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Kathleen Petty and Fostering Dialogue in Canadian Media
Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

At the end of June, one of the most familiar voices in political circles signed off as the host of Canada’s longest running political program, The House. Kathleen Petty, a veteran CBC reporter, is known for creating a space where personal attacks, guests talking over one another, and reading unchallenged from talking points were not tolerated.

As she reflected back recently on her five years as host, Petty shared some interesting insights on the kind of conversation she was trying to foster (emphasis my own):

“I didn’t think we were really asking for much. If, in response to a question, a politician hesitated, even a little, I was reasonably confident that the answer required some thought, instead of tired talking points that require none. That in Ottawa is a victory. And that is, in my view, a problem. We talk AT each other, not WITH each other. We keep score, assign penalties, and generally treat politics as a sport. But as sports go, politics might be a great a game for participants, but not spectators or listeners. I sense a great disconnect. Why don’t Canadians vote? Perhaps, because we’re not treating them as participants – but as spectators.”

Petty was clearly trying to foster dialogue, which according to the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation, “is a process that allows people…to share their perspectives and experiences with one another about difficult issues we tend to debate about or avoid entirely…Dialogue is not about judging, weighing or making decisions, but about understanding and learning. Dialogue dispels stereotypes, builds trust and enables people to be open to perspectives that are very different from their own.” It is one of the key ingredients to changing the way we tackle some of the most pressing public policy issues in Canada.

It is my hope that the kind of conversations Petty started will continue after her departure for Calgary, and continue to influence greater political discourse in Ottawa and beyond.

– Stephan Telka –

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