The sour side of democracy

It has been tempting, even fashionable, to cringe at the American experience in democracy these last few weeks. Between the election of a president with no political experience and controversial views, and late vote counts leaving Donald Trump with about 2.4 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton, many Canadians are aghast at what they’re seeing.

No so fast.

While the mechanics of Canadian democracy tend to work better, the modus operandi of how we carry out our democracy remains ugly.

I have watched question period at the House of Commons and in Queen’s Park in Ontario in disgust, but it’s been a while, so while attending Agribition, I took the opportunity to attend question period in the Saskatchewan legislature, as did 68 elementary schoolchildren, who sat in the public gallery well-behaved and seemingly interested in the proceedings.

What they saw couldn’t have impressed them.

Neither the NDP nor the Sask Party seemed interested in showing a modicum of respect for each other. Take the question posed by the NDP’s Buckley Belanger, who is also the deputy leader of the party. The preface to the question was toxic, accusing the government of “squandering our future for years and years to come,” acting “arrogant,” noting cabinet’s “penchant for Twitter tantrums and storming out of meetings.” The question itself concerned whether the government will adequately represent farmers in the coming Growing Forward 3 discussions.

At 101 words, the response by Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart was roughly half as long as the question. There was opportunity to take the high road. Stewart has already said in the pages of The Western Producer that he is hearing from farmers about issues such as market access and development. He also mentioned trade policies and social licence issues. He could have talked about all of that. Instead, he attacked the NDP’s record, concluding that the party “failed agriculture on every front.”

It was disappointing to see Stewart respond like this. But it likely didn’t matter. The obnoxious chatter among the MLAs was so loud it was almost impossible for anyone in the galleries to hear either the question or the answer. It’s probably fortunate that the children in attendance likely didn’t look at Hansard to read what they surely couldn’t hear.

That would not have been a teachable moment.

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