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The Human Side of Politics

Posted on August 23, 2011

This week, as Canadians mourn the loss of NDP Opposition Leader Jack Layton, it’s perhaps a good time to reflect on the state of politics practiced in our country.

Mr. Layton was a passionate fighter for the causes in which he believed – most especially, greater social justice for the less privileged.  Whether or not you supported his policy prescriptions, you had to admire the vigour and tenacity with which he advanced his ideas.

Even more importantly, his style of political debate was normally decent and good humoured.  He could disagree with his opponents without being disagreeable.  He was aggressive, but typically avoided nasty personal abuse.

On those rare occasions when he departed from these principles, Mr. Layton was usually quick to recant and find some way to restore damaged relationships.

This is an old-fashioned quality that’s all too rare in politics these days.

Divisions are deep and harsh.  Instead of substantive, reasoned arguments based upon fact and logic, election campaigns (and pre-campaigns) seem increasingly dominated by never-ending “attack advertising”.  The wealthiest partisans invest millions to demean the reputations of their competition.

Many people bemoan that negativity that seems so prevalent in politics, but sadly, the results on election day tend to indicate that attack-ads work.  But there’s a cost?  The political process gets tainted and voter-turnouts go down.

Since Jack Layton revealed his courageous battle against cancer, and especially since that battle took an apparent turn for the worse in July, there has been an over-arching – even unifying – hope among the vast majority of Canadians that somehow he could emerge victorious. 

The human side of politics overcame the partisan.

In the end, his recovery was not to be.  But it would be a fitting memorial to Mr. Layton if some of the decent, old-fashioned qualities which he preferred could enjoy a comeback in Canadian political life.

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