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Friday, June 12, 2009

If you don't want your politicians to act like sheep stop condemning them for being human

I am old school enough to still subscribe to my local daily newspaper. Sure much of the news in it I have already picked up on twitter or by reading various blogs, but it still provides me with a good overview of the day’s (or yesterday’s) events and sometimes the layout itself reveals the dichotomies within our society.

For instance on June 11th I could not help but notice the juxtaposition of an editorial cartoon showing cabinet ministers being turned into sheep above that of a thoroughly unreasonable article calling for federal minister Lisa Raitt's resignation.

For those of you who may have missed the latest Ottawa tempest in a teapot Ms. Raitt had the exceedingly bad luck to have a young staffer who was prone to leaving briefing papers and tape recordings of her minister where the media could find them. Worse yet, this same staffer also inadvertently taped a private conversation issue where Minister Raitt was discussing the shortage of medical isotopes as being a politically “sexy” issue.

Of course once this conversation was released by the media, it took only moments for a great wail of indignation and outrage to be vented over Raitt’s brazenly human remarks by the media, opposition politicians and anyone and everyone who has ever had cancer.

Such was the hysteria that Raitt’s remarks were even presented as meaning somehow the Minister thought cancer was sexy. This is of course a gross distortion of the truth. A politically sexy issue (for those of you who did not take politics 101) is of course something that is politically salient and that the media is paying attention to. Thus the challenge and opportunity of solving a real problem that had national media attention was what Ms. Raitt found sexy.

I personally found that refreshing as the inclination of an increasing number of politicians is to run away from real problem or try and delegate them to someone else. Raitt even took to task in a relatively mild manner in this same private conversation a colleague who was pursuing exactly that strategy.

As a former BC political chief of staff, I am appalled at the sheer incompetence of Ms. Raitt’s former political staff person. She has been fired and justly so. As a former staffer I can tell you that cabinet ministers can and do vent in private their frustrations about other people and situations just like every other human being I have ever met. And just like every other human being politicians also say very concerned and caring things about other people in private as well.

What I found most troubling of all was that when Raitt received her public flogging, with the notable and commendable exception of Christie Blatchford in the Globe and Mail, not one other member of the media bothered to note the fact that Raitt's own brother died of cancer when he was only 37. Such is the heights of ignorance and hypocrisy our national sense of outrage towards any and all politicians has become.

The bottom line is this if we do not allow our politicians to be human, then they will have no choice but to act like sheep. They will be mild mannered sheep that will never cause offense while real leaders with their all too human foibles will either stay hidden in the backrooms or more likely far far away from politics all together.

Mike Geoghegan is a government relations consultant who can be reached via his website at www.bclobbyist.com or on twitter at bclobbyist.

Please note that this blog has also been posted at Vancouverite and on the Western Standard's Shotgun blog.

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