There was a time when politicians were highly respected by the public. True, they may have been scoundrels or liked to drink too much on occasion such as Canada’s first Prime Minister Sir John A Macdonald or were even seen as morally and socially evil as Pierre Trudeau was in the west during the National Energy Policy issue in Canada in the 1970s. But, in the majority of cases, excusing Trudeau’s famous Fuddle Duddle or his middle digit, they and the majority of politicians since then, have, for the most part, behaved with an appropriate sense of decorum. Sadly, that no longer seems to be the case. Last week, for example, two cases, one federal and one municipal serve to indicate that politicians have lost respect for their opponents and, far more repugnant, for the people who put them in office.
Federally, Conservative Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney was responsible for, in his explanation, accidentally sending an email to government colleagues that labeled Alberta politician Tom Lukasuk an a–hole. When pressed for an apology following news of the email becoming public, Kenney refused to grant an interview into the matter, tried to sidestep the issue during question period, responded by defending his government’s work with the Alberta Progressive Conservatives, called NDP leader Thomas Mulcair “…the most divisive opposition leader since separatist leader Lucien Bouchard,” and lambasted the Liberals for opposing the elimination of the gun registry and the Canada Wheat Board. Kenney went on to defend the Conservatives work with Alberta arguing that the government has “ a phenomenally positive” relationship with the provincial party. “We have a very strong working relationship with the government of Alberta. We’re getting things done for Alberta.” Kenney finally apologized to the Alberta minister by phoning Lukaszuk on June 20.
Locally, a Wetaskiwin alderman was quoted as calling opponents of a cancelled parking lot and a band shell in that city’s Jubilee Park “a few old farts” after the contractor cancelled the development due to a citizen created petition. In each case, the lack of respect by Kenney toward a fellow politician and the Wetaskiwin alderman toward the citizens responsible for the petition is the issue. One has to ask what happened to the integrity and morality of elected officials who do not seem to feel responsible for what they say in whatever form, email or verbal, they say it. Prior to and during the last election campaign, the Stephen Harper led Conservatives seemed to support a call from the New Democrats and the late Jack Layton for a less acrimonious question period in the House of Commons. Yet, following their overwhelming victory in the election, the Conservatives have forgotten their pledge as evidenced by Kenney’s defensive outburst. And one should never forget the behavior of John Baird in his responses to the opposition. Evidently the government seems more intent on shouting down, bullying the opposition into silence or answering questions put to it in question period with answers which do not provide the opposition with the information it is seeking. Given the degree of control which Harper is notorious for with the Conservatives one can assume that his political minions are following the dictates of their boss.
Taking things one step further, the federal Conservatives can be seen as trying to parrot their American Republican counterparts and their paid media flunkies to launch attacks on those who have the gall to question them or hold opinions which do not fit with the Republican schema. Last Thursday, for example, Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy was quoted on Greta Van Susteran as saying that Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat was “Queen of Planet Stupider” for her views. This lack of respect is a well known ploy amongst American politicians and their media mouthpieces such as Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and Van Susteran. Limbaugh is the most well known of the trio and uses his phone in radio talk show as a way to advance a multitude of his Conservative causes and beliefs. While his many pronouncements are too many and too silly to bother with “Feminism,” according to Limbaugh, “was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society.” Nor are members of the public immune to his verbal outrages.
Although he later apologized, Limbaugh labeled a University of Georgetown law student a “slut and prostitute” after she testified before the Democrats to seek support for health insurers to cover contraceptive costs. “(She) essentially says that she must be paid to have sex – what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.” Limbaugh did apologize but said his choice of words were meant to be “humorous.” Similarly, Coulter has a well-earned reputation for promoting her conservative views without respect for those she disagrees with. During a question and answer session at the University of Ottawa in 2010, Coulter told a Muslim student “to take a camel” after the student questioned Coulter’s earlier comment that Muslims should be banned from airplanes.
As small minded as these views are, they only serve to indicate the extremes to which politicians and their media supporters will go to become known. However, it goes deeper than that. A quick look at Limbaugh’s web site will leave individuals patient enough to perform such a examination with a motive – while their views are based, perhaps, on personal beliefs, the same views are adopted because such diatribes are guaranteed to keep their name in the news. With exposure comes revenue dollars from advertisers wanting to promote their brand to the public, albeit, the conservative right in the U.S is attracted to watch or listen to Limbaugh, Coulter and others. In short, extreme politics has become big business in the United States and while their views are hard to fathom for many Conservative and Liberal supporters, the drive to use their views to earn money is not. Controversy attracts viewers and viewers attract advertising dollars. Although several advertisers withdrew support from Limbaugh following his attack on the university student, this seems to happen rarely in the United States.
Fortunately to its credit the Canadian media establishment, as yet, has not adopted such a money making approach when it comes to politics. Yet, episodes like the ones so evident in the U.S. are not completely foreign to Canada. The Conservatives and in response, the Liberals, are both guilty of engaging in attack ads in the weeks leading up to or during elections in which their political opponents are fair game. One can only hope that the recent outbursts by Kenney, the Wetaskiwin alderman or the arrival on the scene of media types who hope to profit financially from the same formula used so heavily in the U.S. do not become ingrained into the Canadian political scene any more than they already are. Let’s restore common sense and good taste to Canadian politics.