Sunday, October 19, 2008

In defense of opposing viewpoints

Note: The Oct. 20. 2008 issue of the Edmonton Journal has a shorter version of this blog entry in its Opinion section.

Canada had a national election on Oct. 14, 2008 and this blog is a follow-up to that event. It was triggered by an entry in the Edmonton Journal's Sound Off! section on Thursday, Oct. 16 by someone identifying herself as Jen.

As background, in the past few elections Alberta, an oil rich province with right wing politics, has elected almost all Conservatives to Parliament and in 2008 they were expected to sweep all 28 seats. There was only one Conservative loss in Alberta and it was in my riding of Edmonton-Strathcona, which encompasses the University of Alberta. The Conservative MP, 36 year old Rahim Jaffer, who had held the seat since 1997, lost to the NDP candidate, Linda Duncan.

I was saddened but not surprised to read Jen's comments in Sound Off! Her post began, "Ms. Duncan, you won't be speaking for Alberta in Ottawa. You likely won't be speaking for anyone since you are an NDP MP with the power to do squat."

Clearly Jen does not understand the role of alternative viewpoints in a democracy. Taken to their absurd conclusion, in Jen's world there would be no opposition MPs and our Parliament would be like the old Soviet Union or any other one party state. Perhaps in a world dominated by the Jens of Alberta, no political dissent would be tolerated.

Political opposition is fundamental to democracy. It allows citizens to resolve differences peacefully, keep the ruling party sharp, and forge solutions that encompass the views of all citizens, not just those that voted for the winning party. Without opposition parties, all we would have is a dictatorship that does the will of the majority. The rights of minorities and alternative viewpoints would remain at the mercy of the ruling party. Under such a system, how could we ever be persuaded to change governments?

The career of Howard Pawley in Manitoba is instructive. He first ran for public office in the 1957 federal election finishing fourth with 443 votes. In the 1958 provincial election, he received 801 votes, finishing third. In the 1965 federal election, he received 4,456 votes, finishing third. In the 1969 provincial election he won a seat as an NDP MLA. In 1981 Pawley became Premier of Manitoba, a post he held until 1988. In 2001 he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.

In Jen's world, this man would be condemned as doing squat with his life, at least until he came a member of a ruling party.

Over the 31 years I have lived in Edmonton I have come across many Jens. At first I was shocked by the relative lack of diverse political views here and especially by the anger displayed by so many Alberta supporters of the then Reform party. I came to call them the "haters" because they were always so angry and literally detested those who dared to disagree with them politically. The joy of living in a democracy was lost to them. They were mired in a sea of resentment and spite against the dreaded Easterners and whatever other bogeymen local politicians cynically tossed up to ensure their re-election.

Jen compliments Rahim Jaffer on being a good representative in Ottawa. I'm not so sure about how good he was. Regardless, many good representatives lose elections, especially if they get caught up in their own celebrity.

The bilingual Rahim, a member of a visible minority, certainly was a poster boy for the old Reform Party in the days when it was known for its anti-immigration, anti-French elements. Lately he has become more known for being on lists of the hippest or sexiest or laziest MPs.

As a representative of Edmonton-Strathcona Rahim had minimal impact so far as I can tell as a resident of the constituency. Leading up to the election, we got weekly Conservative advertisements disguised as surveys asking us which leader we thought was better qualified to do this or that.

More than 20,000 people voted for Linda Duncan. She will be speaking for me in Ottawa, indeed for all citizens in our riding. From what I know about her she will be an exemplary, talented, hard working MP.

How is it that Albertans like Jen are not content with winning 27 of 28 seats? Jen sarcastically ends her Sound Off! comments with, "Ain't democracy great!"

Yes, Jen, it is.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.