Sunday, February 8, 2009

Leadership versus Politics

Nation, politics is a game.

Every blogger knows this. It's why we take the cheap little shots at each other on Twitter or Facebook, we make snarky comments about the other guy's party leader, and then we all sit down cordially and have a beer together (well, or we WOULD, if people knew our true identities).

The current economic climate, though, is far too dire to allow the usual "game playing" to go on unabated. Our usual bait-and-whammy tactics; the "criticize at all costs, yet commit to nothing" approach of opposition parties; all of it is, at this point, meaningless. It's akin to debating the merits of the 2-point convert while there's a player laying on the field with a possibly broken neck. We've got far, FAR more important things to do than talk about the "game". Real lives are being affected.

So, what's my point? Shut the blogs down? Turn off the cameras and put all the elected folks in a room until they solve this crisis?


First of all, we NEED the blogs, now more than ever. "Real" capital-M Media companies are cutting just like every OTHER business sector in the country right now, and there are fewer people, beholden to more, supplying the "newsworthy items" to the masses. Blogs can help to pick up that slack - but there's a catch. Bloggers are going to have to, as a whole, step up their game a few notches.

Now, there are some bloggers out there already who do a marvelous job at this (I'm looking at you, young Mr. Chapman) - Bloggers who talk about issues, ask questions, and offer potential solutions while trying to stay as above the partisan fray as possible. However, as a group we become somewhat too entrenched in our partisan habits to do a lot of good sometimes. We're too interested in scoring cheap points, or digging up old quotes to make a politician look like an idiot because we disagree with their position. This is not the time to make fun of John Baird's hair, OR to make fun of John Baird's opinions. THIS is a time when we, as Bloggers, can help to shape public opinion by putting forward real, tangible suggestions about the issues, and let the public force John Baird through their applied political will to MAKE those changes. At the end of the day, do you want better public transit, or do you want to be the Blogger who "schooled John Baird"?

There's one group, though, who needs to step up their game even further. And it's the politicians themselves.

If there's anyone out there who lives and breathes politics more than your average political Blogger, it's your average elected politician. They live it and breathe it because they LOVE the parry-and-thrust, because it's what pays the bills, or both. As such, it generally doesn't take very long for your typical first-term elected MLA, MPP or MP to become the stereotypical, heckling, spin-doctoring government hack/opposition attack dog. Let's remember, the object is to make the other guy look bad, and to make yourself look good - this is one of the only jobs in the world that you have to re-apply for every 3 to 4 years.

This old "wipe 'em out" mentality that so many of our elected officials show, however, is long past its expiry date given our current precarious fiscal situation. In a time when our politicians should be LEADERS, they're still stuck in the mind-set that they have to be POLITICIANS - don't answer the question, spin it into an attack on your opponent's record, and get out of the scrum without messing up your hair. They're so busy trying to position themselves for the next election, they forget that they're actually being paid a pretty reasonable salary by the people of this country or province to actually do some substantive work to make the day-to-day lives of citizens BETTER.

And that doesn't just go for the governing parties and their members, either... in fact, it's even MORE obvious a lot of the time when you listen to opposition politicians attacking the government that their object isn't to turn the government towards the people, it's to turn the people AGAINST the government. Jack Layton isn't trying to get Stephen Harper to change his policies to improve the lives of the people sitting around Jack's imaginary "kitchen tables" - he's trying to get the people around those tables to repeat his new mantra: "Stephen Harper doesn't care about me, the only job he's interested in saving is his own, and he's attacking women's rights to equal pay". In Jack's mind, the only way things can get better in this country is to get Stephen Harper out of office, and Jack Layton INTO office.

But what then? Where are Jack's ideas for what's to be done to fix our current mess?

And I don't mean your usual opposition garbage...

"What will you do if put into office? What will be your first task?"

"We're going to undo the damage that this Prime Minister has caused to the country..."

"But what, specifically?"

"We're going to focus on stablizing the economy."

"Through what means?"

"By undoing the damage caused by years of Tory mismanagement."

You can certainly understand why many full-time political reporters constantly look like they'd rather be going home to Peggy Bundy than showing up to work every day. The long-and-short of this is, though, that opposition politicians who steer away from the specifics of a plan to FIX something as crucial as the economy do it for one of a very limited number of reasons:

  1. They've got no idea whatsoever how to fix things, but still want to score points against the other side,
  2. They think they know how to fix things, but don't want the other side to ACTUALLY fix things using their idea, because then they'll never get elected to govern,
  3. They think that if they stay vague, and wear a knowing, grim visage in front of the cameras, people will get desperate enough to vote them in, plan un-seen, and then if things get better on their own they'll seem like geniuses.

Nation, this is simply NOT the time to be playing the game of politics when what we need as Canadians is actual, honest-to-goodness LEADERSHIP on these issues. If an opposition party has a good idea about something that can help to stabilize things, then as a taxpayer - and hence, as their boss - I don't think I'm out of line in insisting that they share that idea with the governing party, which can actually implement those changes. Likewise, the governing party simply HAS to give the idea due consideration, regardless of where it fits on the "political dogma" spectrum. Failure to do so is a failure to do the job for which I, and you, and the guy down the block, is paying them.

The only way we're going to get out of this in one piece is if smart people of all political stripes and all walks of life come together and put us on the right track, instead of the "politically expedient" track. NOBODY won a mandate in the last federal election to screw up the economy in the name of political ideology.

