Unacceptable

I was sent this video by a friend who wanted to bring it to my attention. I’m glad that he did because the video speaks a few lessons and appeals to me on a few levels.

First, watch the video:

Also, watch the comments (here and here) for more context.

If the context presented in the video is truthful and complete, then this sort of practice is unacceptable.

As someone that follows politics, as a democrat, a grassroots conservative, and a blogger that occasionally films items of interest for my readers, I find the events that unfolded in the video disgraceful.

Last week, I was called by a reporter at the Toronto Star asking how blogging and “YouTube” will change the next election. Of course, I’m becoming almost evangelical about blogging, video blogging, and their roles within an open democracy. The most striking evolution that I highlighted was that the cost of video recording, editing, processing and delivery is dropping at such a rate that almost anyone with a hobby-like (or less) dedication to the medium can use the tools. The effect of blogging is similar; the act of publishing one’s thoughts to a worldwide audience is now next to nil. Case in point: the lowest barrier to overcome is the public library’s internet access. In Canada, every citizen is entitled to participate in democracy. Classically, for most this has meant filling out an “X” next to their candidate of choice, every time an election is called. However, blogging enables greater participation, direct action and political participation by contributing to the many debates, advocating on the various issues and holding our public officials to account.

In this age, one does not need to be an “accredited” member of the press, an “approved” opinion maker, or a “certified” talking head to have a “value-added” role in politics and in our democratic process. Indeed, I have been struggling to define and understand what it means to be some of all three in the political process over the past few years.

For Scott Ross, the harassment that he faced from local Conservatives at the Open House was unacceptable. And political parties should take note. Ross’ video will cause more damage to a party that has campaigned on transparency than any footage that he could have recorded from locals complaining about the budget or any other policy. As I told the reporter from the Toronto Star, video/audio recording is becoming ubiquitous. When one pairs this with democratic participation, we all benefit. Parties not only ought be mindful of the now famous “macaca” moment, as Sen. George Allen (R-VA) experienced during the ’06 campaign, but they should never be seen to be restrictive of a constituent with a camera in an open community forum.

The “Youtube” effect will do much to amplify any mistake and any hypocrisy encountered on or off the campaign trail. Perhaps this will have a positive effect on weeding out candidates that don’t walk the walk and talk the talk when they are in less guarded situations such as town halls or coffee parties.

Is this situation limited to local Conservative riding associations? Of course not. Those with control (whether earned or not) and those that wish to retain control are in the position to do as the Conservatives of Kelowna-Lake Country did to Ross. Personally, I’ve witnessed the same on many levels including, but not limited to the Liberal Party, the Parliamentary Press Gallery and the sandbox of university student council politics.

If we are to practice what we preach, we ought to be removing the barriers to our political representatives and those that wish to become them. A free press is a free press, no matter how it is becoming redefined.

UPDATE: Never trust a Liberal? Mel Wilde gives his account. Apparently he was there: I sat at the next table from the guys who wanted to disrupt the meeting. The video was out of context and only covered what the Ross wanted. For those of us who went to the meeting for the opportunity to talk to our M.P., we lost out. It was obvious that these people were organized and committed to disrupt. Folks do have freedom to protest, but should they have license to prevent others from participating in a meeting called to allow discussion with an M.P.? Makes me want to go disrupt the next Liberal Party meeting. I won’t because I respect the rights of others, Which Ross obviosly does not.

The Code of the Centre Block Schoolyard

“The Prime Minister should apologize” whines Her Majesty’s Loyal Official Opposition in reaction to Stephen Harper’s latest attack on the sensibilities of the Liberal Party. This week in the House, in reaction to a call from Stephane Dion for the Defense Minister to resign, the Prime Minister retorted,

“I can understand the passion that the leader of the Opposition and members of his party feel for Taliban prisoners. I just wish occasionally they would show the same passion for Canadian soldiers.”

How dare he? Who does he think he is? Liberals are offended!

Of course, this brings up thoughts of the recent incident involving the Prime Minister and his quoting from a recent Kim Bolan article (which was included in Quorum that day, no less) which suggested familial ties between a Liberal MP and the Air India investigation. Outrage from the Liberal benches! How dare he? The Parliamentary Press Gallery went into a tizzy and questioned the Prime Minister’s tactics and found him to be quite rude in his reading.

Of course, baiting the Liberals is turning into a sport for Mr. Harper. The now famous attack ads on Stephane Dion famously put a spotlight on the Opposition Leader’s whine “This is unfair!” to then-opponent and fellow leadership candidate Michael Ignatieff.

The main street Canadian, as PMO strategic whiz Patrick Muttart’s psychographics must show, is not very likely to sympathize with the pain from the verbal bruises that Stephen Harper is handing out to the Liberal benches. Frankly, those of us who live outside of the Parliamentary bubble understand that tattling to the adults (the public and the press, in this case) in the face of Prime Ministerial bullying isn’t likely to earn much respect. In fact, this is a thread on which the press, by sympathizing with Dion, is finding itself out of touch with Canadians. When Peter MacKay allegedly implied that his former girlfriend Belinda Stronach was a dog, the press covered the incident for two weeks and while claiming that the public was being turned off by the degrading decorum in the House, the press felt that the story had enough traction to sell tons of newsprint. We weren’t sold on the outrage; we were tuned in because of the same reason why kids drop what they’re doing and converge whenever they hear the far off words “fight, fight, fight” during recess.

