Alberta MP sees division, polarization as threat to democracy: ‘We are all just human beings’

Mike Lake, the Conservative member of Parliament for Edmonton-Wetaskiwin, recently delivered a powerful address in the House of Commons.

“Before our political labels, we are all just human beings,” he said during a member statement on Feb. 16.

“The middle of the road is simply our common ground.

“Make no mistake, passionate political debate is foundational to a healthy democracy, but it’s most effective when we engage in conversations not only to be seeking to persuade but open to being persuaded.”

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Lake, who’s been an MP for 15 years, said he’s seen divisiveness and polarization get worse since being first elected in 2006.

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He believes the proliferation of social media has played a big role in that trend.

“We’re surrounded by our echo chambers and people who think just like us and kind of reinforce us, get us more fired up in our beliefs so we move a little more to the extremes,” he said during an interview with Global News on Monday.

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“Politicians don’t help by seeing that in their political opponents and even pushing them further in the extremes,” Lake said.

“I think we need to work together to try to overcome this because I really can see it as a threat to our democracy.”

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He makes it clear this is not a partisan issue — nor is it isolated to politics.

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“If you want to make a change, communicate with a goal to persuade people of your point of view. If you’re just calling people names, you may get a million retweets but you’re going to get those retweets from people who think just like you do,” he said.

“If you want to actually change people’s minds, you have to communicate sure, forcefully, firmly, but respectfully as well.”

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Conscious decisions have to be made to bridge the divides, Lake said.

“This is something we’ve tried to do as an office is start to bring people together, not just from our own party or support base, but as we’re having conversations, try to include — whether it’s constituents, having people from across the political spectrum or in the work I do on international development or disability things — having people who represent a range of views from a range of experiences because the conversations are better, and ultimately, the decisions and policies are going to be better too,” Lake said.

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The change has to be deliberate, he added.

“By default, we’re all surrounded by people who think just like us in our social media feeds.”

Lake wants to see open minds and open conversation. He feels the majority of Canadians want to see the same. The ones who oppose any kind of co-operation are a small but often vocal minority, he said.

“While those people make a lot of noise, they are a small sliver of the political spectrum, I believe, in terms of communication.

“We all see it — whether it’s politicians or regular people — in our social media feeds,” Lake said. “Just recognize that it’s a small sliver, and at some point, you have to be able to ignore that and communicate with the wide swath of people who, as human beings, just want to see us as strong as we can be as a country.”

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