The weird way we treat our elected leaders

The weird way we treat our elected leaders

Canadians have an international reputation for being “nice.” Maybe that is why the nasty side of party politics –and the rancor and character assassination that goes with it - offends so many of us.

The cut and thrust of party politics is a large part of what makes our democratic system work so well. Accountability is an intrinsic part of it. It fosters excellence. Yet it is also self-destructive.

The Northwest Territories has a different approach in its version of consensus government, but still a part of the way it works is to discredit those who are selected, particularly the ones who are not our personal pick or on our “side.” Much of the negativity of party politics seems to have carried over into the NWT’s consensus government. Is there no better way?

It seems to be a characteristic of all government, no matter what brand, where the public delights in tearing down its chosen leaders. Like a form of public voyeurism, we track our political leaders like we do rock stars and movie personas. Anyone who has any kind of time in the spotlight has fame and with that comes public scrutiny. The more significant their persona, the more renown, and the stronger the microscope they are put under. And – in a bigger-they-are-the-harder-they-fall storyline – the more likely a leader may falter, or better yet, fail, the more titillated the public is.

Don’t blame the media for this. The public quite happily drives the process on its own, without a need for prompting.

Step back for a moment and think what we do with, and to, our leaders. We have an election where we choose from some of the best of our society – the ones with the brightest minds, the most substantive experience and the greatest charisma. We select them carefully, challenging them, advocating for our favorites and making demands on the rest – sometimes even unfairly.  It is a very stressful, often vicious and sometimes cruel process.

Politics is like a schoolyard where the biggest and toughest survive, along with their group of followers. Those people form our governments. Then we narrow it down and out of that elected group choose the very best to be the leader and cabinet ministers. We put them on pedestals and then we commence to criticize, find fault, and if the opportunity arises, tear them apart.

It is not unlike the medieval practice of a stockade in the town square where as a form of punishment, people had their hands and head locked into a wooden yoke and were left there for a couple days and routinely pelted with rotten vegetables by kids and passers-by.

We elect our very best as leaders and then use them for target practice with barbs and criticisms. They can do no right. We limit ourselves to character assassination, but it is no less cruel or barbaric than confining them in a stockade and taking aim with the rottenest tomato we can find. We are harsh and destructive. It is amazing, and we are most fortunate, that our politicians return to the fray and seek re-election. And very likely we lose many prospective leaders, people with bright minds who do not have such thick skins or do not want to risk public scorn.

Those who step up, willing to lead, gain publicity and a type of fame. They get to rub shoulders with others in high places. For some, that alone is a very desirable benefit of office. They are also well-rewarded financially. Is it enough that they should be expected to be the public’s whipping boys and girls? Should it be that notoriety is just part of the job and they have to just suck it up?

No it should not. Considering the very important role our leaders play and what we demand of them, we should treat them much better. They deserve honour and respect. Accountability is required, particularly during an election when wwthe person’s record and character must come under scrutiny, but there are appropriate ways that should be done.

Whether it be party politics or consensus government, those elected deserve better.

The next time you have something to say, or even think, about a leader, consider your message, and what it would be like if you were the one receiving it.

Northern Journal

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