© Guardian photo
John Manley, left, former deputy prime minister, joins Jim Palmer, for whom the Palmer Conference at UPEI is named, and conference co-chair Kevin Lynch.
A familiar face on Canada’s political scene is calling for a new approach to politics in this country.
Former deputy prime minister John Manley says the country needs to reverse the current poisonous trend and create a more positive dynamic within the political life of the country. He’s calling on all involved, including political parties, public servants and the media, to make that happen.
“Political parties play an important role in our democracies by providing voters with choice, but partisanship that cannot compromise, that demonizes adversaries and that relies on vicious ad hominem attacks degrades our democracy,” Manley said Thursday night during an address at the University of Prince Edward Island.
“Increasingly, smart, sensible people who should be thinking of fulfilling a public role, either elected or non-elected, choose not to subject themselves to the poisonous atmosphere of public life, partisan self-righteousness and ‘gotcha’ journalism.”
The remarks were made at the first annual Palmer Conference on Public Sector Leadership.
Taking place Thursday and today, the national conference brings together leaders from across the country to address what organizers feel are important issues in the public sector.
This year’s theme is “public servants and their relationship with politicians and the media.”
Manley, who served as minister of industry, foreign affairs and finance, also challenged the media to change the way it reports on politics — while poking a bit of fun at those in the fourth estate.
“When I talk with other ‘formers’ from the political world, not just in Canada but elsewhere as well — about that they miss and don’t miss from our past lives — we invariably agree that we do not miss the media,” he said.
“That said, many miss the opportunity to be seen and heard in the media.”
Turning serious, Manley said what is written and what is said through the media create perceptions that lead to judgments, adding that “nothing is more integral to our system of democratic government than the relationship among professional public servants, politicians and the media.”
Still, Manley said the proliferation of new media has brought many new voices to the arena, and the fragmentation of audiences is eviscerating profits and newsroom budgets.
“That squeeze on resources, together with the relentless speed with which new media blurt out their chaotic blend of fact and opinion, leaves mainstream reporters and editors without the luxury of
cross-checking sources and making sure they have
all the facts before they
publish or broadcast,” he said.
“Rather than people believing anything they hear, I suspect that they will soon believe nothing they hear . . . and I believe that ultimately, credibility remains the key to success in the media business.”
In a post-Gomery Ottawa, Manley said instead of having a culture of accountability, the country has created a culture of “name, blame and shame.”
“Thus, many public servants and politicians are fleeing risk, the very risks that are necessary to drive innovation and growth,” he said.
“And in seeking to avoid risk, they are, ironically, reinforcing the argument that government is indeed irrelevant.”