A visit by former Conservative Party of Canada leader Erin O’Toole as a Salt Spring Forum guest on Oct. 17 highlighted the troubled state of Canadian political dialogue.
O’Toole described how parliamentary debate had deteriorated in recent years as politicians tied their responses to their social media feeds. Recent heckling of new House of Commons Speaker Greg Fergus as he spoke about House decorum underscored his point.
Hyperbole and bombast do get media attention, but they are not useful for achieving clear and effective communication. Also not useful is the unfortunate practice of automatically ascribing negative motives to people with views that differ from one’s own.
That is something we are seeing with the current Bylaw 530 debate. Some people opposed to Bylaw 530 have suggested the motivation is to increase the wealth of private property owners whose property values would rise as a result of having the right to build an accessory dwelling unit. Supporters of the bylaw have suggested its opponents are simply being cruelly indifferent to those in need of housing.
This situation illustrates clearly something O’Toole talked about: people are not stepping outside of their bubble – of social media or otherwise – to consider another possible viewpoint.
But if one listens with an open mind to people on all sides of an issue like Bylaw 530, it can affirm that people’s intentions are positive, even if their opinion cannot be embraced or even tolerated. Those opposed to creating accessory dwelling unit capacity on Salt Spring are not without empathy for the insecurely housed on the island; they steadfastly believe that the island cannot support an increase in density the bylaw could potentially (if not realistically) facilitate, from an environmental standpoint.
On the other side, those in favour of Bylaw 530 are not just out to line pockets and damn the environment in the process. They know many people who work here and live in substandard accommodations or in places that don’t conform to the land’s zoning. They know the stress and other community-wide problems that arise as a result.
House of Commons debate and decorum needs to improve, as does the way islanders view each other when it comes to dealing with the various crises we face together.