Words are powerful, but they can also be slippery. Take the word “dog” for example. For some people, when they read that word it conjures up warm feelings of lovely walks on a beach with your favourite companion: for others it might make you feel anxious, or downright terrified. My “dog” could be a 10 pound fluff ball with pink ribbons in her hair: yours, a 150 pound beast who could knock your house down. Same word – very different interpretations.
Let me offer you another one – politics. What do you think of when you read that loaded 8-letter word? Like “dog”, “politics” has an endless number of understandings. Is it the art of the possible practised by our society’s brightest and best, or is it a cesspit of corruption and deceit filled with twisted, lying rascals?
I’d like to suggest that whatever politics started out as – and it seems to me that it was conceived as being much more the inspiring than the insipid – much of the shine has gone off it. For a fairly inexperienced elected official, when it comes to defining Island politics, the last few days have been illuminating.
Last week, during the final days of a provincial by-election, the leader of the official opposition requested an emergency recall of the Legislature in order to debate the e-gaming file. The request was denied by the Speaker of the House, a decision which caused the Conservative leader to claim that the Speaker was being “muzzled” by the Premier. Questioning the independence and integrity of the Speaker is a serious accusation, and I had no sympathy for Mr. Fox’s assertion. And so, armed with this demand for immediate action, and fired up with moral outrage, most of the Conservative caucus arrived at a standing committee meeting on Wednesday morning where there was an opportunity to question PEI’s Auditor General face-to-face. You can perhaps understand my confusion then, when one of them suggested, and then those on the committee collectively agreed to surrender the opportunity to ask those questions after an hour of what was little more than partisan bickering over process. Hardly a single substantive question was asked. What is going on?
This is when our various interpretations of “politics” get revealed.
In old-style, conventional “politics”, every issue is primarily a tool to either bash your opponent over the head, or an opportunity to somehow further your party’s chance to win the next election. Everything that happens is viewed through this partisan filter of opportunism.
When you are determined to do politics differently, every issue is primarily a problem to be solved: an opportunity to improve governance, and therefore the wellbeing of the citizens in your jurisdiction. Everything that happens is seen through the lens of making things better.
An issue that was only a few days earlier a dire emergency cannot, without some implausible mental gymnastics, become something you can’t be bothered to talk about. It was the clearest example of “politics” in its most crass form, and it is why Islanders, and people in many other places, have largely lost faith in their elected representatives. Restoring Islanders’ faith will require some fundamental changes: it calls for nothing less than doing politics differently.