Similarly, when Stephane Dion whines that Stephen Harper is being unfair, he is not appealing to our sense of sympathy, he is unwittingly appealing to our schoolyard instincts. Nobody likes the whiner and his whiny mother in the press gallery who called our parents and the principal (besides, we’re pretty sure that our dad can beat up his dad). Instead, we all like the guy with the snappy comeback.

Too bad for Stephane, he can’t whine and take his ball home. This Parliament is Harper’s and our pal Steve is the king of the court.

LIBERAL DEBRIEF: I figured that this would be necessary. This article does not condone bullying. It is in fact a piece of creative writing that describes the parliamentary arena as if it were a schoolyard full of children. The piece describes the dramatis personae including the bullies, the victims, the other kids, the parents and even the principal. If Harper is the bully and Dion is the victim, we’re the other children and we act as such (like it or not), and we reinforce the model. As parliamentary observers, we tend to reflect the psychology of schoolyard children when it comes to observing Harper being aggressive with Dion. When Dion cries “unfair”, he doesn’t get sympathy from the rest of us.

Schoolyard analogies aside… Dion is all grown up now, and he has a job in federal politics.

UDPATE: The National Post weighs in (3/24):

“This is certainly a pattern,” Mr. Dion told Parliament, referring to the Prime Minister, “where he acts as a bully and I don’t want to follow this way, I don’t want to do that.”

Then don’t follow it, Mr. Dion. Or do. Either way, stop whining like a child whose older brother just got a bigger lollypop. Act like a leader, or at least a grownup politician. Accept that in the cut-and-thrust of political jousting your opponents are going to make allegations against you and your party every bit as outsized as the ones you make against them.

Has the media love affair with Dion already begun?

First, Kate McMillan and Bob Tarantino rout out a suspicious Dion friendly source used by CP.

Next, Lawrence Martin the Globe and Mail scribe, former Chretien biographer (two books…one was written under duress), and a man paid over $6000 by Liberal governments for two speaking jobs gives new Liberal leader Stephane Dion the highest of praises, and apologizes for one of Dion’s recent flip-flops (my comments in bold):

There is a suspicion out there that Stéphane Dion is a man of honour, a politician of dignity with true character. (there’s only one thing I’m suspicious of at this point Mr. Martin, and it’s not Dion)

True character is the reverse of trying to be all things to all people. It means not seeking others’ approval. (Lawrence never wrote any biographies about Paul Martin, you’ll note) When, as a political leader, you stop doing that, and just be the essential you, people want some of what you’ve got, some of that core. You’re the magnetic field. (oh captain, my captain!)

But politics is about selling, reaching out, pandering. (first hints of apology) And so here was St├ęphane Dion in his first week as Liberal leader, already in the grip of the ugly claws of the enterprise(the grip!… the ugly claws, poor Stephane!). He was faced with a middling controversy over whether he should maintain his dual French citizenship. It was a sensitive issue for him, one that cut to his heart and, in responding, he got testy. (I’ll make full disclosure for Lawrence Martin here… the Globe and Mail scribe is a dual citizen too)

His answer was sound enough (of course…), but he couldn’t help thinking of the political equation. Well, if maintaining my French citizenship loses me votes, he said, he might have to reconsider. In other words, let’s cast aside the principle involved here and make a decision on the basis of politics.

That wasn’t the man of honour talking. It was hardly the new politics. It was an example of him looking over his shoulder, seeing the dark shadow of pollsters in pursuit, about to smother the light within. (dark forces made Dion do it. Dion is made of pure light, by the way)

Martin then contrasts “honour” with big bad Stephen Harper:

Stephen Harper has an impressive skill set. He had a chance, himself, to bring more honour to governance. But since the opening bell when he elevated a floor-crosser and an unelected senator to his Cabinet, he has shown himself to be a leader whose abiding imperative is political opportunism (wow…). His Senate reform, announced yesterday, which would allow voters at last some say in Senate appointments, is a step forward that he need not have framed in the context of political partisanship. His brazen approach in this regard has cost him, as voters, turned off by this kind of politics, have responded with declining approval ratings. (brazen, turned off, declining!)

Hence the Dion opening is all the greater. The Leader of the Opposition must find a way to resist the temptation to respond in kind to the cheap attacks and slanders. To succeed, to avoid being dragged down into the brothel, the rules of engagement are many: He must be a champion of principle. He must remain stoic, keeping the level of discourse high and noble, holding to his true character (wow…). He must, while letting other caucus members tackle the seamy questions, be seen as frequently as possible with the other tower of integrity in the Liberal thicket, Ken Dryden.

It’s not difficult to figure out how Lawrence Martin votes.

Finally, when Dion named Ignatieff as the deputy of the opposition Liberal Party, it made the front page of the Globe and Mail. When Stephen Harper named Carol Skelton as deputy leader of the opposition Alliance party in 2003, no such fanfare from the Globe. However, it did make page A10 of the National Post!

UPDATE: You may have read in Macleans that Susan Delacourt and Greg Weston were snubbed from the PM’s media Christmas party. I’m also hearing that Delacourt, after her invite was “lost in the mail”, was trying to lobby her fellow PPG members to boycott the PM’s party. UPDATE: The pro-Delacourt camp assures me that this isn’t true!