(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Discussion has been replaced by diatribe.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

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson outlines the province’s three-year budget in Victoria, April 20, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C. deficit to grow by $19 billion for COVID-19 recovery spending

Pandemic-year deficit $5 billion lower than forecast

FILE – Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have agreed to sign a memorandum on rights and title with B.C. and Ottawa, but elected chiefs are demanding it be called off over lack of consultation. (Thom Barker photo)
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, Lake Babine Nation get provincial funding for land, title rights

Government says it’s a new, flexible model for future agreements between Canada, B.C. and First Nations.

The property on which a residential school (pictured) that was torn down years ago in Lower Post is to be the location of a cultural centre. (Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre photo)
Lower Post residential school building to be demolished, replaced with cultural centre

Project to be funded by federal and provincial governments, Daylu Dena Council

Photo collage of loved ones lost to substance use and overdose. (Photo courtesy Moms Stop The Harm)
B.C. overdose deaths still rising 5 years after public health emergency declared

Moms Stop the Harm calls on B.C. to provide safe supply in response to deadly illicit drug use

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has suspended indoor dining at restaurants and pubs until at least April 19 in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. sets new COVID-19 daily record with 1,293 cases Thursday

New order allows workplace closures when infections found

FILE – NDP Leader John Horgan, right, and local candidate Mike Farnworth greet one another with an elbow bump during a campaign stop in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday, September 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. won’t be using random individual road stops to enforce travel rules: Safety Minister

Minister Mike Farnworth says travel checks only being considered at major highway junctions, ferry ports

A man pauses at a coffin after carrying it during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. announces historic half-billion-dollar funding for overdose crisis, mental health

Of it, $152 million will be used to address the opioid crisis and see the creation of 195 new substance use treatment beds

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a CEFA (Core Education and Fine Arts) Early Learning daycare franchise, in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. budget to expand $10-a-day child care, but misses the mark on ‘truly universal’ system

$111 million will be used to fund 3,750 new $10-a-day spaces though 75 additional ChildCareBC universal prototype sites over the next three years.

Mak Parhar speaks at an anti-mask rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. Parhar was arrested on Nov. 2 and charged with allegedly violating the Quarantine Act after returning from a Flat Earth conference held in Geenville, South Carolina on Oct. 24. (Flat Earth Focker/YouTube.com screenshot)
Judge tosses lawsuit of B.C. COVID-denier who broke quarantine after Flat Earth conference

Mak Parhar accused gov, police of trespass, malfeasance, extortion, terrorism, kidnapping and fraud

Ambulance paramedic in full protective gear works outside Lion’s Gate Hospital, March 23, 2020. Hospitals are seeing record numbers of COVID-19 patients more than a year into the pandemic. (The Canadian Press)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate declines, 849 cases Tuesday

Up to 456 people now in hospital, 148 in intensive care

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

Christy Clark, who was premier from 2011 to 2017, is the first of several present and past politicians to appear this month before the Cullen Commission, which is investigating the causes and impact of B.C.’s money-laundering problem over the past decade. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)
Christy Clark says she first learned of money-laundering spike in 2015

The former B.C. premier testified Tuesday she was concerned the problem was ‘apparently at an all-time high’

Most Read