Hyper Partisanship

Hyper Partisanship

August 26, 2021

Edmonton will always be my home. It’s the city I love and the city I was fortunate enough to represent in Ottawa. Being a politician means you are the butt of every joke – especially your own jokes. But it’s hard to express how rewarding it can be. 

For four years I had the honour of working for my neighbours. With that, the ability to make a real and meaningful difference for people in our city, whether confirming a big infrastructure project that will make commutes or life better for people, reuniting families or simply helping someone get back on their feet. These acts of advocacy were often made possible with the help of partners such as provincial MLAs, City Councillors, charities, advocacy groups, and businesses. Each of our partners cared more for serving people than following a political party and each cared more about completing something than getting credit. 

Since the last election, these are the things that have stuck with me. The memories I find myself reflecting on again and again. It isn’t easy to lose an election, and yet, I couldn’t help but leave my time as a Member of Parliament full of optimism about the things we can achieve when we all pull in the same direction.

And often in politics, that desire to work for a common goal, to head in the same direction seems impossible. The very nature of our politics is a winner takes all structure and Parliament itself two chambers of adversaries. Just watch Question Period and you will see how Government and Opposition are physically and psychologically pitted against each other. That structure seeps into the work and the ethos of the place and those who work there and who strive to find common ground. 

Imperceptibly as first, and then with greater ease and encouragement from colleagues on the same side of an issue, we incentivize political activity aimed at attacking one another as people, rather than aimed at helping those that are affected by an issue at hand. 

The way we interact with social media, the way we consume political news as if it is a sport, the way elected officials become isolated from the real and practical needs of their constituents, all contributes to a hyper-partisan environment that leaves us more frustrated and more suspicious but no closer to solutions. Hyper partisanship is an insidious arms race. It leaves politicians finding wedges when we should be finding consensus. It finds us reaching for a quick jab when we should be reaching across the aisle. It sees us focus on each other when we should be focusing on Canadians.

I saw first hand just how damaging hyper-partisanship is to our politics. I did it myself by participating in politics in a way that pitted people of integrity and good faith against one another. It is something I regret. It is something I want to help solve. 

So what do we do about it? I don’t have a perfect solution but I do think it starts with posts like this, With individuals in public life acknowledging the problem out loud. It also means more attempts, failed and successful, to reach across the aisle. To solve problems without taking the political victory lap. It means changing or not sending the zinger tweet aimed at the person and always focusing on the issue, not the bearer of the argument. 

If we can focus on the needs of the people we serve, have important and robust debates, and resist that urge to go for the slight or the cheap shot, then we will be much further along and much further away from hyper-partisanship. 

Over the next several weeks, I am going to be sharing more about my experiences in politics and about the people I met along the way. I want to share the stories of what we can accomplish when we work together and put the focus back to where it belongs: on people.