As the Ontario campaign ads finally fall silent and much of the political rhetoric takes a pause, there is now time, on all sides of the political aisle, for some thoughtful introspection. I hope each of us reflects on the corrosive influence divisive partisanship, hyperbole and ambush politics have had on our collective confidence in our precious system.
Reflection is important because this behaviour is not benign. The proof? More Ontarians than ever stayed home on election night. This month’s provincial election had a record low turnout of 43 per cent. Looking to point a finger for that result? Well, there is more than enough blame to go around: pundits, reporters, media (conventional, new and social), partisan political actors, and the citizens themselves all played a role.
Long-term trust in our system has been actively traded away for a need to achieve short-term wins. Just as many lament the cost of short-termism on Bay Street, so do I lament its toll on our public life.
Unofficial election results indicated that, compared to the 2018 election, the Ontario Progressive Conservatives and the NDP respectively received approximately 413,000 and 818,000 fewer votes this time.
Now all parties are guilty of less-than-stellar behaviour, to be sure. How many times have you heard someone say, “If I conducted myself like that in my workplace, I’d be sacked by lunchtime,” when speaking of behaviour in the legislature?
Many will recall the PC government’s overzealous use of clapping staffers; Steven Del Duca’s focus on phoney PC scandals during the writ period, which culminated with their embarrassing “gravy train” announcement; and Andrea Horwath’s promotion of misinformation about OHIP delisting, which came on the heels of her decision to break agreed-upon COVID-19 protocols in the Ontario legislature in an attempt to vote down government legislation.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that these are the kinds of dodgy political tricks that turn voters off politics.
Now, there is a structural answer to where all this comes from. In political offices, at all orders of government right across the country, you will find the same thing. More opposition researchers and proverbial spin doctors than policy wonks. More people working on the taxpayers’ dime to play silly buggers than to responsibly develop and advance new policy ideas.
Parliaments — founded as deliberative and thoughtful assemblies, places for civil debate and the exchange of ideas — have become circus tents with political theatre, half-truths and personal political attacks in the centre ring.
Like a misplaced gamble on a unicorn stock, the cost of this buffoonery has been the legitimacy and relevance of our democratic systems.
Too often, our elected officials are now forced to focus their efforts on protecting themselves from political punches, rather than talking about the issues that matter most — the cost of living, health care, and housing affordability. Not to mention jobs and the economy. In short, the very issues that got them into power.
So, what to do? For starters, we could professionalize the “political staffer class.” The province’s integrity commissioner, for example, found that political staffers are undertrained and desperate for help.
Not to knock political aides — they are some of the hardest-working people in the country — but our politicians would be better served by staff with experience not just inside politics, but from outside as well.
That’s only the beginning. Politicians need to learn to resist what is currently an insatiable urge to knock their opponents down whenever they can, and think instead about their role in protecting the health of our system for the long run. They need to realize that partisan political blinders really are damaging. That they have, as elected officials, a higher duty.
After all, politics not only can be better — it needs to be better. For all of us.
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'Pride is a protest' — queer folk voice power amid politics and pandemic – Mission Local
Missing the Pride Parade was not an option for Emily.
Though she attended numerous parades in the past as an out lesbian, recent political attacks on the queer community imbued a different sentiment for Sunday’s parade.
“People think it’s time to have a rager,” Emily said. “But our rights are in danger as we speak.”
So the 19-year-old threw on her rainbow-striped button-down and, friends in tow, came to San Francisco’s annual LGBTQ Pride Parade determined to counter “the [negative] way Republicans paint us.” How? By celebrating. “Queer joy is really radical right now,” she said.
On Sunday, the city’s 52nd annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Pride Parade kicked off at the Embarcadero and ended in usual fun at Civic Center. Parade participants included local gay politicos State Sen. Scott Wiener and District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, longtime queer organizations like Dykes on Bikes and San Francisco Bay Times, and any company that could capitalize on the optics.
But as Emily said, for many spectators it was a few hours of radical joy.
Take Malaki, a 16-year-old from Fresno. He didn’t know he was going to Pride until yesterday — his very first one — and the gay young man was thrilled. “I was visiting my family, and they asked if I’d like to go. I was like, yeah, Oh my god!”
It’s been years since Malaki started noticing his feelings toward men had changed, and as a sixth grader, he realized he was gay. Luckily, Malaki’s family is supportive and inclusive, and joined him Sunday.
“It’s so good to be here,” said Malaki, flashing a huge smile. “I feel so safe. I have a warm feeling that I am not alone, and that I’m able to be who I am. I can be hype!”
