Opinions on Both Sides -- a review

By Jared Wesley on Dec 3, 2008

I spent 12 hours Christmas shopping and listening to talk radio shows yesterday, as I made my monthly drive from Winnipeg to Calgary. If the media buzz is any indication, it seems almost everyone in Western Canada has an opinion on the quagmire on Parliament Hill. From Canadian Tire to Suzy Shier, Tim Horton's to Starbucks, pundits to academics, leaders to followers - everyone appears to have chosen sides between the government and the coalition. With each side talking past each other, viewing moment-by-moment events through their own unique set of partisan lenses, it's not difficult to see how we've come to this point. For Canadians just tuning into the saga, finding "facts" and "truths" amid the rhetoric can be challenging and frustrating.

The reason: beyond the opinions, there are few real "facts" or "truths" to be had. This is not because both sides are being entirely dishonest or disingenuous. It's because both the coalition and government have valid arguments - so valid that the other side refuses to address them. Consider the following main points of contention:

Who started it?

Government - The opposition had been plotting for months (if not longer) to orchestrate a takeover of power.

Coalition - The government "poisoned the well" with it's "F.U." Fiscal Update last Thursday, provoking the opposition with promises to cripple them financially by removing their public subsidies, and provoking the NDP with promises to revoke the public sector's right to strike.

Who's anti-democratic?

Government - The coalition is proposing to govern without a "mandate" from the people, with the Liberals having renounced the idea of joining forces with the NDP during the campaign. Also, the government alleges the opposition is attempting to overturn the results of the October 14 election.

Coalition - By pushing back the date of a confidence vote (from Dec. 1 to Dec. 8), and by hinting at asking for a prorogation of Parliament, the government is thwarting the will of elected MPs.

Who has "confidence"?

Government - The government has the confidence of the House, having passed its Throne Speech earlier in November.

Coalition - Combined, the coalition (plus the Bloc Quebecois) have enough MPs to overthrow the government on an impending confidence measure.

Who has the best economic plan?

Government - The government has introduced preventative measures, and promises prudent planning, future stimuli (in a January budget), and short-term deficit financing to deal with Canada's recession.

Coalition - The government is not doing enough, and not acting quickly enough, to address the economic downturn. The coalition promises an immediate $30 billion stimulus package.

Who's being ideological?

Government - The coalition's solution amounts to "crisis socialism".

Coalition - The government's solution amounts to "crisis capitalism".

Who's "in bed with the separatists"?

Government - Under the coalition arrangement, the Bloc Quebecois ("the separatists") hold a veto over all future initiatives.

Coalition - Right-wing parties from Mulroney's PCs, to Day's Canadian Alliance, to Harper's Conservatives have struck deals with Quebec nationalists in the past.

Who's reaching out to opponents?

Government - The government is willing to work with any opposition party willing to rip up the coalition accord.

Coalition - The coalition, itself, demonstrates the willingness of its members to reach across party lines.

Most of these arguments are opinions, and many mix fact with rhetoric. At this point, most who have chosen sides in the debate appear to be interpreting events using their own predispositions as filters. They hear what they want to hear and see what they want to see. They speak to their "allies" in friendly environments, be they blogs or radio talk shows. When they do engage the other side, they talk past their opponents (who they label as "traitors" or "despots").

We've seen this before, of course. Similar lines were drawn over the Charlottetown Accord and two Quebec Referendums. A plea for both sides to talk to one another, let alone listen to each other, may be futile. For those who have yet to make up their minds, I would challenge you to listen to both sides. Unlike national snafus from decades past, Canadians today can watch different TV broadcasts, read different newspapers, visit different blogs, and attend different public rallies. Regardless of whether you're a voter, a leader, a journalist, or an academic - and regardless of whether you're settled in your opinions or not - I urge you to take advantage of the opportunity. Open minds make clear minds, and those are in short supply.

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