Earlier this week, former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff gave a presentation to some law students and much of what he said about present day Canadian politics rings true. Anyone who has been involved in or reported on Canadian politics for a decade or so should be able to relate to his comments.
There is no doubt that the way politics is practiced now is much different than it was in the past. Today it is meaner and nastier and you are either on side and "right" or opposed and "wrong." You are my brother or my enemy. There is no room for compromise and no middle ground exists.
Ignatieff commented that, "We've blurred opponent with enemy." That is a fairly accurate comment. Today it is winner take all, not just during an election, but every single day. Whether it is Question Period, committee work or even rebuttals in speeches, no quarter is given. Today it is all out war between political opponents.
I can remember when from time to time an opposition critic (both NDP and Liberal) would call up to ask if my minister would be in Question Period that day and if so here was the question they were going to ask. We in turn would make sure we had an answer ready. It was win-win: They asked about something important to their riding and we got our message out in our response. Given the current atmosphere in the House of Commons can you imagine an opposition critic giving a heads up to a minister about a question they were going ask today? And even if it did happen, could a minister get permission to answer it? A minister would have to jump through all sorts of hoops to get an answer ready and that answer would have to be signed off by PMO.
Even at the committee level and in Private Member's Business, MPs have little if any freedom. Orders come from on high as to how they should act, questions are prepared for them and MPs dutifully ask them or vote as they have been ordered by their respective Leader's Office. Dissent is treated as opposition, not healthy debate.
Ignatieff also commented that today "it is more like war, with words as weapons." He should know as we used his against him so often no one could ever keep count. From the moment a new leader is chosen, he is carpet bombed with his own words or images through various attack ads.
Today everything is scripted. Ministers stand and read from prepared answers, never deviating from the script that has been approved by PMO. And while it might look ridiculous to an outside observer, it would take a brave minister to stand and give their own answer as opposed to that of the thought police in Langevin.
Focus groups are used to get the exact phrase that gives you an advantage, modern marketing tools are used to press home that advantage, and of course, you never admit you are wrong and never give your opponent a positive comment because after all they are no longer parliamentary colleagues, they are "the enemy." Ignatieff raised some valid points and such is the practice of modern day Canadian politics.