It was 13-year-old Bibi’s first Pride Parade too. “I really wanted to go,” he said, waving a transgender flag and holding a stream of colorful balloons.
The new teen rose at 7 a.m. to make it from Novato on time, and thus he was perfectly positioned in front to collect the tiny flags and beaded necklaces that parade participants threw out.
Bibi, assigned a female at birth, realized at the age of 10 that he was a transgender boy and bisexual.
Accompanying him at the parade was his mother, Sol Rocha, who is still learning about how best to support her son. “It hasn’t been easy,” she said. “I’m learning, and it’s a process. But I want to understand. As parents, you have to accept them no matter what. Like when you held them as babies for the first time — unconditional love.”
Just a few people over, Courtney, Ash, and Trystan whooped at the roller skaters and pocketed Planned Parenthood condoms.
“I wanted to go to Pride in 2019, but the pandemic happened,” Courtney said, who uses she/they pronouns. This was their first one “out” as a bisexual. “With everything going on, I wanted to support everyone. People want to take away our rights,” they said.
Relatives on Courtney’s mother’s side rejected her after coming out, but after her mother passed, she cares less what her family thinks. And “if they think that I should stay in the closet, I don’t want to be in that family.”
Their friend Ash came from Willows, a small town near Chico. In that environment, Ash said he doesn’t correct people when they misgender him for “safety reasons.” But the parade is a relief, and a nice place to be with “like-minded people.”
Trystan agreed. “Pride has always been a big thing for me until Covid-19 stopped that. This is my first as an adult. I can dress up more,” they said, pointing out the rainbow sequins on her face and the yellow, black, blue, and pink striped jersey.
Other parade veterans celebrated the post-pandemic party as well. Oakland resident Greg Cabiness, 66, and San Franciscan Sam Kaufman, 59, said “it was good to be out.” The pair have been partners for 10 years, and after some typical couple back-and-forth, figured out they had marched in it twice.
“It’s nice. We may go to Civic Center after this. That’s where the party is at,” Cabiness said. “It seems like a more diverse crowd. A lot more allies and acceptance is good to see,” Kaufman added.
And Emily, the 19-year-old in the rainbow button-down, brought along plenty of allies from home. One of Emily’s friends Isaiah noted he was adopted by gay parents. He’s been at Pride for years, and it’s a joy to return. His other friends stressed the importance of love at Sunday’s parade in the face of politics.
“When there’s so much shit happening with Roe v. Wade, it’s important to stick together and show there’s resistance,” said Matt, a Lower Haight resident. “People want to think of Pride as a party. It’s a protest.”
How much influence should politicians have over police? – CBC.ca
Controversy erupted this week when allegations came to light that the Liberal government may have tried to interfere in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) investigation into the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting where 17 people were killed.
According to RCMP Supt. Darren Campbell’s notes, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said in a phone call that she had promised the Prime Minister’s Office and then-Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair that the RCMP would publicly release information about the weapons the gunman used. Lucki was reportedly angry when the RCMP did not do so.
The Liberal government is alleged to have wanted the information made public to further their gun control agenda. Critics and opposition politicians have accused the government of attempting to use the tragedy for political gain. Lucki, Blair and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have denied that there was interference in the investigation.
But how and when — if ever — should those who make laws be able to boss around those who enforce them? When has police interference taken place, and to what consequences did it lead?
CBC News spoke to some experts in an attempt to explain the tense, legally fuzzy and often controversial relationship between police and policymakers in Canada.
Why is policing supposed to be separate from politics?
The Supreme Court of Canada cites the Rule of Law as the founding principle of Canada’s democracy. It’s considered important to our constitutional order that no one, even the most powerful politicians in the country, can think of themselves as above the law.
But there’s another reason for police independence — in our democracy the government is supposed to be accountable to the people, which means people aren’t suppose to fear police going after them on the orders of the government.
“I think what we want to do is avoid a ‘police state,'” Kent Roach, a professor in the University of Toronto’s faculty of law, said. “And by that, I mean we want to avoid politicians telling the police who to investigate and who not to investigate.”
In states where the government can tell police what to do, experts say a pattern quickly emerges of government critics and opponents ending up in jail.
For those reasons, police autonomy in enforcing the law and protecting the public is a key ingredient in most well-functioning liberal democracies.
“Political leaders are not supposed to micromanage police services, that is antithetical to the very idea of democracy,” Temitope Oriola, a professor of criminology and sociology at the University of Alberta, said.
