The new year and decade are ours to shape and define for Canada.
What qualities do we identify as Canadian? Being kind, friendly, and polite? Caring about our neighbours and looking after each other? Being good stewards of Canada? Respecting individual and collective rights? Upholding democracy? Providing universal education and healthcare? What else?
In recent years, we’ve witnessed a troubling trend across western democracies: people and political parties riding into public office largely on the politics of division.
Despite our self-perceptions around what it means to be Canadian, we have not escaped this wave.
Fear-mongering and demonizing may provide short-term gain to those who wish to hold office and power, but ultimately it eats away at democracy and robs us of what we need right now: leadership, integrity and consensus-building.
Politicians who believe the act of winning an election means they do not have to look to the overall population, not just their base, for four years are not good for any democracy.
Compare and contrast the leadership styles of two Lower Mainland mayors: Brad West of Port Coquitlam and Doug McCallum of Surrey.
West has shared his view that populism is not a dirty word and that the evolving realities of regular people need to be taken into account when making political decisions. He’s also not afraid to publicly challenge the ethics of decisions made by other politicians.
On the other hand, McCallum appears to believe he has an unquestionable four-year mandate to enact everything he and his elector team raised during the last municipal election. Demands for on-going public input and consultation seem largely ignored.
These two approaches do not strike me as particularly tethered to political ideologies. They are more closely tied to the individuals, and perhaps that is where we need to turn our collective attention when it comes to electing our representatives.
Hyper-partisan types will argue, but our major federal and provincial parties are not all that far from each other on the political spectrum, and a consensus model would serve us well.
As a nation, province and community, we face unprecedented challenges and opportunities as we head into the 2020s. Successfully navigating the coming decade is going to require that our elected representatives work together with open minds and, no matter their political stripe, that they behave like statesmen.
Politicians are our political appointees, not our political masters. And if the goal is to strengthen our democracy and stay together as a nation, it’s critical everyone recognizes this.
Recent history has seen us move further and further away from consensus. The loudest voices are holding more sway and are often narrowly-focused.
We need people and groups to raise issues, but the next step – finding and implementing policy solutions – must take into account all other aspects of government responsibility.
In other words, it must fit an overall vision of who we strive to be.
It’s not enough to simply enact a few changes to deliver enough votes to get re-elected. This approach to politics sets us up for see-sawing between election cycles.
Screaming at each other further divides us, and threatens our unity as a country.
Without long-term vision, we will eventually crumble from within.
John Horgan and Andrew Weaver have shown they are adept at consensus-building. Horgan is gaining a reputation as a leader who can work with other premiers and the federal government.
Hopefully, the minority government in Ottawa will also demonstrate effective consensus-building on our behalf.
In 2020, British Columbians will likely be spared the angst and rhetoric of elections. Even with a minority parliament in Ottawa, there won’t be another federal election for at least a year.
It’s possible the provincial NDP will pull the plug late 2020, but more likely it will serve out its full term and call an election in the fall of 2021.
The next general round of municipal elections in British Columbia is Oct. 15, 2022.
In the meantime, consider getting involved with a political party. Nomination processes for leaders and local candidates are ongoing. Have your say in who will be on the ballot in the future at the provincial and federal levels.
We need to elevate more politicians with personal histories of integrity and ethics.
Jody Wilson-Raybould is a good example.
Working toward consensus does not mean it will always be achieved or that there will be unanimous agreement. What is does mean is a broader range of voices are heard and considered and citizens are generally more involved in decisions between elections.
It steps us away from the polarizing partisan politics that are tearing apart our neighbours to the south.
If ever there was a time to pay close attention to politics, it’s now, as they will define the 2020s.
Katherine Wagner is a member of the Citizens’ Task Force on
a former school trustee and
member of Golden Ears Writers.