Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau.

Peter Stockland: Humanity challenged by partisan rhetoric

  • October 18, 2019

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau refused to change how he campaigned in election 2019 just because he needed paramilitary-style protection from a death threat at a Thanksgiving weekend event.

More power to him for his courage, which shows him cut from the cloth of his father to an extent infrequently recognized.

The immediate question arising, however, is whether all political campaign events in this country won’t shift, subtly or more overtly, as a result of the prime minister having to wear a bulletproof vest, surround himself with elite tactical squad RCMP members and send his wife back to the hotel for her safety so he could deliver a speech. Put slightly differently, can Canada recover from this assault on its self-understanding or is such escalating intimidation a new normal to which we will “adapt” as we have to airport security and surveillance cameras in public and even semi-public spaces?

The answer will lie to a great extent in our willingness to see the threatened violence, and the very active violation, as a spiritual crisis extending far beyond mere partisan, democratic or electoral logistics. There is a vivid flashing arrow, after all, directing us from the threat to kill the prime minister back to the abject dehumanization rife in political life. 

Michael Wernick, the former Clerk of the Privy Council who resigned last spring during the SNC-Lavalin scandal, called stark attention to its danger during testimony to the House of Commons justice committee. Wernick said he feared the rise in partisan rhetoric meant “somebody is going to be shot” in the not-too-distant future. His concern, ridiculed at the time as ludicrously alarmist, now verges on the prescient.

Indeed, far from being overblown, it falls short by not diving deeply enough into origins. It is true that partisanship — caustic refusal to acknowledge even the remote possibility that another position might have some merit — is rapidly dissolving the possibility of public political exchange in Canada. The cause-effect source of such dissolution lies in the denial of the fundamental humanity of those who see opposing solutions to collective problems.

We see this most abjectly in what George Orwell called “stop-think” labels slapped on those demeaned simply because they have a different point of view. So, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer was condemned as an irredeemable “homophobe” for using an uncharitable analogy in the House of Commons almost 15 years ago during debate on same-sex marriage legislation. So, the prime minister has spent recent weeks labouring under the conviction that he is ontologically a “racist” for stupidly showing up at a party in blackface almost 20 years ago. 

These, and a myriad of other examples, are not treated as judgment lapses, transient character failings, trespasses of commission or omission, proof, in the words of St. Paul, that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. No. They are declared (and affixed) as states of being. 

Context? Not on a bet. Forgiveness? Forget about it. 

Such negation of human fallenness becomes the calibration point by which all political fitness is measured. 

In a recent Catholic Register editorial, the words of Pope Francis were approvingly quoted to properly remind us that, “people who are marginalized by society have ‘faces, names, stories, and need to be treated as such.’ They deserve dignity and respect and, above all, to be wrapped in a Christian embrace of compassion and mercy.”

Of course, the preferential option for the poor makes it imperative that we commit ourselves to ensuring we meet their needs for the Christian embrace of compassion and mercy. But we fail in our obligations if we forget that those who lead us also have “faces, names, stories, and need to be treated as such.” 

We don’t just fail as partisans, as democrats, as citizens. We fail the God in whose image each of them is created.

(Stockland is publisher of Convivium magazine and a senior fellow at Cardus.)

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