After the so-called “Elbowgate” scandal raised some eyebrows and questions about the level of civility in the conduct of federal politics a few weeks ago, we have had some more disturbing instances of lack of respect and courtesy in provincial politics.
First, as it was widely reported, Wildrose MLA and the party’s finance critic at the Legislature Derek Fildebrandt strongly criticized visiting Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne for her fiscal and environmental policies as she sat in the Legislature following the debate. It was a political move and that was all right. What was not all right, however, was his adoption of a social media comment by a Wildrose supporter who referred to the visiting premier as “Mr. Wynne or whatever the hell she identifies as”, insulting the Ontario politician for her sexual preference. Fildebrandt responded to the comment by saying “Proud to have constituents like you!”
After the incident Wildrose Party announced that Fildebrandt was suspended from the caucus, a decision that lasted only 24 hours; probably a very good example, worthy of being a dictionary definition, of the phrase “paying lip service.”
Secondly, there was the weekly editorial from the group of Wildrose MLAs, which appeared to push the limits of reasoning by drawing a parallel between the carbon tax of the Rachel Notley government and the famine-genocide suffered by Ukrainians under the rule of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. The famine was caused by Stalin’s decision to drastically cut food rations to mainly rural Ukrainians after a poor harvest in 1932, but also part of his design to kill Ukrainian nationalism. Millions of Ukrainians died, the number is estimated at between two and 12 million.
It was clear that the weekly Wildrose MLA editorial, drafted by a group of some eight members of the Wildrose caucus for publication in community weeklies, was aimed at creating some kind of reaction within the province’s influential and sizeable Ukrainian community in the hope of mobilizing more support against the NDP government.
And create a reaction, it did, but not as intended: It backfired and did so strongly, so much so that some of the MLAs attempted to have a revised version of the text published instead of the original one.
Interestingly enough, this weekend Reuters news agency published a commentary titled “Political decency is going to hell”, listing the less than appropriate remarks and analogies uttered by political leaders throughout the Western world. It asked: “What do these politicians do if they take power? How do they govern diverse, largely free societies, and interact with those who do not share their views —and whom they have grossly insulted?” (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-politics-populism-commentary-idUSKCN0YP1H7)
Upon reading the article, one realizes that Donald Trump and his theatrics in the ongoing US presidential campaign are just a continuation of a deteriorating style of political discourse, which is gaining ground in much of the western world.
As newsmakers and opinion leaders, politicians are supposed to behave and live as exemplary citizens to inspire the masses they claim to be leaders for. In that effort, they are expected to act rationally and refrain from agitating their supporters to take extreme actions.
Resorting to sensational language and trying to make political capital out of such human tragedies as famine will hardly serve the purpose of keeping cool heads and maintaining political debate within the confines of courteous conduct.
By the way, one should also take note of a new development at the House of Commons in Ottawa: The Liberal caucus under the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has stopped applauding speeches by the members of their caucus during the widely followed Question Time.
The move, welcomed by many political observers as a positive step aimed at bringing about a more serious atmosphere for discussions at the lower house of the legislature, shows that it is possible to draw some pretty decent conclusions from mistakes made earlier.
We will need to wait and see whether our provincial opposition will also follow suit.