(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Discussion has been replaced by diatribe.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

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

Angelique Houlihan gets her COVID-19 vaccine jab last week at the community-wide clinic. (Angelique Houlihan photo)
Vaccine clinic continues this week

Plenty of booking spots available

District of Houston
Council adds flexibility to spending decisions

Singles out road works as potential beneficiary

Filling potholes in Houston
Holes filled on Highway 16

Potholes aren’t restricted to District of Houston streets. Lakes District Maintenance crews… Continue reading

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Top doctor warns B.C.’s daily cases could reach 3,000 as COVID hospitalizations surge

There are more than 400 people in hospital, with 125 of them in ICU

The father of Aaliyah Rosa planted a tree and laid a plaque in her memory in 2018. (Langley Advance Times files)
Final witness will extend Langley child murder trial into May or June

Lengthy trial began last autumn with COVID and other factors forcing it to take longer than expected

The corner of 96th Avenue and Glover Road in Fort Langley now has traffic signals, and new “touchless” signal activation buttons. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
Busy Fort Langley intersection gets ‘touchless’ crosswalk signals

The new traffic light started operation in April

A crossing guard stops traffic as students wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 arrive at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. A number of schools in the Fraser Health region, including Woodward Hill, have reported cases of the B.1.7.7 COVID-19 variant first detected in the U.K. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-infected students in Lower Mainland schools transmitting to 1 to 2 others: data

Eight to 13 per cent of COVID cases among students in the Lower Mainland were acquired in schools, B.C. says

Norm Scott, president of Royal Canadian Legion Branch # 91, is disappointed the Legion does not qualify for COVID financial assistance from the provincial government. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C.’s pandemic aid package passing Legion branches by

Federal non-profit status stymies provincial assistance eligibility

Latest modelling by public health shows cases generated by COVID-19 infections into places where it can spread quickly. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
Industrial sites, pubs, restaurants driving COVID-19 spread in B.C.

Infection risk higher in offices, retail, warehouses, farms

Vancouver Canucks forward J.T. Miller said it would be “very challenging and not very safe” for him and his teammates to play as scheduled on Friday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Canucks’ return to ice postponed again after players voice COVID health concerns

Friday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers was called off after the team met virtually with the NHLPA

B.C. Attorney General David Eby, Minister Responsible for Housing. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. announces $2B for affordable, middle-income family home projects

HousingHub financing to encourage more developers, groups – with low-interest loans – to build affordable homes

Most Read