(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Discussion has been replaced by diatribe.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

Correlieu Secondary School students Hanna Fitchett, Justin Pugh and Jaeana Dumais (missing from photo) were recently recognized by the Quesnel and District Arts Council for their poetry submissions to the community writing contest. The students’ work was inspired by the novel Wenjack and the film The Secret Path. (Photo Submitted)
LETTER: Quesnel high school students’ poetry recognized

CSS thanks the Quesnel and District Arts Council and its community writing contest partners

The director of the Wells Snowmobile Club, Dexter Knorr, shared what is in his safety kit when sledding. Included are spare parts for his machine, like sparkplugs, and specially-designed tow ropes. (Submitted Photo)
Wells Snowmobile Club director shares tips for safe sledding

Two Prince George men were recently stranded on Yanks Peak, one overnight

In this file photo from 2019, Tammy Burrows of the Wild Women of the North Society organizes the donations before the group of volunteers begins assembling Christmas hampers Dec. 22 at the Quesnel Tillicum Society Native Friendship Centre. The society is collecting food hamper items again this winter, along with winter clothing and warm gear. (Quesnel Cariboo Observer File Photo)
There are many ways to help fill Christmas hampers in and around Quesnel

Many businesses, volunteers and the RCMP are collecting hamper items over the next few weeks

A masked statue of Billy Barker sits on top of his namesake casino in downtown Quesnel. As we head into the weekend, Northern Health is urging residents to follow all provincial health orders, which include mandatory masks inside all indoor spaces. (Cassidy Dankochik Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
A masked statue of Billy Barker sits on top of his namesake casino, eight months to the day it was closed to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Owner Brad Kotzer said they won’t be opening in 2020. (Cassidy Dankochik Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Northern Health urges residents to respect COVID-19 rules

The number of COVID-19 cases has been growing, and Northern Health saw 35 new cases from Nov. 26-27

Coralee Oakes won 48.42 per cent of ballots in the Cariboo North district in the October election, en route to winning a third term as MLA. (Photo Submitted)
Cariboo North MLA sworn in, despite technical difficulties

Coralee Oakes began her third term as the region’s MLA but couldn’t attend the virtual ceremony

Mary Cox and Jack Plant dance in their pyjamas and slippers at the morning pyjama dance during the Rhythm Reelers’ 25 Annual Rally in the Valley Square Dance Festival in Chilliwack on June 4, 2011. Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 is Square Dancing Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Nov. 29 to Dec. 5

Square Dancing Day, Disability Day and International Ninja Day are all coming up this week

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Kevin Bieksa during his days playing with the Vancouver Canucks. (Photo: commons.wikimedia.org)
Bieksa to guest on free Canucks Alumni ‘Hot Stove’ on Zoom app

Former NHL player has become a game analyst on Sportsnet

114 Canadians were appointed Nov. 27 to the Order of Canada. (Governor General of Canada photo)
Indigenous actor, author, elder, leaders appointed to Order of Canada

Outstanding achievement, community dedication and service recognized

More than 60 cm of snow has fallen at Ulkatcho First Nation near Anahim Lake in the Chilcotin since a snowfall warning went into effect Thursday, Nov. 26. (Graham West photo)
VIDEO: More than 60 cm of snowfall in Chilcotin since Thursday, Nov. 26

Graham West of Ulkatcho First Nation captures the scene on video

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

A big job: Former forests minister Doug Donaldson stands before a 500-year-old Douglas fir in Saanich to announce preservation of some of B.C.’s oldest trees, July 2019. (B.C. government)
B.C. returning to ‘stand-alone’ forests, rural development ministry

Horgan says Gordon Campbell’s super-ministry doesn’t work

Peter Wilson, left, and Micah Rankin, right, formed the Special Prosecutor team that was tasked with reviewing and litigating charges stemming from the Bountiful investigation. Trevor Crawley photo.
End of Bountiful prosecution wraps up decades of legal battles

Constitutional questions had to be settled before a polygamy prosecution could move forward

Alexandre Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty to a mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque, arrives at the courthouse in Quebec City on February 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mathieu Belanger - POOL
Court strikes down consecutive life sentences; mosque shooter has prison term cut

The decision was appealed by both the defence and the Crown

Most Read