Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Partisan isn’t a four-letter word

It has become a lazy slur, an oft-employed pundit crutch – decrying the evils of partisanship, dismissing the opinion of partisans with one brush, and apportioning a large share of the blame for what supposedly ails our nation to the partisans. Well, let me take up that tarnished mantle and proclaim I am a partisan, and I strongly believe Canada needs more partisans, of all stripes.

As is often the case, it comes down to definitions. Like in any group, there are good and bad. There are good journalists and bad journalists. There are good bus drivers and bad bus drivers. And there are good partisans and bad partisans. The Interwebs have certainly made the bad ones more visible; they flood comment boards with talking points, troll nonsense on Twitter refusing to listen to reasonable debate or consider other views.

And you can certainly argue offline politics has become more negatively partisan, although the debate over why and how would be interesting and complex. For example, those who decry partisanship are quick to highlight anyone who deviates from a party line as disloyal, which only serves to cement the partisanship they claim to decry. But I digress.

To dismiss all partisans for the actions of a fringe element though would be, as I said earlier, a lazy slur. And counter-productive, as the cure to the kind of partisanship we all decry is an engaged and informed citizenzry. And that, my friends, is just another name for partisan.

We’ve all heard the numbers. Voter turnout is dwindling ever downward, particularly for youth. And only two per cent Canadians belong to political parties. Citizen engagement in our democracy is dangerously low, and citizen engagement is crucial to a vibrant democracy and good government.

What is a partisan? They’re someone who has bucked this trend of a checked-out citizenry. They’re someone who cares, and has engaged. They’re someone who follows the issues, and has decided to get involved to advocate for the issues they care about. They devote volunteer hours to policy workshops, in the hope their ideas could become policy, and one day law. They work to get candidates that share their views nominated, and then work to get them elected, spending hours stuffing envelopes, putting up signs, and going door to door trying to engage their fellow citizens in their democracy.

And most partisans I know freely admit that they don't have all the answers, that other positions have merit too, and that we should work together for common goals. What partisans, whatever their political allegiance, have in common is the desire to build a better country, and the commitment to actually roll up their sleeves and work hard to make it happen. 

Along with those that get involved with NGOs and other issue-based lobby groups, partisans are among some of the few engaged citizens we have. And to the extent that the system does work, to the extent that politicians and government do listen to the citizens, partisans are a big part of the reason why.

Let’s continue to call-out examples of negative partisanship when we see it, just like we call-out bad journalism. But let’s also call out for more citizens to engage in our democracy, to take an interest, to get to get involved and, yes, to become partisans.

And if some still insist that partisan is a four letter word, then let’s say fine. As long as that word is care.

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