Thursday, August 29, 2013

Why do we treat politicians so badly?

I was motivated to write this as I read a Face book post from the spouse of a prominent provincial politician admonishing people for insults and threats of violence aimed at her husband. 
Now, peripherally, I agree that insults and threats of violence are in bad taste, threats generally don't translate into action and as for insults, well sticks and stone might break your bones but being called a "Jack Ass" hardly ever hurts. Might be hard to explain to your kids, but I doubt it will be the underlying cause for their extensive therapy.
In the case of the aforementioned politician however I have less than no sympathy as he himself has gone to great lengths to refer to his colleagues in many derogatory terms. My personal favorite: suggested a wheel chair bound colleague "Stand up for his constituents". Any insults fired off in his direction are well deserved.
Generally however, when asked what the public think of their elected representatives, the most likely response is "they don't".  Arrogance and the false trappings of power might delude some of our elected officials into thinking they are on the public consciousness but in reality they are not.  I cannot, off the top of my head name all of the MP's, MLA's councilors, or trustees who represent Edmonton and I was one. This leads me to believe that the old adage, "as long as you spell my name right" is about the best we, or most elected officials can hope for.
This is particular relevant as we head into the municipal election season, I know of three people running for council in my ward, I think it's a ward, there are a couple of others I don't know, but if I did not actually know three candidates personally I can think of nothing that would make any of them stand out.  At the provincial level, most people vote party, not candidate, the same is true federally, although admittedly since Brent Rathgeber is a very good friend I would vote for him no matter what party he chose to resign from. 
I have empathy and many good things to say about the various elected officials who represent me, I respect what they do, because I used to do it but I also understand the way things work and the real reason people are nice to politicians:
People want money.
It pissed me off that a local cultural group got a two million dollar grant to fight crime and the next time I met the Executive Director he was wearing a real nice suit and instead of driving his Crown Victoria Taxi had upgraded to a new Explorer, I still watch the group to see if any actual results are delivered for the two million: so far, some posters.
Another cultural dance group, and all cultural dance is really just mating rituals to music, was continually asking for funding. They needed money for gala's, suit cases to hold props, costumes, you name it.
As Alberta's cultural ambassadors, they seemed to think they were entitled to the amount of cultural welfare they received. Their Director was less than pleasant toward me when I said "no" once and he wound up doing an end run to the secret committee that hands out controversial or unnecessary grants. Since I was on the committee, I beat him there too. I might not have won the cultural dance vote in the next election but since I knew redistribution of the  boundaries of my constituency would make him someone else's problem for the next election I was free to stand my ground.
(The above paragraph tells you pretty well everything you need to know about decision making)
If  you want to get elected you have to pander to all these narrow focused special interests and if you don't, well you don't get re-elected, or so you think.
Photo-ops, handing out cheques and making deep and meaningful speeches at the various gala events politicians attend are very gratifying for the ego and hopefully translate into votes.
But with such awesome ability to freely dispense with the public purse comes the inevitable downside of having to say no, politicians are loath to pick winners and losers, yet most of what our politicians do is align themselves to winning the next election.
Policy and legislation are timed, the heavy lifting i.e. stuff you don't like, such as more taxes happen early in the mandate so you will forget about it by polling day. It's a rare politician indeed who will invite controversy in the latter part of a mandate, makes no difference what party. Opposition tries to stir controversy up and the governing party tries to sweeten the pot.
The public wind up being bribed with their own money and all hope they will get some.
It's hypocritical for the elected official to complain about how they are treated really, public service is one thing, but the lust for power is quite another. The public don't care: 21% of the people in Fort MacMurray voted in the last provincial election, over all voter engagement is falling, not because people don't care but because  there is really nothing to get engaged in.
It's been a long time in this city, province or country that we elected people because their ideas were better. If we did we might discover that the quality of decision making, the ability and responsibility to pick winners and losers would take precedence over the need to trump on polling day. 
As for insults and threats of violence, you reap what you sow.

No comments: