My brother and I had an expression growing up that was usually invoked when my mother asked one of us to apologize to the other for saying or doing something hurtful: "Sorry doesn't mean it." It was a brilliant if grammatically incorrect expression that served both to call the offender's bluff when the apology was insincere, and to repudiate even the most sincere apology when the offense was so egregious as to be inexcusable in our childish minds. It also betrayed, for just a little longer, the pettiness of the victim who profited from being hurt or insulted.
Needless to say, this exasperated my mother, who tried to teach us lessons about decency, civility, and compassion. Both insincere apologies and petty repudiations of heartfelt ones stood in the way of true reconciliation.
As I witness the hurtful words and half-hearted apologies spoken in the House of Commons, I understand my mother's exasperation. Instead of decent and respectful civil discourse aimed at addressing the key issues that confront our nation, we get hurtful and petty banter that reflects my childhood quarrels with my brother.
The recent Vikileaks and robocall controversies are but two examples. Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae apologized to Vic Toews after a Liberal party staffer launched deeply personal attacks against Toews via Twitter. Although Toews accepted the Liberal leader's apology, Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro demanded that the Liberal staffer appear before the Commons ethics committee because of his party's ongoing concern that "the Liberals abused tax dollars in [an] egregious, sleazy and distasteful fashion." Days later, Rae accused the Conservatives of perpetuating the Vikileaks controversy to deflect attention away from their own emerging robocall scandal. And the NDP's Pat Martin reinforced the Liberals' suspicions of Conservative electoral fraud by pointing out that RackNine Marketing Group, an Edmonton-based company that had previously worked for the Conservative Party, was now implicated in the scandal. Martin has since apologized to RackNine Marketing Group and its owner Matt Meier, for jumping to conclusions he now knows were "unsupported by fact." Meanwhile, the Conservatives have declared the robocall controversy a "deliberate smear tactic by a party that lost the election." They are, of course, the innocent victims who have been inexcusably wounded . . .
Forgive me for saying so, but as I follow the repartee of accusations and apologies, outrage and contrition, I cannot help but conclude that "sorry doesn't mean it." Instead of a genuine multi-party commitment to uphold democracy, preserve voters' trust in our electoral system, and learn from the mistakes of overzealous staffers and politicians by promoting more civil discourse, the quarrel continues.
The quarrel continues and none of us are better for it. As an adult, a voter, and a thoughtful Canadian, I pray our politicians will soon come to their senses and learn that sometimes, sorry really should mean it.