It’s time for real dialogue between our elected representatives

MLAs may differ in their vision for the province and its people, but their views are equally valid.

By Andre Carrel

Elections around the world suggest that people are fed-up. Democracy has been corrupted by politicians and their promises. Citizens crave to be respected and engaged rather than toyed with.

Elections have been reduced to denigrating opponents and to showering benefits on supporters. Democracy’s foundation is not power, it is dialogue. The hallmark of democratic dialogue is in the integrity of the exchange of ideas and opinions preceding decisions on challenging questions. The value of dialogue arises from listening with an effort to understand.

Democratic politics has been vulgarized by crass commercialism. Politicians spouting slogans from podiums adorned with self-serving propaganda are not engaged in dialogue. They don’t care about your thoughts and opinions. They vilify and smear all who hold a different point of view. They are engaged in a caustic battle.

Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza forewarned that “the most tyrannical governments are those which make crimes of opinions, for everyone has an inalienable right to his thoughts.”

Unlike dandelions, dialogue needs much care, attention, and nurturing if it is to blossom. If the Legislature were to extend its annual sessions to 100 days, how could MLAs use that extra time? How about pairing MLAs from opposing parties and distant regions to give them an opportunity to get to know and understand each other? By spending more time in each other’s company, these pairs could work on understanding and respecting each other’s backgrounds and experiences. MLAs from thriving and from struggling communities could learn from each other, and come to better understand society’s conflicting realities. An arrangement of this kind may help teach MLAs the art of dialogue.

People who prefer apple juice to orange juice are not wrong. Can MLAs learn to recognize and appreciate that colleagues who hold to other political philosophies are not wrong? They may differ in their vision for the province and its people, but their views are equally valid. Efforts to understand the other may lead MLAs to appreciate the meaning and complexity of a free society.

Real dialogue may lead our MLAs to rediscover the richness of communication. It may convince MLAs to abandon crass political marketing and restore democracy to political discourse. It may help to craft compromise in the search for answers to difficult questions on the road toward consensus politics.

At this stage MLAs will have learned the art of dialogue. Citizens, on their part, will be eager to engage their MLAs in discussions free of demagoguery.

Andre Carrel is a retired public sector administrator living in Terrace, B.C.

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