I consider myself to be a lucky person. I’ve had the chance to get to do some amazing things in my life and live out some of my dreams. Getting to spend about a decade working on Parliament Hill, working in our politics, was one of those dreams I got to fulfill. It was something that had many great experiences and moments, ones that I will never forget and look forward to telling my grandchildren someday whenever I have any.
But like with any dream realized or great experience that we have, there is another side that we don’t focus on as much. Working in politics or for an elected official also brings some very difficult negatives to face. This has always been the case through out history, but it seems that it’s getting worse in our society today. It’s gotten to a point that it frankly needs to be called out, and today we have a story coming out of Ottawa that shows us in explicit terms why it does (warning: there is explicit and disturbing language in the videos below):
One quick thing before I get into this that I feel I need to make clear. In the videos I shared below, those are not the original tweets in which they were published. I shared those Tweeted versions simply because I don’t want to give the individual who shot and posted them any more attention than need be. I don’t want to build his social media following or give oxygen to his crap. Now some might suggest by sharing the videos at all I am effectively doing that, which is a fair argument. All I can say to that is the best way to call out this crap is to show it, in all it’s ugliness. If I pretend it doesn’t exist, that doesn’t make it go away and it’s hard to call it out without citing it. The least I can do is not directly site it and draw a direct line from this blog to his Twitter account.
Back in December I wrote a piece about the important role and work of constituency staff of elected officials. When I worked on Parliament Hill, one of the upsides was not working in an office that was directly accessible to the public because that was not the nature of our work. But for constituency staff, that is their very reason for being, to work directly with the public. That puts them in positions like you saw above in that first video, having to deal with awful crap like that.
Even working on the Hill, we got more than our fair share of vitriol sent our way through abusive phone calls, racist and threatening emails and even some people showing up at the front doors of our office building demanding to be seen. I still remember when the MP I worked for at the time got our emergency buttons installed in our offices, all of them. It was being mandated by the House for all MPs and I remember reflecting on how things got to this point where they were needed. And to be clear, they were, especially for those folks who worked in constituency offices across the country.
In my time I saw a lot of vicious language, threats and such thrown around both in emails and online. Over time, it did get worse but having worked for three male MPs, I knew that the women elected to office had it worse. But even as bad as that was, how bad some of the racism and threats I saw were, and the number of times the police needed to be called, those videos there are a step above (or below) what I saw in my time on the Hill.
Things are getting worse, as we are seeing unhinged rage mixed with conspiracy theories and the ugliest kinds of accusations being thrown around like Mardi Gras beads. It wasn’t lost on me that the idiot in those videos was quoting the same QAnon crap that the intruder who tried to storm Rideau Hall last month with his pickup truck was in his letter. It also wasn’t lost on me when the videos above all happened, that same week news from the CBC came out about that attempt on the life of the Prime Minister, stating that the intruder in question was “not only allegedly carrying a small arsenal of weapons, but had a significant amount of ammunition.” Yeah folks, that’s not the act of a sane person just wanting to have a chat with the PM about the state of the nation, with a letter in his hands that shares the same QAnon crap as that video above. That’s serious stuff that has zero place in a proper democratic society.
But there is another thing around the political moment we are in now and everything around it that I have to admit is bothering me. Some out there have tried to draw lines between efforts to look into alleged ethics violations by the Prime Minister and unhinged stuff like that, suggesting that essentially it’s asking questions like that which lead to videos like the ones we saw above. When Michael Wernick raised the issue of threats and such online a couple of years ago during his testimony on SNC-Lavalin, I took that to be one of the points he was making. I disagreed with that view then and I do now, although I don’t believe it was completely off the mark in the grander scheme of things. I believe that NDP MP Charlie Angus put it best in a post yesterday on Facebook:
In the end, it’s when our ethics slip, real or imagined, that’s when things really start to go off the deep end in democracies. I believe that the best way to prove that our governments are being ethical or not is to ask those serious questions and get to the bottom of them. That’s serious work that deserves a serious approach, which I will concede does not always happen in a House of Commons committee. But just because some MPs don’t take that responsibility as seriously as others do doesn’t mean that we should stop looking into these things. We can’t just turn a blind eye and ignore the cases as if they didn’t happen. Again, like with the videos above, how can you truly deal with the issues at hand if choose to ignore them because they are difficult and uncomfortable to deal with.
I guess where I am coming to with this (and it maybe a bit of rambling on my part so I apologize for that) is I’m seeing a different environment in our politics than the one I knew when I left the Hill a couple of years ago. Things have kicked up a notch or two, and not for the better. All parties, all MPs and all candidates need to reflect on what they are doing, how they are acting and how they can make this all better. I’m not saying that the acts of a few jerks posting conspiracy crap online is the direct fault of any MP or party, let alone the victims of said crap. Not at all.
What I am saying is that we need to recognize that we’re in a dangerous period where ridiculous crap is somehow ended up on level pegging as real issues and the truth in the minds of more people, at least online. We need to get a handle on this because what I saw aimed at Catherine McKenna was completely unacceptable and there should be no problem saying so. I’m a New Democrat and I disagree with her on many things. But that doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable for her to be called those names, for her staff to be abused like that or to have those kinds of ignorant charges laid at her. Saying that out loud should not be a partisan matter. But that does not mean that calling out crap like that and defending those who are subject to it is enough. We cannot just whack it back down every time it appears like a game of hateful whack-a-mole. We need to go deeper, tackling what is creating this environment and do what we can to make that better.
Furthermore, when looking into allegations of ethical breaches, those involved on all sides need to take the matter seriously. Seeing admittedly unfounded allegations being spew aloud in the House of Commons Finance Committee the other week from Vivian Krause was terrible. But to see that not all MPs around that table from all sides decry it for what she admitted it was when she said she had no evidence or proof of her claims was a complete disservice to the office they served. Later in the week seeing Liberal MPs turn and full on attack an independent, respected group like Charity Intelligence later was equally stomach turning to me. None of those acts did a bloody thing to help us get to the bottom of what might have happened in the WE case, but they sure did feed the trolls who use that garbage to spin the next conspiracy theory du jour that will get hurled at MPs and their staffs, either by email, phone or in person at a constituency office near you.
So am I concerned about what we’re seeing right now? I am, I cannot deny it. And to me while not one party, MP or politician is to blame for where we are at today, they’re all a part in making it better. They cannot solve this problem alone but it won’t get better without their help. One of the best ways to help stop these conspiracy theories that are feeding abuse like above and their propagation in their tracks is to stop giving them oxygen. It’s time for MPs to tone down the rhetoric on all sides, treat each other with respect and stop demonizing one another. It’s time to have respectful debate and focusing on the matters at hand, tackling the difficult ones head on and not shying away from them. What we are seeing in those videos above is a manifestation of a problem that our democracy is facing. What separates us from what we are seeing in the US right now is that we haven’t lowered our expectations of our elected officials so far that it’s given life and credence to those looking for answers elsewhere. That’s what feeds the QAnon & conspiracy theory crap out there. The best way to stop it is to stand up to it, speak out against it, and govern better, all to starve it of the desperation that it depends on to thrive. Governing better and doing better is one thing we can do. Treating our political rivals with respect and care is another, not treating them as evil incarnate. I pray that we can pull that off because if we can’t, we will be worse off for it.