Pam Palmater: Privileged politicians who have taken pandemic leave must lose more than their official role as ministers or critics. It’s time to take a stand.
It’s time to clean your house in Canada.
While our political houses have never been in good shape, this pandemic has shed light on those who play politics compared to those who lead in crisis. The sheer number of federal and provincial government officials who believed they were above the pandemic rules should be a wake-up call for Canadians. Not only did their actions display the worst form of elitism and privilege, but they also endangered the lives of Canadians – the very people they were elected for.
Imagine the audacity of elected officials thinking that during the height of this pandemic they should be exempt from travel restrictions simply because their child is moving away. their parents who are sick; her vacation home in need of maintenance or her family in need of a vacation in Hawaii. Don’t you think Canadians would have loved to travel with family over the holidays or see their dying parents in person rather than virtually? What makes these politicians different from the Canadians they serve?
The answer is entitlement.
Even now, the shock and awe some of these politicians show at the thought of being held accountable is amazing. While they may fake innocence with their faint excuses, it is very clear that they knew what they were doing was wrong. From failing to report trips to their superiors to social media posts pretending to be still in Canada – these politicians must lose more than their official ministerial or critical role – should they all step down.
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No, this is a culture of accountability and it is long overdue. Breaking culture is the dog whistle term used by those in power who do not want to be held accountable for their words and actions – often in the context of racism, misogyny, homophobia, or the abuse and exploitation of others. We have all seen the fall of people who faked indigenous identities to advance their careers, ended up being viewed on social media and whose shows or events were canceled. Elected officials have a legal and moral obligation to act in the best interests of those they represent, and are therefore subject to a higher standard – one that requires that they at least follow their own rules.
Federal parties usually serve until their party is drowned in the scandal, and then a new party is elected and serves until the scandal ousts them. This has been repeated for decades. Government institutions plagued by racism, misogyny, homophobia and even corruption are working hard to portray the problem as “a few bad apples.” In this way, the status quo remains – one set of rules for the privileged and another for everyone else. This only works as long as Canadians accept it.
But this time the Canadians have been pushed too far.
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Canadians brought the New Year to Twitter with the #ResignKenney trend. Demand for the resignation of Alberta Prime Minister Jason Kenney came not only from Kenney’s usual critics – or “urban zealots” as he likes to call them. Albertans from all walks of life have come together to get Kenney to step down for neglecting Alberta politicians and his own executives who travel in violation of pandemic restrictions. Not only did Kenney know about the violation of pandemic restrictions, but he also didn’t condemn their actions, at least until #ResignKenney started trending on Twitter. Now the same politicians and workers in Alberta are being held accountable, not by the leadership that Kenney showed, but by the immense public pressure and demands for accountability in Alberta.
And Kenney isn’t the only culprit.
In other provinces the reaction was mixed. Saskatchewan Prime Minister Scott Moe allowed MLA Joe Hargrave to remain as Minister of Highways despite his trip to Palm Springs – until his voters were sidelined on social media. Meanwhile, NDP MP Niki Ashton has been relieved of shadow criticism for trips to Greece, and Ontario Treasury Secretary Rod Phillips, who faked his vacation home while vacationing in St. Barts, has resigned.
Wasn’t it the Prime Minister of Manitoba, Brian Pallister, who snuck into his Costa Rican villa just before the pandemic began? And of course we can’t forget his exposed convo with then Chairman of the Conservative Party, Andrew Scheer, at an airport last summer. The fact that there is even an ambivalence about holding people accountable for violations of pandemic measures shows how bad Canada’s political state has become. If the heads of state and government break the pandemic rules en masse, what moral authority must they ask citizens to do their part? Despite the lack of leadership, many of us did our part.
Ultimately, the choice is ours.
We can move into 2021 just as we always do, where Canadians continue to pay the price for privilege of politicians, or we can hold politicians and systems accountable. But we don’t have time to take a stand. Unsurprisingly, pandemic infection and death rates have risen in the past few months and in all the places that have been predicted – long-term care homes, prisons, First Nations, and racialized and impoverished communities. Disease experts told us if we didn’t increase pandemic restrictions, the numbers would go up, and they did. Politicians of all kinds, elected to put the health, safety and wellbeing of Canadians first, have set their own priorities.
And the damage is done.
It’s too late to do the holidays all over again. Only time will tell how much vacation travel and gatherings in 2020 will affect COVID numbers in 2021. We know the number of intensive care units passed the 300 mark in early January 2021 – an 81 percent increase in the US over the past four weeks. While this was predicted, it didn’t have to be. Had the Prime Minister of Ontario, Doug Ford, been clear about pandemic action from the start and condemned those who disobeyed the rules – like his own caucus member Sam Osterhoff attending a large gathering where no one was wearing masks – we would be in a different place. Instead, Ford’s response to Osterhoff was to accept his apology like it wasn’t a big deal.
If elected politicians do not obey their own rules, there is little hope that citizens will. In times of fake news and disinformation campaigns on social media, there is no place for privileged, legitimate politicians. We need real leaders who lead by example and hold themselves and those responsible to account. Vaccines will not save us from irresponsible and unaccountable leaders. Vaccine uptake, like other pandemic measures, will depend in large part on leadership and accountability – which is sorely lacking at the moment. That’s why the culture of accountability is so important right now – it is about Canadians taking steps to protect one another and save lives.
#ResignKenney #ResignFord #ResignMoe #ResignPallister and any other elected politician who does not make our collective health, safety and wellbeing a priority.