During my time as News Editor and Managing Editor of three Canadian daily newspapers, I had the privilege of meeting and/or interviewing four Prime Ministers -- John Diefenbaker (PC), Lester Pearson (Lib), John Turner (Lib) and Joe Clark (PC) -- two provincial premiers, Saskatchewan's Ed Blakeney (NDP) and Ontario's Bill Davis (PC); in addition to a number of federal and provincial politicians who were noted party leaders in their day (including Robert Stanfield, one time Federal PC leader; Stephen Lewis, Ont. NDP leader in the 1970s, Attorney Generals Roy McMurtry, PC Ontario and Roy Romonow, NDP Saskatchewan and Canadian Solicitor General Bob Kaplan, PC).
While in all fairness I am sure they realized that I was a media lightweight in those days, they were all extremely forthcoming, treating me with utmost respect which, of course, was appreciated and reciprocated.
Without exception and allowing for certain personality traits, I found all of the foregoing to be individuals of character and principle, with brilliant minds and deeply committed to to serving their constituencies, country and respective provinces. I have no reason to believe that anything has changed in today's politics nor that politicians have suddenly become the idiots, liars, dummies, crooks and laughing stocks we currently read about in the news and on the Internet.
While we must always try to counter politicians’ excesses and expose them individually, just as we would in the workplace with executive indulgences, we should not let the abuse of politicians become the national sport it now appears to be. The current frenzy is for demeaning every elected representative and we need to say ‘enough’.
Deriding politicians in print (whether on paper or on the Internet) has become par for the course. It has gone way beyond the satirical cartoon or the tabloid front page, both of which have their place in an open democracy. However, we need to understand when humour is replaced by clear malice and we need to stop that malice. Too often we portray our politicians as uncaring, vicious and vindictive when they are obviously not.
Be seriously honest now...how would you feel if you read somewhere that your character or heritage was in question? Would you want to lash out in defence at the dozens of unwarranted insults coming your way on a daily basis? Personally, I wouldn't last five minutes under those conditions. My skin is just not that thick.
We tend to forget that those in public life are people just like us...they breath the same air, they have families, they bleed red, they have feelings, they try their best to fulfill mandates...and, being human, they make mistakes from time to time, as do we all. They do not win office, and stay in office, by hiding their light beneath a bushel and they understand that, try as they may, it is impossible for them to be all things to all people. Damned if they do and damned if they don't is a fact of political life.
We tend also to take isolated cases of political dishonesty and indiscretion and forever tar with the same brush.
Of course, we might all have strong views about various policies, from the carbon tax to recent media reforms and the reported outlandish compensation package for accused terrorist Omar Khadr. Certainly, if we have something constructive to contribute to an issue, by all means we should express those views if we think someone in a position to give a damn is listening. But since when have we become so critical, hateful and mean-spirited in Canada? Why all of a sudden are those who oppose certain political views considered delusional and ignorant, prompting bitter social media attacks?
Is it the American influence or have we naturally become so skeptical that we have lost respect for all things and all people? If our party did not form a government in the last election, let's stop being poor losers, politically speaking, and accept the will of the majority in this wonderful democracy of ours. P-C, Liberal, NDP, Green -- all parties exist to serve the best interest of Canadians in general with little to choose between them or their respective leaders. Remember that when you hide behind your computer and take social media liberty to engage in one-upmanship, directing insults and distasteful language, you are demeaning some one's character and hurting feelings....and contributing to a divisional Canada where no one ever really wins. It is simply wrong on so many levels.
Our politicians deserve better from us than this. Collectively, they are serious, hard-working people who, unlike most of us, have been prepared to accept very serious costs to their own and their families' lifestyle for the sake of furthering the public interest as they see it. The public has a reciprocal obligation to show a measure of comprehension for the difficulty and complexity of the issues with which elected people must regularly deal. These issues touch us all, and if the penalties of public life ever become so great that first-rate people shun electoral politics, we will all be the worse for it.
Perhaps we are already starting to be the worse for it...and that is a shame!
Canada used to be better than that.