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Opinion Culture of disrespect: What’s the minister’s remedy?

At a golf club in Brooks, Alta., a big placard of Premier Rachel Notley's head was put up in the middle of a fairway and used for target practice.

The golfers were so errant that none of them hit it. After the failed attempts, someone ran a golf cart over the Notley poster as several onlookers yukked it up.

At first glance, this all appeared rather amusing, a bit of a lark. But hardly in the current climate. Not with the previously posted death threats against Ms. Notley, or the slaying of British MP Jo Cox, or the aggression against Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard at a vigil for the victims of the Orlando shootings.

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Ernest Bothi, the head of the local oilmen's association who was behind the targeting of Ms. Notley, said he wasn't sorry. "Sorry for what? A lot of good people have invested their entire life into this industry, and for what? So that a government can strip it away from us?"

As if the oil industry's problems in Alberta were not the result of factors such as the plunge in world prices, the Fort McMurray fire, the declining fossil-fuels market, a lack of pipelines. Nah, blame a government that was elected only a year ago.

Mr. Bothi later tried to make light of the whole thing, but only after a public outcry. Derek Fildebrandt, a member of Alberta's conservative Wildrose Party, said the caper was "cheap politics that feeds this growing disrespect for those of us trying to serve our communities. All of my colleagues in the Alberta Legislature deserve respect, including Premier Notley."

There's that word "respect" again. It's everywhere, a lack of it being at the heart of most conflicts.

The social climate is much tamer in Canada than in the United States or in parts of Europe where parties of the far right flourish. But our society has been hit, too.

As Mark Kingwell wrote in The Globe and Mail on Saturday, rationalism is losing ground. Respect for fact, for truth, for evidence is on the wane. They no longer exert their traditional pull. Lose those anchors and what's next?

As for the chief cause, many point to the unfiltered Internet world, which has given megaphones to the angry and unhinged. They are empowered like never before. The social climate is polarized. Thunder from the fringes silences the stable centre.

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The daunting challenge is to elevate cultural standards, to get the venom out of the system. A culture of respect needs to be the goal, the government's vision.

Enter Mélanie Joly, our Minister of Culture, a super-bright, telegenic Montrealer who is viewed as a star player on the Liberals' new-wave team. She stood up against the angry-white-man, anti-immigrant crowd in Quebec. Starting from nowhere, she almost won the 2013 Montreal mayoral race against Denis Coderre. She once started a group called the Ideas Generation. "I like to think outside the box," she told an interviewer. "I'm a creative person and a risk taker."

That's all good. But what is she doing to combat the onset of what some are calling the age of unreason? Where are her ideas for that? Has she put pressure on media owners to find ways to filter out online posts and other bile from their products without compromising freedom of speech? With her $1.3-billion budget, is she devising an education campaign of some kind to reverse the rise of insult peddlers, to counter dumbing-down, to rid our landscape of fake news or junk science?

Thus far, she has announced a big plan to enhance Canadian content and bring our cultural properties into the digital age. But what about the maladies of the digital age?

The political and cultural climate has been improved with the removal of the previous polarizing and confrontational government.

But we're far from having fashioned the culture of respect that Canada should be prized for. Young-wave thinkers such as Ms. Joly have to set it right.

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