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.

-Peter

 

8 Comments

  1. david weale 20 October 2016 at 3:56 pm

    Excellent…the political culture of PEI is basically party first, Island second, and integrity next to last. For it is the party that is viewed as the giver of every good and perfect gift.

     
  2. W.Wilkins 20 October 2016 at 4:36 pm

    The e-gaming scandal makes me apathetic. Politicians and their friends win, Islanders lose. Sounds to me like the system is working just as it’s designed to work, no?

     
  3. Irwin Judson 20 October 2016 at 9:02 pm

    Peter, you are correct. I am ecstatic that you won a seat as an MLA.

    I had hoped Mr. MacLauchlan would be transformative, maybe even a shadow of Alex Campbell. He should be wealthy enough not to be beholden to anybody for a job and salary, and therefore could act for the best for the people of The Island.

    I would like to think – re e-gaming – that Mr. MacLauchlan would have no need to protect the rascals the last election chased out and that he could, untainted, clear the air, let said rascals receive their just medicine, and go forward on the high road.

    I am baffled to the extreme, I believe in the (an?) electoral system, believe also that we get the government we deserve, and get really peeved with those who cuss but do not vote.

    I am so disappointed. It is getting harder to keep apathy from entering my being. Unlike W.Wilkins above, ‘apoplectic’ more accurately describes my mood, especially in regard to e-gaming.

     
    • W.Wilkins 21 October 2016 at 10:31 am

      As an aside, but still addressing the points raised by Bevan-Baker, I’d recommend a book by James Hoggan: I’m Right and You’re An Idiot; The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How To Clean It Up.

      The book examines how collaboration and communication can either be enabled or impeded by the design of a political system. In this, I think, Bevan-Baker is correct. We do need fundamental changes and it does call for nothing less than doing politics differently. But, what does that look like – and more importantly, do we really want it?

      The book reminds readers that facts don’t cause change anymore than self righteous indignation, and that smashing heads together doesn’t open minds. In this, a political system that’s designed to be oppositional (as opposed to inquisitorial) is limited to certain results.

      The absence of authentic listening, truth telling and civil discourse by our politicians doesn’t happen by accident, it happens by design – to the point that we wouldn’t recognize our government if its primary indicators were truth telling and civility. Design matters. A mixed martial arts octagon isn’t designed to produce health and well-being anymore than will a government designed to be oppositional and combative.

      If Islanders can’t make (or don’t want to make) the distinction between the indicators of a good hockey game and the indicators of good governance, then all we can hope for are the same results the political system delivered yesterday.

      Hey, the past is a great place to visit, but I don’t want to live there. However, to condemn our children to live there is nothing short of a tragedy.

       
  4. Leon Berrouard 21 October 2016 at 8:01 am

    Ultimately, the “Fox” is guarding the hen house while pretending to get into it.

     
  5. Bill Kays 21 October 2016 at 8:31 am

    I agree with all the comments made here by both Bevan-Baker and public commenters. The current political system was designed to keep power unto those already in power, thus presenting an illusion to the general public that we have some control over our own destinies through voting for different talking heads. It really makes no difference who the heads are, as the underlying agenda from above is always there, invisible most of the time, but there nonetheless, constantly exerting the needed pressures to ensure a compliant serfdom. It is more evident as you watch the USA political process take place.

     
  6. Chester Llewellyn 21 October 2016 at 8:57 am

    Well Mr Bevan you have my vote on this discussion; your sentence here ” Restoring Islanders’ faith will require some fundamental changes: it calls for nothing less than doing politics differently.” if insightful thinking and used by sober, sane, compassionate and caring folks a round table forum could be had of such interested folks and further defining ” fundamental changes ” as a list of items all with Honesty, Accountability, Transparency being a hallmark and with I hope Proportional Representation of any description in the next election we could begin the move towards with building an Agenda for change that would be equality shared for all citizens of PEI and not the chosen few or those who have more than those who have less…..it could happen…….i would love to be part of this march forward…….# 1 I would vote Green next election …………60 years of politics is now worn out and the win in Wilmont shows this by the share of votes that went around…this was in no way a Liberal win but a warning to the PC’s and the Liberals that change is coming even though is may not come quickly…….lets build this New Start and not on the past………thanks for this space for discussion…….I am optmistic.:)

     
  7. Greg Ross 23 October 2016 at 9:50 pm

    On the matter of e-gaming, when I heard the media reports on the outcome of the Committee session intending to have a direct interface with the Provincial Auditor General……..
    I was disgusted, are we to assume the Premier is continuing to manage this file, in damage control mode.
    An example of politics at its absolute worst when there is wilful misdirection.
    Peter,
    What are your options.

     

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