What does the law say?
While those principles seem like part of a basic civics lesson they’re ones Roach says many people, including police officers and politicians, often don’t understand well.
But there may be a reasonable excuse — the law itself isn’t clear.
“I think part of the problem here is that the lines of legitimate government direction to the police and illegitimate government direction are very vague.” he said.
While police independence from government is important in our democracy, Roach says it’s a principle that’s not always reflected in our laws.
“For example, the police cannot lay hate propaganda charges without prior approval of the attorney general,” he said.
“So there’s kind of no absolutes.”
In Lucki’s case, the RCMP Act states the Commissioner “has the control and management of the force and all matters connected with the force” but “under the direction of the minister.”
Roach said the law is confusing because it doesn’t go into details about what direction means, including what type of direction is appropriate for a minister to give to an RCMP Commissioner. It also doesn’t say whether a direction has to be in writing or can be given orally.
“It’s utterly vague, right?” Roach said.
Roach would like to see the RCMP Act amended to clarify what types of orders the government can legally give RCMP leadership.
He said there is a clear divide between directions that set rules for police generally, which are acceptable in a democracy, and directions for police to act in a particular way in a specific case, or to take action against a particular person, which are not.
He says a legitimate government directive to police might be guidelines on what information the police are allowed make public, or ordering the police to stop using a particular technique or practice.
But a directive that would not be acceptable would be directing police to charge someone with a crime.
During the 1997 APEC Summit in Vancouver, the government was found to have interfered with RCMP operations by directing how the Mounties protected then Indonesian president Suharto. In a public inquiry report on the summit, Justice Ted Hughes concluded that the government twice tried to interfere with police operations by attempting to get police to keep protestors away from Suharto.
Hughes recommended the government amend the RCMP Act to legally clarify police independence from government. To date, no government has taken up the recommendation.
Roach says there may be a reason for the lack of action and clarity.
“I suspect that in some ways both the police and the politicians like to kind of keep the status quo, which is quite vague and murky,” he said. “I think that is unfortunate.”
What happens when politicians try to be police?
Politicians aren’t supposed to tell police what to do, but sometimes they can’t resist. While some politicians do come from a law enforcement background, most don’t — and it can show when they try to interfere with police work.
“They don’t have the the skill, the knowledge, the expertise, the lived experience, to make operational decisions,” Laura Huey, a professor of sociology at Western University, said.
She cited the 1997 APEC Suharto controversy as an example, but there are more recent ones too.
Huey says Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson’s attempt to negotiate with the freedom convoy protestors earlier this year comes to mind — a move critical incident command experts told her made a bad situation worse.
“Most police services that deal with public order have people that are highly experienced, highly trained professionals that specialize in negotiating in situations like that,” she said.
“So do we want the mayor going down and mucking around on something of which he knows absolutely nothing and had zero effect anyway?”
Roach says his favourite example involves former RCMP Commissioner Leonard Nicholson, the most decorated Mountie in history whose name the RCMP headquarters bears.
In 1959, the John Diefenbaker government told Nicholson to send more officers to police a labour dispute in Newfoundland. Nicholson chose to resign instead of comply with the order.
“So that kind of shows that this idea that the RCMP doesn’t like political direction … is built into the RCMP’s DNA,” Roach said.
Is there a better way?
If too much political interference in policing is an issue, there are also perils in too little.
Voters don’t elect police officers but do elect politicians, so they have a role acting as a check on police.
“Society also cannot afford to have a police service that is not accountable to anybody,” Oriola said.
A section of the Liberal’s 2021 campaign platform is dedicated to changes to the RCMP, in particular making the Mounties more accountable.
Oriola calls the government-police relationship a “delicate” one that requires “a fine balance” and one where intentions should be considered.
“Are you giving directions to the police service to punish political opponents, or are you giving direction … in order that we might have a better society, and improved society based on the policy priorities that you campaigned on?” he said.
Huey says more training for police services boards, who hire police chiefs, may allow them to make better hiring decisions, which in turn could inspire more confidence in police leadership and result in less political interference.
“I think that if we hire highly competent people, we need to give them the space to make the decisions,” she said.
Roach says a potential solution, on top of more legal clarity on interference, is a law requiring any government ministers who direct police to do so in writing — including a requirement that the direction be public.
He thinks the RCMP Act could be amended with this requirement, and to permit it only outside of individual cases.
“It seems to me, in a democracy, citizens have a right to know what the minister is doing,” Roach said. “I think that that directive system could not only promote transparency, but could avoid all of these controversies.”
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