U of A professor longs for a return to more civil politics

The lack of courtesy and compromise in modern politics said to be creating impasses and an inability to move forward

BANFF, Alta. — Human-induced chaos is one way to describe modern-style politics.

The lack of courtesy and compromise in modern politics is creating impasses and the inability to move forward, says Ian Urquhart, professor emeritus in political science at the University of Alberta.

“We have to rethink how we do politics. We have to rethink the political process and we have to aspire to political ideals into day-to-day political life,” he said at the Alberta Institute of Agrologists annual meeting held March 27-29 in Banff.

Political ethics and responsibility are two ideas in short supply at the provincial and federal levels, he said.

Institutional changes are needed to encourage a change in political attitudes. He would change the electoral system and increase the independence of legislative committees to force more compromise among politicians.

“Unless we, the public, change our attitudes, we have to shake off our apathy and we have to demand real change,” he said.

Voters need to get involved and demand more ethical behaviour and civility from participants because politicians are unlikely to make those changes, especially when they have a majority government.

Citing examples from the headlines, he said there is an inability among legislators to compromise and respect the opinions of those they disagree with.

Brexit is a troubling issue and British parliamentarians refuse to make concessions or compromise to make the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union less painful.

“The way we do politics is very much breaking down and Brexit is a great example of that,” Urquhart said.

Public displays of lack of respect for the other leaders have become more the norm in modern political life.

That behaviour is apparent in negative political advertising that has figured prominently in campaigns for a generation, including Canada.

“We warmed quite nicely to attack dog politics,” he said.

In the current Alberta provincial election, negative ads are appearing for both sides that focus on the leader rather than the positions of the candidates. Often unflattering photos are used to diminish the leaders’ credibility.

“I don’t think they encourage conciliation and compromise. They don’t encourage politicians to work together,” Urquhart said.

He is also critical of the ethics of many politicians who will do and say almost anything to gain votes.

“You need some caution in terms of pursing particular ends. You have to consider as a thinking being what the likely consequences of your actions are. You have to think about the foreseeable consequences are of pursuing the preferred goal with a range of things you can choose from,” he said.

The SNC Lavalin scandal where the Prime Minister’s Office has been accused of political interference in the justice system is an example.

“The PM’s objectives were to keep people working in Canada but that objective blinded them and they did not recognize the damage that would be done by the pressure they would put on Jody Wilson-Raybould and the democratic principle of rule of law in this country,” he said.

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