Skip to content

COLUMN: Nelson’s discourse is intelligent, polite, and animated

Deb Kozak reflects on kindness and public discourse in our city.
Deb Kozak's latest column for the Star.

I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness lately.

It’s been going on for awhile, but the theme really took root after a phone call I received from reporter Will Johnson. Will was following up on a story about sexism as it relates to women in public office. He wanted to know about my personal experience.

Recent headlines about the experiences of Premier Rachel Notley, MP Michelle Rempel and other women in public life, in Canada and internationally, have shocked many of us. But I told Will that this has not been my experience at all.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’ve had some angry comments from people online, face to face and over the phone, but never directed at me because I’m a woman. Were they kind? Well, not always, but when people are upset, emotions can get the better of us.

It happens. By far, the bulk of my experience has been intelligent, polite, and animated discourse with residents, staff and fellow politicians. Passionate debate and discussion is possible to achieve with kindness.

It gives me great confidence in our community and in our country. I also believe these interactions lead to positive solutions rather than continued conflict.

Last week I attended meetings in Victoria with the Union of BC Municipalities. UBCM has been asked to address the dysfunction in communication that some local governments are experiencing.

In the past few years we’ve seen elected representatives resigning from positions, staff people leaving their employ and communities in turmoil because of toxic interactions with local government leaders.

Sadly, there is little to be done outside of legal action or waiting until the next election. As we went around the table to discuss the issue in more detail, I think many of us were surprised at how many communities across the province are experiencing this issue. Politicians rely on civil discourse to create policies that govern our communities, our provinces and our country.

I think many of us can cite examples of erudite quotes from leaders who we admire and respect. How did all of this take such a sharp turn? As we delved deeper into the issue, a few possibilities emerged.

The immediacy of social media and digital communication has made it possible for people to share information and ideas widely and quickly. We all enjoy many benefits because of this ease of access. However, it’s also opened a Pandora’s Box when it comes to how accurate that information might be or to how it is communicated or even responded to.

There seems to be little accountability for those who print inaccurate information or hateful comments, but that is changing. This link outlines a decision made in BC Supreme Court holding a woman responsible for defamatory comments made on Facebook and granting the victim a settlement:

I wonder if the same case could be used for President Trump? I don’t think any of us were prepared for the amount of hatred and sexism unleashed in the recent American election.

It is as if permission were given to say anything under the guise of free speech no matter how prejudiced or totally untrue. We’ve also seen the rise of the “trolls” those people who follow any post, article or online comment and respond immediately with personal attacks and very often inaccurate information that further confounds an issue.

Sometimes I think it is healthy for all of us to take a vacation from social media to personally interact with each other. Schools and leaders in the corporate world are doing this.

City council and staff work hard to provide as much clear information and transparency as possible. We do this in a variety of ways social media, public meetings, budget presentations, this column, newspaper interviews, and radio, and by simply being present and available to our community. We do this with respect and kindness for each other.

When I look for examples of kindness in our community, I don’t have to look far. February can be a very unkind month as we near the end of winter. During the recent snowmaggedon we experienced there were far more acts of kindness and support than complaints.

People in our neighbourhoods stepped up to assist each other and through simple acts, proved that we are capable of great things.

Thanks everyone for doing your part to make our city a very good place to live.