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Centre Block's Peace Tower is shown through the gates of Parliament Hill in Ottawa on April 21, 2015.The Canadian Press

Civility and its discontents

Re “An open letter to Canada’s political leaders – for the sake of the country’s future” (Letters, April 2): Spare us the fainting couches and pearls clutched over “incivility.” Public discourse isn’t a Victorian tea party gone rogue. The open letter calling for a return to civility is a soothing but useless balm for a gaping wound.

The real culprit? Algorithmic news ghettos. We’re spoon-fed narratives that reinforce pre-existing beliefs, warping our understanding of the world like funhouse mirrors. One person sees economic Armageddon, another moral decay – all thanks to personalized news feeds. Discussions become shouting matches across a chasm of curated realities.

The prescription is to demolish the echo chambers. Seek out the “uncivil” voices, the ones who challenge your world view. Maybe then you’ll understand why “they” believe “that.”

Free speech is messy; it’s offensive, but it’s the cornerstone of a healthy society. Shutting down unpopular opinions only strengthens the echo chambers we claim to despise.

We must focus on our shared humanity. Beyond the shouting, find common ground – security, fairness, well-being.

Incivility is the smoke, not the fire. The fire is a fractured information landscape that breeds misunderstanding and hostility. We need empathy, not etiquette classes.

Jonathan Tweedale Vancouver

Dissent, expressed in the professional media, is fundamental to freedom.

Editors, please do not stifle it.

The Globe and Mail’s stellar reporting of the foreign interference in our elections, for example, is at its core an exercise in dissenting from the comfortable indifference of many influential people.

In contrast, the open letter effectively scolded raucous but legitimate dissent. It motivated others to write, nominating culprits they consider uncouth, including the Leader of the Official Opposition who is leading the way on the interference file in the House of Commons.

Barry Stagg Toronto

It was nice to see a call for increased civility in public discourse. However, incivility in politics is nothing new. Remember when prime minister Pierre Trudeau gave the middle finger to protesters in Salmon Arm, B.C., in 1982?

The distinguished signatories to that open letter should be asking us to be more worthy of the civility we seek. People should judge others as individuals, not based on their group identity.

The prime minister must also cease making a mockery of his position through his continual lies, abuses of power and divisiveness. Civility does not demand that people accept bad governance from bad people.

Don Moar Edmonton

Re “In praise of civility” (Letters, April 3): I find it interesting that some letter writers point a finger at the Leader of the Opposition as the root source of the current uncivil behaviour of our politicians. While not a fan of Pierre Poilievre, I am no more a fan of a prime minister who finds the need to insult and question Canadians who dare to disagree with his policies and behaviour. It really does start at the top. Pointing fingers is no solution.

David Harper Burlington, Ont.

Measuring productivity

Re “Canada’s weak productivity an emergency, poses inflation risks, BoC says” (March 27): I don’t know whether the measurements of relative productivity are accurate or relevant (I have my doubts about both), but I know these facts: I was born in Canada in 1946 and immediately moved with my family to the United States. I was taught that everything was excellent there, including leading the world in productivity. I left the United States in 1971 because of the Vietnam War (to which I had been drafted), horrible race relations, and the fact that I was required to take up U.S. citizenship (and lose Canadian) in order to practice law. When I returned to Canada I constantly encountered articles about how Canada lagged behind in productivity. The sky was always ready to fall. This has continued for more than 50 years. The sky has not fallen. It is blue. I am not worried. And I am happy here. If this is caused in part by poor productivity, I welcome it.

Dick Hamilton Gabriola Island

Numerous experts have lamented about Canada’s declining labour productivity while trying to find plausible correlations. Consider the corporate tax rate, which hit an all-time high of 50.9 per cent in 1981 but declined and now stands at to 26.5 per cent. Has this lucrative incentive for business leaders translated into increased investment in capital, people or research and development? No, the low corporate tax rate has increased company profits and encouraged foreign-owned corporations to export our money back to their headquarters. Proponents of free trade will argue that Canada must be internationally competitive; however, our declining standard of living would suggest that being competitive has only benefited corporations.

Patrick Draper Paris, Ont.

Smart phones?

Re “School boards are not innocent in the social-media crisis in our classrooms” (Opinion, April 3): Cellphones were one of the reasons I retired early from teaching. I was a police officer more than I was a high school teacher. Over 15 per cent of my teaching time was spent dealing with inappropriate cellphone usage. With students who texted answers or took pictures of tests, to parents who phoned their children during class time, to the distraction of Tik Tok, or music deemed “essential” to learning during work time, it became impossible to monitor over 30 teenagers with 30 cellphones. As teachers, we were told to embrace technology and were not supported (by administration or most parents) when removing phones after numerous warnings during tests or instructional time. Until school boards, schools, teachers and parents all get on board, this issue will not be solved.

Joanne Taylor Calgary

Naomi Buck raises some very good points in her opinion piece. As grandparents, my wife and I often worry that social media has had debilitating effects on our grandchildren, but to lay the blame at the feet of the companies providing the service is disingenuous. Who purchased these devices? Who sets the rules for when they are allowed to be turned on? In her final sentence, Ms. Buck suggests educational leaders take a long, hard look in the mirror. Perhaps parents should look in one too.

Stew Valcour Halifax

Perils of parenting

Re “Holding my tongue on modern parenting” (First Person, April 2): Writer Sheila Perkins is a brave grandma who succinctly describes today’s modern parenting style with a good deal of humour in her essay. I, too, have had to bite my tongue on many occasions, but I am then reminded of the great advice I received from another grandma who said: “The only thing that one can safely say to one’s children about one’s grandchildren is ‘Can I pay for that?’”

Lindsay Campbell Stittsville, Ont.

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