Why can’t we be friends?

“Everyone is mad.”

“Why?” I asked.

I was responding to a Dec. 21 Facebook message from Dennis, who had just told me some of his own party members were upset with him.

“I don’t know. I’m trying to figure it out,” he typed back.

“You can’t sit at a table with someone to discuss ideas?” I asked, almost sarcastically.

“I guess,” he said. “It’s discouraging.”

Just before Christmas, Dennis had hosted a Facebook Live event with Joe Byrne – leader of the Island’s NDP party – to discuss the issue of affordable housing on P.E.I.

In the video, posted on his campaign’s Facebook page, the two are seated side by side at a table, speaking to the camera and each other. They share a 20-minute exchange about stories they’ve heard from affected Islanders and ideas they have to address the situation that is quickly approaching crisis status.

“It doesn’t matter that you represent the NDP party or that I represent the PC party,” Dennis says to Joe in the video. “We really don’t care what people’s partisan stripe is.”

What matters is working together to find tangible solutions to these problems, he says.

With a campaign built on ending divisiveness in P.E.I. politics, encouraging cross-party collaboration in the legislature, and a slogan that clearly states “It’s About People,” Dennis might expect party members – allies, friends – to be a bit more understanding.

Expectations can sometimes lead to disappointment, though.

“It’s ironic,” he says in a follow-up Facebook message. “We are peddling change. But for most partisans, it’s a spin word. A means to an end.”

People fear change, he says. It’s frustrating.

“For me, when I say change, I mean it.”

Indeed, it seems crossing party lines and embracing the ideas of those who some might consider PC party adversaries – such as the NDP or the Green Party – are points of contention for some of the other candidates in the leadership race.

At Tuesday night’s debate in Summerside, leadership hopeful Kevin Arsenault quipped that Dennis’s campaign theme song should be Why can’t we be friends?, a 1975 hit song from the band War. (Talk about irony.)

Some lyrcis from the tune:

The color of your skin don't matter to me
As long as we can live in harmony

Why can't we be friends
Why can't we be friends
Why can't we be friends
Why can't we be friends

I'd kinda like to be the president
So I could show you how your money's spent

It seems Arsenault offered an informed suggestion. Harmony and transparency are two pillars on which Denny’s platform is built.

In a world steeped in racial tension and plagued, more than ever, by political secrecy and deception, is it so unreasonable to want better? For not only ourselves, in the present, but our future generation of Islanders, too.

Look around. These days, it seems children set better examples of inclusiveness, equality and tolerance for others than many of us adults do. We encourage children to all get along – so why can’t we?

“We have to make people feel welcome,” Dennis said during his closing remarks at the debate.

I think it’s naïve to only talk to the people already in the party, he said. How can we grow as a party if we don’t talk to others?

“If we want to make the government, we have to grow,” he said.

“We’re in a time of change.”

And to realize that change, it seems Dennis just might have to make a few people mad.

Even if they’re friends.