaders echoed the thought in their year-end addresses. Prime Minister Trudeau urged Canadians to take better care of each other; Queen Elizabeth reflected on a “bumpy” past year; Governor General Judy Payette called on Canadians to “stand up against hate and violence and to work together hand-in-hand for the common good.”

Noble sentiments, all. But too often they get lost in the din of acrimonious debate.

We see it at council meetings, in the legislature, and most particularly, online.

Discussion has been replaced by diatribe. Argument has devolved into puerile name-calling that should have been left on the playground long ago.

That’s not to say we must agree on every point. Debate is the essence of our democracy. We’ve even institutionalized it with official opposition parties whose job it is to question and critique government policies and priorities.

Nor does it mean we cannot have strong opinions. Not only is it our right to question opinions held by others, it is our responsibility to challenge them if they infringe on the rights of others.

We have some real challenges in British Columbia this year that demand our attention. Yes, our economy is strong, but our forestry sector is in peril, threatening those communities who count on it. Housing affordability in our urban centres remains a critical concern. And the health and welfare of our most vulnerable – including a growing number of seniors – needs long-term answers.

Crafting these solutions will take teamwork and consensus. However, in the past few years we have seen an erosion of this middle ground. Polarization has become entrenched. Inflexibility is a strength, concession a weakness, and suspicion a virtue.

We see it most blatantly online, where personal insults and name-calling have become the norm, and even physical threats have prompted police action.

But we’re also seeing it in our public meetings. A recent Surrey council meeting could hardly be held up as a model of democratic decorum. Not only were councillors shouted down by an angry and vociferous public, the city’s mayor was accused of stifling debate by ramming through his contentious budget.

Former Surrey mayor Dianne Watts called the performance, “disgraceful.”

READ MORE: Surrey budget passes as loud crowd fills city hall

But worse, it’s not productive. That kind of divisiveness undermines confidence in the process, making us skeptical of the results.

We have complicated problems in this province that cannot be solved by yelling insults across the aisle.

It will take reasoned and fact-based debate – but exercised with respect and acknowledgement for other points of view.

The new year is a great time to take stock of where we’ve been and where we want to go. Sure, let’s lose a few pounds, eat more vegetables and exercise more often.

But let’s also do a better job working with each other.

Greg Knill is a columnist and former Black Press editor. Email him at greg.knill@blackpress.ca.


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

RCMP are investigating after a witness reported seeing two individuals breaking into and removing items from a mailbox in Armstrong Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Thieves break into, steal items from Armstrong mailbox

Police investigating after items were taken from a community mailbox on Van Kleeck Avenue Thursday

Tim Hortons in Lake Country banded together to help raise more than $4,700 for the local food bank through its Smile Cookie campaign. (Photo submitted)
Lake Country Tim Hortons brings smiles to food bank

Annual Smile Cookie campaign raises $4,735

RCMP searched for a suspect in Polson Park following an assault on a woman Thursday, Nov. 26. (Morning Star file photo)
Public warned after woman assaulted in Vernon’s Polson Park

RCMP on the hunt for suspect, described as in his 30’s

The resident relations coordinator of Heaton Place Retirement Community in Armstrong, Carrie O’Neill, explores the power of storytelling in her latest column. (Contributed)
Benefits of storytelling boost quality of life for Armstrong seniors

Heaton Place resident relations coordinator looks at the benefits sharing seniors’ stories has

Vernon Morning Star columnist Sam McNair kicks off his spotlight on small businesses with the Fig Bistro. (Sam McNair - contributed)
Small Business Spotlight: Vernon’s Fig Bistro keeps personal touch amid pandemic

Contributor Sam McNair kicks off small business series

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry update the COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Nov. 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 887 new cases

Another 13 deaths, ties the highest three days ago

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Kelowna firefighters on scene of an apartment fire on Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News)
Firefighters tend to apartment blaze along Gordon Drive

Two dogs were found safe inside the unit

Alexandre Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty to a mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque, arrives at the courthouse in Quebec City on February 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mathieu Belanger - POOL
Court strikes down consecutive life sentences; mosque shooter has prison term cut

The decision was appealed by both the defence and the Crown

Gold medallists in the ice dance, free dance figure skating Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, of Canada, pose during their medals ceremony at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Charlie Riedel
Olympic champions Virtue, Moir and Tewksbury among 114 Order of Canada inductees

Moir and Virtue catapulted to national stardom with their gold-medal performances at the Winter Olympics in 2018

Shoppers line up in front of a shop on Montreal’s Saint-Catherine Street in search of Black Friday deals in Montreal, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Black Friday shopping in a pandemic: COVID-19 closes some stores, sales move online

Eric Morris, head of retail at Google Canada, says e-commerce in Canada has doubled during the pandemic.

School District 27 announced the first confirmed case of COVID-19 this week (Nov. 23) at Lake City Secondary School Williams Lake campus. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Entire gym class at northern B.C. high school isolating after confirmed COVID case

Contact tracing by Interior Health led to the quarantine

After twice have their wedding plans altered due to COVID-19 restrictions, Suzanne Schmidt and Andrew Sturgess got married in Bakerview Park last weekend, with the only guests being their two daughters, Zoey (foreground) and Tessa. (Darren Ripka photo)
From New Zealand to Bakerview Park, B.C. couple weds in ‘backyard’

Twice scaled-down wedding ‘proof that good things still happen during bad times’

Most Read