Editorial: Toxic culture of politics harming future

It is an undeniable fact that the culture of politics in Canada has become more toxic. From verbal attacks and personal insults levied in the House of Commons, to provincial campaign trails, to local governance – the stench of toxicity has grown in the past two decades.

Last week, Conservative Party of Canada Leader Pierre Poilievre was expelled from the House after calling Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “wacko” and refusing to withdraw his comments from the record. This is the latest example of un-parliamentary language from the highest governing legislature in the country – but not the only one. Politicians from all parties have been guilty of ramping up the rhetoric and personal attacks, forgetting the need for decorum when disagreeing or debating.

Those style of attacks have become far too common by politicians against each other, and by the wider population against elected officials. It is not only at the federal level either. Provincial and municipal officials have also seen the toxicity of politics increase.

The proliferation of online sites has made it easier for individuals and groups with axes to grind to promote their issues. Online comments can be posted with little to no responsibility attached to the poster, but be harmful, degrading, or worse. In the past decade however, that toxicity has moved beyond the keyboard warriors to in-person confrontations – or worse. We have seen offices vandalized, graffiti left on walls, vehicles blocked, and more. All this, while the discourse degraded. Even locally in the last municipal campaign, one candidate was accosted at a public event in a manner that went beyond rude conduct.

The recent mid-term resignations by Russell Township Mayor Pierre Leroux and Gatineau Mayor France Bélisle have only highlighted how far down into the political spectrum this toxicity has spread. Both politicians said this was the reason for their leaving in the middle of their terms. This also highlights the risk to our democratic institutions as a whole.

The risk here is very clear. More and more people who are in politics are choosing to leave political life because of the lack of decorum, the vitriolic online and sometimes in-person attacks. This affects not only those involved in political life, but their families too.

Also at risk is the future of these democratic institutions. How much toxicity can – or should – someone considering entering politics withstand? Is what they want to do for their community, province, or country worth the personal sacrifice of constant thrashing in a sea of toxicity? Is it worth the cost to that person’s family?

The other risk is who is left to run for office. Is it the best and the brightest, with new ideas and experience to elevate political discourse? Or is it just those who are tolerant of wallowing around in the gutter? It is clear that the tone of discourse, within politics and politically speaking at all levels, needs to improve.

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