The Scarlet Letters

by Glen

It wasn’t the kind of visit I expected on a Sunday afternoon. A well-dressed gentleman knocked on our door on his way from the service at the Cenotaph and handed me a piece of paper. “I just want you to know I feel badly about this. It isn’t the type of politics I believe in and I know that you don’t either. I’m sorry this had to happen to you.” He shook my hand and left.

Without even looking at it, I knew what was in the letter because I received the same one two days previously from someone who scanned it and sent it along. Both men were Conservative supporters; the first I had never met, while the second had been my friend for years. I have since received two other calls complaining about it.

The letter is from the Conservative riding association to its members claiming, “Predictably, we have come under attack from London North Centre’s previous MP and his Liberal caucus associates . . . Therefore, I am asking for your help today. Our team has prepared a plan that will require an immediate cash infusion of $10,000 … Can we count on your support TODAY?” (Underline and bold print are as they appeared in the letter).

Part of my confusion over the letter was that it was signed by the riding president – a well-known Conservative supporter who I have met occasionally over the years. We come from different sides of the political spectrum, but in all those years we have never had one critical thing to say to one another and we always behaved courteously when together. It seemed out-of-place.

Since the last election I have been asked repeatedly by the media to respond to actions taken by my successor but have refused, feeling that this isn’t my place anymore. However, on three occasions – the ElectroMotive shutdown, local Tory MPs attacking NDP leader Thomas Mulcair’s visit to London, and the singling out of London’s mayor in the House of Commons when charges have not yet been proved – I have blogged and asked my successor and her colleagues to please refrain from actions that might embarrass the city on the national stage. Honest policy differences are permitted in this country and don’t constitute attacks; neither are requests asking that our politicians keep our communities in mind with their actions.

And then today I discovered that similar letters have been going out from Conservative electoral riding associations across the country. It is part of a pattern displayed in recent years: fire up the base by demonizing some person or some issue and then ask for funds in the process. In other words, go to extremes if it makes the acquisition of funds easier. It’s difficult to have such letters written about you, especially when you’re no longer in politics, when the real purpose is fundraising, but such is the state of the modern political apparatus. All parties do this to one degree or another, but such actions in a local city can bring harm to community life. We saw that clearly demonstrated in the negative activities of both the Obama and Romney camps south of the border. Both my successor and her riding president believe in our community and seek to serve it within the purview of their own conscience. But what happens when party guidelines demand they be pushed from partisans to polarizers. Most politicians face this and have to take their respective stands.

Which brings up the interesting point about of what happens to the places where we live when such national practices are brought to bear so close to home. They are designed to fan the flames, to divide the electorate, all in the name of politics. Yet it’s the kind of politics few of us are comfortable with, especially if the purpose of such communications is to raise even more funds for partisan purposes. There is a fine line between partisans and polarizers. The first group naturally holds on to beliefs dear to them; the second are the hyper-partisans who are willing to destroy their opponents for even a slight advantage. Every political party has them; every party should shed them.

In a community like London people of all parties work together in companies, on community boards, play hockey together and cooperate on volunteer initiatives. That accommodation will be difficult to maintain should we permit the polarizing tendencies of parties to divide our precious community human resources.

Our communities are increasingly becoming places where concerned citizens refuse to accept political attempts to divide them. The places we live are already divided enough along ideological lines and demand better of all of us. Following the recent election in America, columnist Charles Krauthammer concluded:

“Every few years the American politics industry fills the airwaves with the most virulent, scurrilous, wall-to-wall character assassination of nearly every political practitioner in the country – and then declares itself puzzled that America has lost its trust in politicians.”

The practice of sending such polarizing letters out has even caused lifelong Conservatives to disapprove. Our community deserves better and they know it. It’s time for all parties to stop the vitriol and at least respect one another enough that they can put their citizens first, despite their differences. If they can’t make that work, then politics is lost.