Although I strongly believe that we are a fundamentally different country from our neighbours to the south, there are occasions where I feel we stand to learn something from their circumstances.
One of the more significant details of the American election that brought Obama to the WH was the start difference in reaction between the McCain and Obama audiences at their concession and acceptance speeches respectively. While the audience gathered before McCain booed Obama’s name, Obama’s audience cheered McCain’s. Since that memorable night, the cheering has not stopped and the booing only got louder.
Last night, it was heartening to see audiences for all five party leaders cheer at that awkward moment where the candidates have to acknowledge their opponents. When Stephen Harper described Jack Layton as a worthy opponent, there was cheering. This is as it should be.
I awoke this morning, like many others, to various moans and wails and claims that the sky is falling or already has. While I am one of the people who did not want a Tory majority, I am not ecstatic about some of the more emotional reactions I am reading.
One of my favourite passages (regrettably from an American President) comes from Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural speech: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Thought passions may have strained, it must not break, our bonds of affection.”
We (Canadians as a whole) are not enemies to each other. We must not be enemies. We may hold opposing views on a variety of issues, but we must take care to not let our passions overrun the respect we ought to have for each other. As I wrote yesterday, much can be made of the low-ish voter turnout (60%) or the low-ish percentage of the popular vote received by the incoming government (40%) or the unfairness of the electoral system…. but at the end of the day, however much we dislike the result we have to understand our civic duty. Our civic duty to is to continue to strive to co-exist, co-operate and indeed thrive despite our differences, in this common space we all occupy and call home.
In my humble opinion it is precisely the ability to raise that civic duty above partisanship that separates The Great from the petty. Our civic duty dictates that we join hands with everyone who will care to do the same to help continuously improve our country for the better. We should not wish for others to fail in that effort. Whatever our political leanings, we should hope and pray that the government succeeds. We should be willing to give the benefit of the doubt and allow room for error. We should also be vigilant and guard against trespasses and violations especially when it relates to the democratic processes and the very traditions of tolerance and inclusiveness that lie at the heart of our country’s founding. But we should hope that the government will do well. My Muslim readers may recognize this sentiment at the heart of Imam Abu Hanifa’s lament to his son:”My generation debated with the hope that the other may be more correct. Your generation debates with the hope of being more correct than the other.”
The parliamentary tradition can inspire this attitude. One of the hallways leading to the House of Commons in London (the other, smaller London) has two opposing rows of busts of Parliamentarians. Each pair of Parliamentarians represent real-life political opponents, e.g. Charles James Fox and William Pitt the Younger. In a truly great tradition, both figures are truly impressive. While the 41st House of Commons might not produce a Pitt or a Fox, we can hope it will produce comparable passion and care for the welfare of the country.