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In praise of career politicians: Why have voters consigned being a ‘lifer’ to political death? – The Globe and Mail

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Former veteran affairs minister Erin O’Toole makes an announcement in Ottawa on May 12.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

“I’m not a career politician,” Erin O’Toole, MP, told a television interviewer on the weekend, adding: “I think Canada needs more doers in politics and less lifers.”

It seems an odd thing to say, for the thrice-elected son of a career politician – John O’Toole, who held elected office at one level or another in Ontario for more than 30 years – as he prepares for his second run at the Conservative leadership. Yet it was obviously intended, a calculated appeal to the popular prejudice that what is most desirable in a politician is that he or she be untarnished, so far as possible, by actual experience in the job.

Imagine. “I’m not a career doctor,” the surgeon boasts, as he prepares to remove your appendix. “I think subatomic physics needs more doers and less lifers,” offers the wannabe nuclear engineer. In what other line of work do dilettantes make a virtue of their inexperience, or veterans attempt to pass as rookies?

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Experience in politics is not automatically to be preferred – there’s a place for fresh perspectives and unsullied ideals – but neither is it to be sneered at. What makes a “lifer” is not how long they have been in office but how little they have been doing there; a time-server is defined not by time, but servility.

A career in politics was not always considered disqualifying for a career in politics. Churchill was a career politician. So were Roosevelt and Lincoln, Gladstone and Disraeli, Macdonald and Laurier. The notion that there was a contradiction between “doers” and “lifers” would not have occurred to them: Politics was what one did with one’s life, if one were ambitious and public-minded. And, like most professions, it was one at which one became better with age.

The current idea, by contrast, that politics is basically easy, a business for amateurs and ingenues – that it is possible to enter politics, indeed, at the leadership level, even as a rank beginner – is rooted in a more general decline in respect for expertise of all kinds, at least where it conflicts with our biases and prior assumptions.

This is as much true on the left as the right. The populist right may despise expertise as so much elitist flim-flam, but to the identitarian left it is increasingly irrelevant: Representation – by age, sex, race and so on – is what is on their mind. What is work experience, after all, compared with lived experience? So the United States gets Donald Trump, and we get a cabinet full of 29-year-olds overseen by a high-school teacher. Anything but “career politicians.”

Perhaps I am wrong, but politics has never struck me as easy. It is hard. I don’t mean this necessarily as praise: so is grave robbery. Politics is dirty work, but it is also indispensable, and is best done by those who are good at it. Few are, for politics is rare in the range of occupations it combines: psychologist, lawyer, con man, diplomat, gambler, thug.

The politician must know just when to say what; how to flatter and how to bully; how to sway the mob in public and cut a deal in private; how to compromise his principles without making compromise his only principle; how to win power but also what to do with it. They must know when to attack and when to keep quiet; when to trust their gut and when to doubt it; when to get out in front of the public and when to follow.

They must be confident but not overbearing, aggressive but not alienating, pleasant but not ingratiating. They must be as ruthless at exploiting divisions as they are inspiring in their calls to unity, a moderate who appeals to radicals and a radical who appeals to moderates and, in this country, they must do all this in two languages.

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These are not the sort of thing you can just pick up on the fly. Above all, they require judgment, the kind that can only be learned, if it can be learned, at great cost in years and heartache. Indeed, merely to have survived that long is testament enough of ability. Longevity in politics is never accidental: There are too many opportunities to fall through the cracks in the ice, as Jean Chrétien once put it, every single day.

Mr. Chrétien was at one time dismissed as a lifer, if memory serves – “yesterday’s man,” they called him – by people whose bodies were later found in a ditch. Experience in politics not only teaches: it sifts.

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Doug Ford says Ontario opposition playing politics over his 'bang on' comments about immigrants – CTV Toronto

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he believes opposition parties are playing politics over his comments on immigrants and said he’s been told his remarks were “bang on.”

Ford was asked on Wednesday by Brampton East MPP Gurratan Singh in Question Period whether he is ready to apologize for the comments that “play into racist stereotypes about new Canadians.”

“Those comments were hurtful, divisive, and wrong,” Singh said.

Ford responded to Singh by saying he has been “inundated with messages from your community, the Sikh community, that said ‘You were bang on.'”

The comments about immigrants were made in Tecumseh while Ford was speaking to reporters about a labour shortage on Monday.

“We’re in such desperate need of people from around the world,” he said. 

The premier then specified that he only wanted “hard-working” people to come to Ontario.

“You come here like every other new Canadian. You work your tail off,” Ford said. “If you think you’re coming to collect the dole and sit around, it’s not going to happen. Go somewhere else.”

On Wednesday, Singh asked Ford if he was ready to apologize, adding the comments were “just plain wrong.”

“Stop playing politics and let’s speak the truth,” Ford responded to Singh. “You know the backbone of this province are great hard-working immigrants.”

“My phone is blowing up all night, all day, day before, from immigrants telling me their story … I’m the biggest pro-immigrant premier we’ve ever seen here.”

Ford told Singh he will “go to his community and door knock and see the response from the Sikh community.”

He said he’s been told already by the Sikh community that his comments were “bang on” and that he needs to “stay focused.”

Many Ontario politicians spoke out and demanded Ford apologize on Monday.

Ford was asked on Tuesday by the NDP to apologize for the “discriminatory” comments. He did not, and instead used the opportunity to say he is “pro-immigration.” 

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How green politics are changing Europe – BBC News

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The Greens

An ocean of conservative blue blankets the electoral map in Germany’s southern state of Bavaria.

And yet the conservative vote actually fell across Germany in last month’s federal vote, while the Greens achieved their biggest success yet,.

