Insin­cer­ity ex­posed

Toronto Star - - NEWS -

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).

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