Insincerity is so much a natural part of our politics that it sometimes takes a particularly brazen display to jolt us out of our complacency and force us to confront the dismal state of our public discourse.
Take the relatively picayune matter of two Liberal MPs’ socialmedia snafus on the occasion of the recent International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.
“I’m very proud to be part of a community that celebrates diversity and inclusion,” wrote Julie Dzerowicz, MP for Toronto’s Davenport riding, on her Facebook page. It was a heart-warming message made much less so by what followed: “Today . . . we are reminded that we must continue to work hard to make sure that everyone in (riding name) feels safe and free to be themselves.”
The boilerplate statement was shared by many Liberals, but only one other, Newmarket-Aurora MP Kyle Peterson, forgot to replace “(riding name)” with his riding name.
The Internet ate it up. (“Thank you Liberal Party for standing up for people affected by [issue],” read one of many mocking tweets.)
But while the MPs’ oversights were eminently lampoonable, they also drew attention to a more troubling issue: Why are so many parliamentarians passing off a generic, presumably PMO-written statement, as heartfelt, individualized reflections? Is insincerity now so accepted that it need not even be hidden?
Of course there’s nothing wrong with the party leadership offering guidance on key messages and principles and how to communicate them.
No doubt this guidance is more important than ever in the social-media age, when any small mistake can reverberate far and wide among ever-more-merciless audiences.
But this passing-off of routinized rhetoric as sincere sentiment is itself a mistake, as the social-media savaging demonstrated. Rather than protecting this important message, it undermined it.
The so-called centre’s control over political talking points has tightened considerably over the last decade, relegating elected officials, in the words of political scientist Alex Marland, to mere “brand ambassadors.” That’s not how parliamentary democracy is supposed to work.
The centre should not want the identity of parliamentarians to be subsumed by their party, nor should they accept it. That was true of the Harper Tories, who took message control to new heights, and it’s true, too, of (insert party here).