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between our steps 11 07 18 doubleI started writing this column on Tuesday morning as Americans went to the polls in a much-watched mid-term election. I did not change it Wednesday when the results were clear. People have been saying that this is a referendum on the current president, but whichever way things go, the situation in the U.S. doesn't change. It is still a deeply divided nation.

Every win of a Democratic representative at national or state level will be taken as a criticism of the president. If the Democrats win back a majority in the House of Representatives, they will claim victory. But what will that victory mean?

The way Democrats and Republicans have been fighting, it may mean that no legislation will be able to get through congress. The House may stall everything the president and senate try to push through. Accusations may fly both ways, and the atmosphere get worse. If Republicans keep a majority in the House, the president will claim that the nation understands how right his direction is.

Nothing about this election will change the deep divisions and insecurities in the country. If one party or the other claims victory, ignoring the problems, things could get worse.

I don't like the vitriolic tone of the president. I don't appreciate the insults that inflame the way the conversations go. I worry that his style of rhetoric gives permission for other people to spout off the same way.

But the opinions he spouts were there in the country under the previous administration. Some of us could just ignore that fact.

I worry that Democratic wins this week or in two years will put some people back to sleep, allow them to ignore those who think as the president speaks. I worry that a divided congress won't accomplish anything. Somehow, the nation and the congress need to learn to work through their issues about immigration, racism, the economic struggles of the middle class.

Which brings me to our province. The tone in the Ontario election was too much like the American for my taste. Blame for Ontario's problems was placed on the former Liberal premier and the current Prime Minister.

Initial actions of the new government were decisive but divisive. The decision to revert to an older sex education curriculum played to the ideology of certain Conservative supporters. The tone of the decision to object to the carbon tax was angry and aggressive. The cut to Toronto council imposed by the province was vindictive in tone and based on the premier's experience not consultation with the community.

In the current atmosphere, co-operation between Toronto and Ottawa seems hard to imagine. Conversations about how to address climate issues seem impossible. Insults are accepted as an okay way to deal with disagreements.

When changes were made to the school curriculum, a snitch line was set up so parents could report teachers who did not comply. This was not a healthy way for differences to be expressed. But, those parents who felt they had no input into what their children learned in school felt that finally they had an in.

The insults and the aggressive tone do not help us have a reasonable conversation, but the current atmosphere means that we have to acknowledge the deep divisions in our society. The first question isn't how do we get rid of the disagreements, but how do we have an intelligent conversation about the issues that divide the people of our province.

I was interested in the decision about minimum wage. I would prefer that we moved to $15 an hour, but at least, the last increase wasn't rolled back. And even $15 would not address the prevalence of precarious work situations, the need for more full-time jobs with benefits.

I do not think the current atmosphere in Ontario is conducive to a healthy conversation, but  we have to acknowledge the deep differences in our province. I worry that the atmosphere encourages vitriol and insult, but we have to acknowledge that there are differences. We need to find a way to share perspectives and listen to the differences.

Tuesday night will have generated celebration and frurstration. Neither will help the conversation. What is needed is a way to open up conversations that are difficult, conversations about difference.

Cathy Hird lives on the shore of Georgian Bay.


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