In an election dominated by climate change, a speck of green has made a ripple in Bavaria. For the first time a Greens candidate was directly elected to represent Bavaria in the federal parliament.

It is symbolic of the creeping rise in support for European green parties, from Hungary to Finland.

Bavaria's electoral map

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The new MP, Jamila Schäfer, beamed with satisfaction when she recalled her surprise victory in Munich-South, by a wafer-thin margin of 0.8%. Only once before had the CSU lost the constituency since 1976.

“This is a major sign of change,” Ms Schäfer told the BBC.

A campaign ‘close to the people’

The Greens won 14.8% of the vote nationwide, appealing beyond their eco-protest roots with Annalena Baerbock standing as candidate for chancellor. Now they are in talks to share power as part of a three-way coalition.

Greens co-leaders Angelina Baerbock (L) and Robert Habeck (R)

Getty Images

Ms Schäfer, 28, is the Greens’ deputy federal chairwoman and typifies a party that has undergone a national makeover after years of power-sharing in several German states (Länder).

She rose through the ranks of Green Youth, taking part in school strikes against education reforms, long before Swedish activist Greta Thunberg made her name by skipping classes for climate protests.

Climate change was consistently ranked as the most serious facing Germany in opinion polls ahead of the election.

Even so, Ms Schäfer targeted her “close-to-the-people” campaign in Munich-South on housing, pensions and taxes.

Green shoots of success

Once ridiculed by many as idealistic hippies, Green parties increased their vote share in 13 European countries at the most recent national elections. In six of those countries – Austria, Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg and Sweden – green parties have a share of power in coalition governments.

A map showing the countries where green parties hold power

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In all those cases, the Greens are pressing their partners to adopt more ambitious targets for lowering carbon emissions. Elsewhere, the green mayors of Amsterdam and Budapest are aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050 and 2030 respectively – to balance the greenhouse gases emitted and absorbed by their cities.

Despite last month’s election success for the German Greens, even co-leader Ms Baerbock admitted they had failed to live up to early opinion poll ratings: “We wanted more. We didn’t achieve that.”

Given the urgency of curbing emissions, what’s holding the Greens back?

Trust and fear of change

One explanation is that mainstream parties across Europe have elevated climate change to the top of their agendas.

“If you’re concerned about the climate, it doesn’t follow that you’re going to vote green,” Adam Fagan, a political scientist at King’s College, London, said. “It means you’re going to scrutinise the manifestos of the main parties for their green credentials.”

A map showing the percentage of votes for green parties in recent European elections

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Green parties tend to do better in countries with more proportional systems, as used by the European Union for its parliamentary elections. For example, the Greens/EFA bloc gained 25 seats with 10.8% of the vote in the 2019 election to the European Parliament.

“People think putting the Greens in power [in the EU] is less dangerous,” said Philippe Lamberts, co-president of the Greens/EFA.

“From the right and the left, there’s always a question hanging over us: can you really trust the Greens with the economy?”

National election results suggest the answer is no.

To reduce emissions, the Greens say big structural changes to the economy are needed. While those reforms are necessary, they scare people and put them off voting green, Ms Schäfer said.

“They’re worried they’ll be the losers of big transformation,” the MP said. “It’s a lack of control that people are afraid of. But we need to convince people that our politics is not about giving up control.”

‘Killing the planet’

It’s even more difficult in Southern and Eastern European countries, where support for green parties is fragmented or non-existent. Surveys show that climate change is far from a top priority in post-communist countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Lithuania.

Voters and political parties there are generally more concerned about economic development or migration, leaving environmental issues to civil society groups.

Mr Lamberts believes voters find the message that their country’s model is “killing the planet” unpalatable.

Unlike in many of the other former Soviet-bloc states, green parties have made inroads in Hungary.

Gergely Karácsony

Getty Images

The green LMP party has won seats in three consecutive national elections since 2010, while Dialogue received 11.9% of the vote in an alliance with the Hungarian Socialists in 2018.

Dialogue’s success came under the leadership of Gergely Karacsony, who was elected mayor of Budapest in 2019.

He defeated the nationalist incumbent by rallying opposition parties behind his liberal platform, and promising solutions not only to environmental issues, but economic and social ones too.

“In Hungary today, there are three different crises. A democratic crisis, a social crisis and an environmental crisis,” Budapest’s mayor told the BBC. “The advantage of the green movement is that we have proposals for all three.”

He linked green policies such as urban foresting and carbon-free public transport to Hungary’s poor record on air quality and other environmental problems.

Particularly in post-Soviet countries, the mayor said, social justice must go hand in hand with the green transition.

“We cannot put the costs of sustainability on disadvantaged segments of society.”

Jamila Schäfer speaking at an event

Andreas Gregor

What worked in Budapest may not necessarily follow elsewhere, but green candidates have achieved electoral success where they have channelled voter discontent, united the opposition and diversified their offer beyond the environment.

If the Greens can build on these gains, there is a future for them in coalitions, Professor Fagan said.

“Green politics in Europe is getting bigger and stronger, and I’m sure it will grow in the coming years,” Ms Schäfer said.

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Biden says he’s concerned about Chinese hypersonic missiles

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U.S. President Joe Biden said on Wednesday he is concerned about Chinese hypersonic  missiles, days after a media report that Beijing had tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic glide weapon.

Asked by reporters as he was boarding Air Force One for a trip to Pennsylvania whether he was concerned about Chinese hypersonic missiles, Biden said, “Yes.”

The Financial Times said at the weekend that China had tested a weapon in August that flew through space and circled the globe before cruising down toward a target that it missed. China’s foreign ministry denied the report.

 

(Reporting by Nandita Bose; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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