OpEd: Antidote to a polarizing election: let’s work together to bridge the divides

Antidote to a polarizing election: let’s work together to bridge the divides

October 28, 2019 | Published in the Hill Times | By Debbie Douglas, Chris Friesen, Stephan Reichhold, Sarosh Risvi, Katie Rosenberger

What can we conclude from a federal election that resulted in a minority government reflecting stark regional and, in some cases, urban/rural divides?

That we need to work together to bridge those divides.

And with a minority government, we’ve all been given a golden opportunity to do just that.

Let’s make the most of the fact that Canada isn’t painted solely red, dark blue, light blue, orange, green—or, if we’re talking skin colour, white.

Let’s appreciate that we live in a diverse, liberal and well-functioning country — even as it faces uncertainty due to climate change and economic restructuring. Even as it strains under polarizing income inequality, and a hyper-local focus that can make us think in terms of “me” not “we”.

For Canada to bridge those divides, this has to be about “we”, because we are in this together.

That is what vibrant, functioning democracies do. They move beyond election slogans.

For the next while, it’s not Time For You To Get Ahead or In It For You or being On Your Side in particular or anyone else’s. Those ads are now in the dustbin of #elxn43 history.

This next period in our history will test our ability to work together, in service of a collective vision that is inclusive and embraces our different identities and viewpoints.

That is the only way forward in a country whose B.C. is painted blue, orange, red, and green.

Whose Alberta and Saskatchewan are a sea of dark blue with one small orange dot, with an emerging #wexit sentiment.

Whose Manitoba, Ontario and Maritime provinces reflect a mixture of orange, red, blue (and a little green thrown in New Brunswick).

And whose Quebec returned to light blue following a 2015 red wave that followed a 2011 orange wave.

Waves surge and then recede; they’re fluid. And so is Canada.

Waves can also form dangerous undercurrents that drag us under. We’ve seen this in Canada, too. This election surfaced tensions that come from economic angst, racism aimed at immigrants and refugees, and a rise in populism.

It is tempting to join the chorus saying racism and hate were shown the door in this election, with the complete collapse of the most textbook populist party. Hate didn’t win today, but racism and hate are not so easy to defeat. They remain a dangerous undercurrent.

We know from experience here and in other countries that stark divisions are fertile ground for hate. And, so, this is a moment for all political parties to work across differences and unite around policies that will help Canada heal as a diverse country.

Minority government: those are two words that we embrace in the most positive way. Minority governments can be difficult. They can be short-lived (but don’t have to be). They can also provide a real opportunity to rise above hyper-partisanship.

Whatever you voted for or against, we want the same for our children and our grandchildren: shared prosperity, peace, unity, sustainability, and community well-being.

So let’s focus on two words that failed to rise up in the federal election: social cohesion. Let’s remember a key Canadian value, one enshrined in law: Everyone deserves to be treated with respect, dignity, and fair treatment. We don’t always live up to this ideal.

In some way, we already know this. It’s been roiling underneath the surface. So let’s name it.

Let’s name that racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia exist in Canada. Let’s name that the solution is moving forward with an anti-racism strategy and action plan.

Let’s name that a focus on the hyper-local or the hyper-partisan can make many of us forget the big picture: with an aging population, Canada needs new Canadians to help fuel our economy, to provide public services, to contribute to community sustainability.

There is a concerted misinformation campaign aimed at dividing us as a country—new Canadians versus everyone else. And if we let those extremist forces polarize us further, we risk descending into a divided society.

Let’s not devolve into that. Unity is our strength. We need to challenge misinformation on this issue. That’s key to Canadian democracy.

Most importantly, we need to pay attention to more inclusive ways of being, more inclusive modes of economic development, and more inclusive approaches to government decision-making.

So many of these undercurrents were glossed over during the election. With a minority government, we have a responsibility to have the national discussion about inclusion that we weren’t fully able to have during the election—to work toward healing, because Canada’s tensions are not just geographic in nature.

There are pressure points in our local communities that could continue to fester if we don’t address them head on and work toward new solutions, together.

In the brash arena of politics, there is also room for humility—to take a step back and to understand that we’re splintered in a way that we haven’t been in a while.

Minority government can be viewed as challenging, but here’s the advantage: it necessitates compromise in order to make government work. Canadians really want government to work—not just for ourselves, for all of us.

And that is a process, not just a goal. So, post-election, here is the true leadership challenge: can Canada’s political leaders (federal and provincial) meet each other in the middle, to unite rather than divide?

Debbie Douglas is executive director of Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants; Chris Friesen is chair of Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance – Alliance canadienne du secteur de l’établissement des immigrants; Stephan Reichhold est directeur général de la Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes ; Sarosh Rizvi is executive director of Alberta Association of Immigrant Serving Agencies; Katie Rosenberger is chief executive officer of Affiliation of Multicultural Societies and Service Agencies of B.C.

Comments are closed.