Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Bennett another victim of the B.C. political disease

Bill Bennett’s fall from grace — or at least cabinet — is partly just a story of bad judgment and bad behaviour.
Bennett is the MLA for East Kootenay and, until this week, was the junior minister for mines. He resigned from cabinet after a constituent went public with a dumb, abusive and offensive e-mail that he’d received from Bennett.
But this isn’t just about Bennett’s lousy manners. The whole exchange highlights a persistent sickness in B.C..
We don’t really talk about policies or how to respond to problems in this province.
We just choose up sides and flail away at each other, like bike gangs or British soccer hooligans. If you’re on a team, you’re expected to support every policy and from your leader and denounce every idea from the other side.
You can’t decide, for example, that the Liberals have a pretty good ideas on encouraging the oil and gas industry, while.the NDP has a better approach to support for children and families.
And you certainly can’t assume that people in both parties are just trying to follow the path they think will lead to a better life for people in the province. The other side have to be seen as the enemies, evil conspirators out to destroy the economy (the Liberals’ view of the NDP) or reward the rich while pushing most of us into poverty and despair (the New Democrats’ view of the Liberals).
Not everyone is so foolish, of course. And in fact, the political leaders have mostly been better behaved since the last election.
But our political life is still dominated by those who trapped in the friends and enemies mindset. Look at the e-mail exchange that led to Bennett’s downfall.
The issue, hunting regulations, isn’t really left-right.
Recreational hunters in Bennett’s riding thought rule changes planned by the Environment Ministry would give commercial guides a larger share of the animals to be killed at their expense.
Bennett is a hunter and was mostly on their side. He said he was in his hotel room, when he thought he should have been downstairs at a mining conference, preparing for a meeting on the issue with Environment Minister Barry Penner.
And in the file was a two-month-old e-mail from a constituent.
Maarten Hart, president of the Fernie Rod and Gun Club, argued commercial guides were getting too large a share. But in the best B.C. fashion, Hart tossed in a pointless insult. “I know that your government bows to the almighty dollar and faces east three times each day (not to Mecca, but to Wall Street),” Hart wrote, an approach hardly likely to win an ally.
Bennett topped him. “It is my understanding that you are an American, so I don't give a shit what your opinion is,” he wrote. Hart was “fool,” maybe an U.S. spy aiming to block coal mines and “a self-inflated, pompous, American know-it-all.”
Obviously, wretched behaviour.
But not so wildly out of character, for Bennett or B.C. People who disagree with our politicians find themselves often considered opponents or enemies, instead of just citizens with a different - and perhaps useful - perspective.
So for Glen Clark, back in his early days as premier, the environmentalists who criticized forest policy weren’t just people with a different policy idea — they were “enemies of B.C.”
Gordon Campbell carried on the tradition in his early days as premier, dismissing people who rallied outside a party convention to express concern about government policies as both stupid and representatives of special interests.
And Bennett had a hard time accepting the fact that people upset about health-care in his riding, for example, had sincere concerns, and might even be right.
Bennett, who had a lot of strengths as an MLA, including a determination to do what was best for his constituents, is the big loser in this case.
But all British Columbians are damaged by our inability to move beyond blind and destructive partisanship.
Footnote: Bennett was named to cabinet after the 2005 election, when he was the sole Liberal survivor in the province’s southeast. His departure comes as health care continues to be an issue and the region faces important debates about expanded coal mining, wildlife conservation issues and the giant Jumbo Glacier Resort ski development.


Anonymous said...

Seems a father in the lower mainland emailed his MLA as he was concerned about a teacher who was grabbing girls buttocks. What can you do? The MLA sent the email to someone else who promply sued the father.( Vancouver Sun today 7 February) The long and short of it, don't email a MLA unless you are brownnosing him because it may come back to bite you. The fact they are hired to do their best for the voters. and non voters simply doesn't work with some of those power hungry folk. None of the two parties seem immune to getting upset if some one writes with a differenrt position than the MLA. Hell, they are MLa's so must know everyhing, at lest in their minds. Sort of like a vidion from God, sermon on the mount maybe. How do I know? Well it happened to me and the MLA wasn't on the Gordon Cambpell team.No names, no packdrill was a long established tradition in my earlier life.(DL)

Anonymous said...

as a canadian and a native of bc., I think it is about time we realized that people who have immigrated to our country have as much right and sometimes more than we to comment on these kinds of situations as they vote and are much more active in our politics that we are. However, if they built a 90 high and forty foot thick wall with gates only at major cities all along the 49th parallel it wouldn't bother me a bit. it may even be a good idea especially with the u.s. attitude right now.

regarding mr. bennett. I had a head to head with him shortly after he was elected and in front of witnesses,he told me in words pf one syllable that the reason the government brought in a new disabilities act was because people on disabilities were children who needed discipline. he then walked away while i was still in shock. his resignation comes far too late.


Anonymous said...

You characterized Bennett as a "victim". In reality the politicians who share the predjudices, attitudes, and bigotries of Bennett are the cause of the disease that infects provincial politics. Bennett's utterances also make his anti-American bias obvious to everyone. How many of his cabinet and caucus colleagues share his views? (More than will admit to it, although I'm thinking they'd all vigourously deny ever had as much as inkling that Bennett was so inclined). Bennett tried to justify his behaviur with the remark that when the now famous e-mail was composed he'd had a long day, as if that changes one's character developed over a lifetime, while all it really did was allow his mask to slip a little bit. Paul, no matter what strengths you think Bennett has as an MLA we don't need him or people like him to govern over us. He should resign from politics, period.

Anonymous said...

As an American who works in BC at times, I can handle some abuse by virtue of where I originate. That is part of the territory.

Is it right for American's to make jokes about Canadians? Not at all,(nor should the jokes come the other way) but we're all human and as such subject to our foibles. I remember the vilification of Alaska's during the ferry blockade during a previous political era.

In my work with BC and with Canadians I've found even the most rabid anti-Americans have wonderful attributes regardless of whether their perspective matches mine.

I too, think it is unfortunate that humanity has to resort to the lowest common denominator when making statements about others whether they be of different nationalities or political parties.

Unfortunately, the path of least resistance is to demonize one's opponents. It does much for one's audience, but accomplishes nothing beneficial.

Having worked in a state legislature for a number of years I saw and still observe the same type of "demonizing malady" infecting political venues in the states and elsewhere as it does in BC and Canada.

I learned an important lesson in not demonizing my opposition - to listen and when appropriate separate the good and bad ideas and incorporating the good by taking ownership - while giving credit, where credit is due.

Maybe it's too much to hope that folks would realize it isn't constructive to vilify one's opposition. After all, government is a form of warfare of ideas - but, at least it's a vetting of ideas and careers rather than actually killing people.

Nice column.