I admit to being a bit critical of government.
Crabby, you might even say.
I like to think I’m offering useful information and constructive perspective, but not everyone is going to see it that way.
Which is fine. As it’s fine to challenge my arguments or offer an alternate view of the issues. I was charmed by the headline last year on a letter to the editor responding to a column last year — “If Willcocks likes it, it must be bad.”
But it’s puzzling and frustrating when some readers think that a critical look at the policies or actions of the party in power means a writer must support another political party.
And it’s worrisome. It speaks of polarized, mindless divisions and the politics of contempt. People don’t talk about policies. They pick teams. Hell’s Angels versus Bandidos, Leafs versus Canucks.
Policies don’t matter, only loyalties.
I have done this kind of work in five provinces. The attitude toward politics varied widely. In New Brunswick, political loyalty brought direct benefits like a government job (which was at risk if the other party won next time). In Alberta, people united behind a dominant governing regime.
But in B.C., we pick sides. If you criticize the NDP position on the carbon tax, then you are expected to support the Liberal position on minimum wage. If you criticize the Liberals for not having a plan to reduce child poverty, then you must think the NDP is right on private power.
That makes no logical sense. On election day, voters have to choose between candidates and parties. But, except for the hardcore partisans and loyalists, between elections molst of us can worry about policies.
We can be free to praise the party in power for good actions and carp at it for failures.
When we don’t, public discourse is cheapened, reduced to slogans and posturing. It demeans us as thinking, caring people.
And to the extent that people buy into the need to pick sides, we lose the benefit of their intelligence and experience.
The Liberals, for example, are keen to expand private power production for export. There are risks of higher electricity rates for residents as a result.
It’s complex and we would benefit from a discussion. But if people feel compelled to support or oppose it on some party basis, there is no critical discussion of the benefits and costs.
It’s troubling for a columnist. Between elections, the opposition doesn’t much matter. The party in power sets the budget and brings in the policy changes and deals with the problems and opportunities. So you write generally about how it is doing. The opposition criticizes, but sets out few clear policies.
And mostly I write about things that could be done better.
That’s a compliment to readers and our political system. It’s based on the belief that journalism provides information and perspective to people.
That they then weigh all the information and use their good judgment and experience to form their opinions and act on them. And that politicians respond to the public. Otherwise, what’s the point of writing this stuff, or reading it?
It can be negative. Probably a few more columns about successes would be good. But with a couple of columns a week, it seems important to write about a problem that could be fixed or examine an issue that matters.
And it can seem partisan. When the New Democrats were in government and I was writing about their truly dismal performance, I was characterized as a Liberal supporter. Now the topics involve Liberal stumbles – often, sadly, in the same areas – and I’m seen as a shill for the NDP.
Writing about things that the party in power could and should do better by shouldn’t be seen as support for the opposition.
Public policy matters. To reduce it to us versus them undermines democracy and creates more stupid, destructive politics.
Footnote: For the record, I think I have voted for Liberal, Conservative and NDP candidates in federal and provincial elections, depending on the candidates and the policies and issues of the day.