Too many MPs are falling into the pursuit of seeking self-worth on social media instead of serious discussion on the great issues facing the nation, former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole says.
In a final House of Commons speech on Monday before Mr. O’Toole exits federal politics with the end of the current session, he urged MPs to do better.
“Instead of leading, instead of debating our national purpose in this chamber, too many of us are often chasing algorithms down a sinkhole of diversion and division,” Mr. O’Toole told MPs.
“We are becoming elected officials who judge our self-worth by how many likes we get on social media, but not how many lives we change in the real world.”
The MP for the Toronto-area riding of Durham said what he called “performance politics” are fuelling polarization, and “virtue signalling” – a reference to the practice of highlighting personal virtue by expressing opinions acceptable to others – is replacing discussion.
“And far too often, Mr. Speaker, we’re just using this chamber to generate clips, not to start national debates,” he said. “Social media did not build this great country, but it is starting to tear its democracy down.”
He did not name specific MPs even when he raised concerns about rhetorical attacks on the World Economic Forum, which has been criticized by MPs including Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre.
Mr. O’Toole said that Canadians were sent abroad to fight for liberty in multilateral efforts, and some Canadians helped draft the agreements that provided security through such organizations as NATO, the United Nations, and the Commonwealth.
“But today, too often, we’re allowing conspiracy theories about the UN or the World Economic Forum to go unchallenged, or we attribute sinister motives to these organizations or people in a way that’s simply not true, or not fair,” he said.
Some Conservatives have been critical of the forum. Mr. Poilievre has said, as prime minister, he would not allow cabinet ministers to attend the annual gathering of global leaders in Switzerland, though former prime minister Stephen Harper and his cabinet ministers previously participated in the meetings.
Mr. O’Toole, who served as veterans affairs minister under Mr. Harper, was elected party leader in 2020, eight years after he won a seat in the Commons.
However, after leading the party through the 2021 election that saw Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau win a minority government, Mr. O’Toole was ousted by the Conservative caucus in February, 2022.
The vote went against the former member of the armed forces and lawyer, capping concerns about his shifting positions as leader on such issues as the carbon tax and gun control before and during the election campaign.
Mr. Poilievre won the leadership in the race that followed – the party’s third in seven years. Mr. O’Toole was not appointed to a critic’s role under Mr. Poilievre, and has said he was content to offer whatever help he could to the party.
More recently, he said he would leave Parliament and resign his seat with the end of the session, scheduled for June 23.
Since his announcement, he has also been in the spotlight for saying that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service told him he was a target of misinformation and a voter-suppression operation by the Chinese Communist Party.
On Monday, however, he spoke more broadly about his concerns about division.
On the issue of polarization, Mr. O’Toole added “If we’re not careful, there will soon be a generation of young voters who have never even heard a point of view different from their own.”
He said he is concerned that the ignorance of the views of others will transform into a dislike of others.
Mr. O’Toole said rural hunters, for example, are being demonized as a threat to society by politicians who know this is not true to secure “a few political points in the suburbs.”
But he said he is, overall, optimistic that MPs can do better.
“We must strive to inspire and be careful not to incite, and we must debate with insightful reason, not just tweet out of frustration because if we don’t. Mr. Speaker, decades in the future, Canadians will point to this Parliament as the time when that national decline began,” he said.
“I believe in each of you. It’s been an honour to serve with you.”