Dear Political Leaders: Canadians Deserve Better

What Canadians, and the world, needs now is leadership that reminds us of the goals and values humanity shares. And the truth is, examples of this unity abound.

The leaders of Canada’s two biggest political parties have signaled that the 2019 federal election could be the “nastiest” yet. In an era of divisive politics and populist movements with real, life-or-death consequences for whole groups of people, this is not the kind of leadership we need.

Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer have claimed their parties will refrain from the personal call-outs and targeted attacks that have become the hallmark of American politics. The polarized and often vitriolic rhetoric around the recent U.S. midterm elections are an example of the deep fissures this style of politics can carve into the fabric of society.

However, despite party leaders’ personal commitments to run a principled campaign, by suggesting that things “could” get nasty, they have effectively set the stage for a nasty campaign. Normalizing petty, partisan politics degrades the quality of discourse at best, and emboldens extremism at worst. Furthermore, this kind of rhetoric erodes public confidence in our political parties and weakens democratic participation. Our political leaders are setting the bar low, and Canadians deserve better.

What Canadians, and the world, needs now is leadership that reminds us of the goals and values humanity shares. And the truth is, examples of this unity abound.

Through my role with Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB), I have been lucky enough to organize and work with hundreds of students from coast-to-coast that share a positive outlook on the future. Through our Hello 2030 campaign, we have spoken to thousands of Canadians who share this view and want to build a world of equality, sustainability and prosperity for all. Through canvassing in major Canadian cities and hosting events at Canadian universities, we have found that Canadians of many different backgrounds and political affiliations believe that we have a shared responsibility to make the world a better place.

MPs are also capable of putting politics aside to promote inclusive dialogue, civic participation, and collective action for a better world. At an event EWB held in Ottawa last spring, international development critics Ziad Aboultaif (Conservative) and Linda Duncan (NDP), and then Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Celina Caesar-Chavannes (Liberal), all voiced their support for international cooperation and Canada’s contributions to global development. While political barbs may attract media attention (particularly appealing in an election year), finding these places of common ground and having constructive dialogue will do more and serve Canadians, and the world, better in the long run.

We face massive social, economic and environmental challenges at home and abroad. Global crises such as climate change, the largest refugee population since the Second World War, and rapidly increasing inequality, will continue to be deeply felt in Canada. We need to work collaboratively to come up with solutions that match the complexity of these problems, and to work together, we need a strong foundation of shared values.

Surely this is more important than short-lived, partisan political wins.

Irena Smith is the Campaigns Coordinator for Engineers Without Borders Canada. You can follow her on Twitter at @Irena_MSmith.

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