Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Opportunity Knocks: a return of civility
The outcome of the 1993 federal election was perhaps one of the most divisive and transformative elections on record. It ushered in an era of mudslinging, contempt, cheap partisan tricks and mistrust. A chapter that may have only been closed with the recent 2011 federal election.
Similar to the recent election, the 1993 election ushered in an unprecedented number of rookie MPs. The 1993 group was not interested in respect for institutions, tradition, decorum, and at times each other – and this is something that, hopefully, the class of 2011 will not repeat. In short, the respect for Parliament and civility towards others died a little bit with the 1993 election, and it is only, perhaps, now that we can right the ship.
In 1993, the three parties which had fought each election in the prevous decades were suddenly challenged by new comers from the West and Quebec. The Bloc Quebecois, formed out of Quebec’s disillusionment with the Meech Lake Accord, and fuelled by the Charlottetown Accord, campaigned on Quebecers dissatisfaction with Ottawa. The Bloc was rewarded with official opposition status. The Reform Party formed on the idea of western alienation (the West Wants In), campaigned on the grassroots notion that Ottawa was filled with lazy MPs, incapable of managing, but receiving generous perks at taxpayers expense. For taking numerous seats from the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP, they were rewarded with third party status. The NDP and PCs both dropped official party status. The NDP has spent the past 18 years rebuilding. The PCs were not so fortunate and they had to be taken over by the Reform/Canadian Alliance.
The 1993 election left Parliament divided between a party that wanted to throw out the old and a party that wanted to break up Canada. While a sudden increase of new MPs poses a challenge to appropriate conduct in Parliament, the Reform and Bloc MPs lacked respect for all the tradition and civility that was embodies in Parliament.
In 2011 we have an opportunity to redress this problem. 100 rookie MPs – many from the NDP and Quebec. Unlike 1993, these people were not elected to break Ottawa, but to set it straight. There is a real opportunity to move away from the circus that plays out in the living rooms of Canadians – a circus of well dressed, mostly white men shouting, mean-spirited partisan attacks – and that is only in Question Period.
Whereas the Bloc and the Reform were new parties with no history in Parliament, the NDP has a long history of being an effective opposition. There is an opportunity to mentor new MPs, show them the ropes and teach appropriate conduct. Being promoted to the Official Opposition for the first time with a much larger caucus, the NDP has several issues that it will have to address (how to mesh as a team, division of resources and hiring of staff, focusing the team as the government-in-waiting – to name a few), and mentoring the new recruits should be a top priority.
I would be remised if I did not point out that Stephen Harper was part of the Reform class of 1993, and the behaviour on the governing Conservative benches may not always meet the standards of professionalism, or even civility. The Conservatives are unlikely to change. This means that there will be four years of unwarranted personal attacks on Jack Layton and NDP MPs. But that does not mean that the NDP cannot rise above.
Canadians responded to Jack Layton and the NDP’s positive message. Now the NDP will have to put that positive image on display in Parliament.