That goes to provincial politicians, as well... here in Alberta, we spend 1 of every 3 dollars on health care, and yet when you hear an exchange between an opposition politician and the Minister of Health, rather than respectful, detailed suggestions and tempered, considerate replies, it sounds like a couple of 3rd-graders on a schoolyard. There's heckling so bad that the newly-elected leader of the Alberta Liberals and the Premier actually saw a need to make a gentlemen's agreement to have their caucuses tone it down - don't get me wrong, it's not as bad as the British Parliament, but it's still nothing you'd want your kids emulating.

It's no wonder so many people look down their noses at politicians - and I've got be honest, here - I'm getting more than a little sick of that fact.

  • People don't vote, because they think all politicians are just interested in cashing their paycheque and acting like children.
  • People don't take an interest in politics, because for every issue they're presented with 3, 4, or 5 completely different sets of "indisputable facts" by the parties and special interest groups, complete with their own economists, legal experts, studies, polls and scientists - and then expected to come up with some sort of "informed opinion".
  • You need to speak fluent bullcrap to understand what's being said on CPAC half the time.
  • The CBC and CTV political shows are almost exclusively spinspinspinspinspin.
  • The closest thing to a sane political opinion we see on our airwaves is actually preceded on screen with the title "Rant".
  • I tell people I want to someday serve as an elected official provincially, and they look at me like I just admitted to smothering kittens in my free time.

The problem isn't with the public... these problems are coming from the politicians themselves. They're so busy, most of them, being politicians that they can't stop, take a deep breath, and occasionally, even once in a while, do the right thing and be LEADERS for us.

We need better.

Hugh MacDonald worked in the oil & gas sector, and has been a small business owner. Why can't he contribute meaningfully to the discussion, and make a suggestion that Mel Knight or Hector Goudreau can implement, for the betterment of all Albertans? Is it because Hugh's too busy trying to dig up scandal in the PC government, because he's too focused on his NEXT job to do his CURRENT one? Is it because Mel and Hector wouldn't return his calls, even if he MADE them? Or is it both?

Libby Davies has expertise in trying to help get low-income and unemployed people back on their feet. Why can't she be making substantive suggestions to Diane Finley, instead of attacking Stephen Harper for wearing a blue sweater vest on television? And if she IS calling Finley with suggestions, and they're GOOD suggestions, why aren't they being implemented?

Folks... THIS is the environment in which the wheat is seperated from the chaff. We see who of these elected officials, pulling in six-figure (or very near to six figure) salaries is actually one of our LEADERS, and who is just one of the multitude of namesless, faceless POLITICIANS whose one and only job seems to be "get elected, stay elected, don't screw up our party's chance of getting more seats next time".

We have a lot of elected officials in Alberta making suggestions, from all sides of the aisle, on how to make our world a better place. People like Jonathan Denis, Kent Hehr, Heather Forsyth and Harry Chase all advocate in specific terms, going so far in some cases as to bring private member's bills forward, for things that will improve the standard of living and quality of life for all Albertans - not just cravenly attacking their political opponents trying to win re-election in 2012. None of them are cabinet ministers. 2 of them are opposition members, and not technically "government" at all. But they're all acting like LEADERS. We need more Leaders like those 4, at ALL levels of government.

The old-world, win-at-all-costs style of politics is still alive. It's still alive, because it WORKS. There are hundreds of people across this country drawing paycheques from the public treasury because of that. But we as a society need to start demanding more, and better, of those people whom we elect, and PAY, to represent us.

Consider your city, your town, your province, or this country as a corporation. There's income, and there are expenses, and important decisions to be made that affect both. You, dear reader, are the shareholder. And your elected officials sit as members of the Board of Directors. Now, that board is going to have factions that want to expand. It's going to have factions that want to merge with another company. It's going to have factions that want to cut jobs to keep the company in the black. And so on and so forth. At the end of the day, however, that board is making decisions that in a very real way affect the value of your stock holdings. And if the members of that board are so focused on internal politicking, and getting "their guy" elected as Chairperson that they neglect to properly manage the company, and the value of your stocks begins to drop... well then, that board has some explaining to do, doesn't it?

Demand better, Nation. Demand Leadership. Politics as usual isn't good enough anymore.


Anonymous said...

Excellent Piece... Your style and postings are the reason I wanted to start a blog. Keep up the good work. While I tend to take a position of sarcasm generally, I agree with what you are saying here.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article! I only have one question: how exactly can the bloggers make a difference as a group? I agree it's time to ask serious questions, propose serious answers and be generally "serious", but will that have any real influence on the real politics?
Take care,

Leanne said...

This is a great post. Politicians get so wrapped up in the "us versus them" mentality, that point fingers instead of working together to make the province/country a better place. It's too bad because really, politicians do work their butts off, but attitudes like that put a sour taste in the mouths of the public.

I wouldn't turn down representing voters on a provincial stage, but I'd want to make sure that the party I was joining would ensure that I could do what's right instead of digging up dirt on the other team.

CS said...

Excellent post, after watching politics for 30 years I have come to realise that your generation is the one that will make change happen.

I an a die hard PC and am bitter that Harper took the opposition and media's bait to deliver the deficit budget that they did.I really do not think it will make that much difference over all.

I almost was starting to enjoy Iggy until I watched him in question period. Same old just a different suit.

Bloggers as a group do make a difference because it give us old farts some hope that there is some decent thought out there. I am new to reading blogs but overall it has been informative and sometimes amusing.

Anonymous said...

Is there any way that you can get this both read and understood by our elected representatives?

And how about those who would intrusively push their point of view, try to outyell rather than discuss?

Keep up the thoughtful wordcraft E.S.!

Kirk Schmidt said...

"I tell people I want to someday serve as an elected official provincially, and they look at me like I just admitted to smothering kittens in my free time."

I laughed wholeheartedly at this. It's true.

Good post, ES.