Last week, at the annual parade of speeches by world leaders at the United Nations, Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas were among those using the General Assembly podium as a pulpit for their respective cases. To say there is disagreement between these two individuals is an understatement. Netanyahu rightly condemned the hypocrisy of the world, and its ostensible parliament in which he was speaking, for its ludicrous obsession with the Jewish state while parts of the Middle East literally burn. Abbas offered the “laugh line” that the Palestinians no longer need to be bound by the terms of the Oslo process. The humor, such as it is, comes from the fact that the Palestinians never bound themselves to Oslo. While Israel had a long list of obligations under the peace process, the Palestinians effectively had only one, which they have ignored: stop inciting your people to genocide and prepare them to live in peace with their Jewish neighbors. To come to the UN and make the case that they have been forced by circumstances to abandon principles they never accepted in the first place is typical of the made-for-TV claptrap this annual performance has become.
In Canada, though, we have a different problem. While others in the world find it impossible to agree on much of anything, our political leaders are finding it tough to find much of substance upon which to disagree. Oh yes, when you watch the debates and the bombardment of partisan ads, it seems like there are chasms between the parties. There really are not. Some of the differences – the number of refugees we should take in, the recipe for economic advancement, approaches to social issues – mostly come down to nuance and decimal points.
There is such a thing as too much agreement. Is it a distinctively Canadian characteristic that our politicians should careen so insipidly to the middle of the road? An election campaign is the time when parties should be ferociously demonstrating their differences. Yet when we delve into the actual policies and plans, one potential government looks much like another. This may be, thankfully, due to the fact that we are among the most fortunate people in the world, blessed with natural resources, human wealth, economic and political stability and relative peace. That’s great.
But when we do see genuine differences of policy and approach, we also see a disparaging of exactly the phenomenon we should be encouraging. It emerges in the use of the term “wedge issue.”
We have heard this a lot in recent weeks. The Conservatives are accused of using issues like the niqab and Canada’s support for Israel as wedge issues. The implication is that the very discussion of these topics divides Canada in an unwholesome manner, that the issues are being raised solely for political gain.
Well, any issue raised in an election is raised for political gain. If opposition parties think the Conservative approach to Israel or the niqab or anything else is off base, they should advance their own case and let voters decide. That’s how election campaigns are supposed to work. It is a cop-out to deflect an issue outright by dismissing it as a wedge. If anything, an election campaign is precisely the time to accentuate differences. In a little more than a week, voters can decide who is right and who is wrong.