Monday, November 14, 2005

The Toronto (Star) Consensus

After having lived in Quebec for most of the past fifteen years I naturally become suspicious whenever it is asserted that everyone agrees on an issue. More times than not, I found myself on the other side of the issue that all Quebecers supposedly agreed on. Whether it was on fiscal imbalance, the language laws or the clarity act, somehow the so-called consensus usually excluded me.

For some reason, I thought it would be different when I moved to Ontario. Little did I realize that claiming a consensus is a common rhetorical device used to marginalize one’s political opponents on this side of the Ottawa River as well. Take this recent book review in yesterday’s Toronto Star:

There are occasions you realize everybody in your community agrees on almost everything.

Sometimes this can be terrifying, but most times there's a certain comfort to be taken when most everyone agrees that certain things — say gay marriage, access to abortion and the legalization of marijuana — are all desirables.

Now personally, I cannot really say I am in fundamental disagreement with any of these things. In fact, I have even been an advocate for one of them. But only willful ignorance can lead one to be blind to the fact that many Canadians do disagree with them. Moreover, I fail to understand how pretending that defensible, opposing views do not exist actually advances one’s cause.

Unfortunately, disrespect for opposing viewpoints seems to be increasingly common in Canadian political discourse. Instead of attempting to bridge the gaps and forging a true, workable consensus, we have been prone to divisive and destructive debates.

For example, same-sex marriage may now be the law in this country to the evident pleasure of its supporters. But the attempt to demonize not only those who opposed the bill, but even those who were simply uncomfortable with it did not win over people to the cause. Ultimately, this winner-takes-all approach not only leads to bad policy, it also undermines support for the laws that do get passed.