Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Senator Larry Smith and the Further Dumbing Down of Canadian Politics

When political scientist and author Brooke Jeffrey, was running as a federal candidate in the riding of Okanagan—Shuswap in 1993, she described her Reform Party opponent Darrel Stinson:

At a town-hall meeting in the riding of Okanagan—Shuswap, a large crowd listens patiently to the speeches of the candidates during the federal election in the fall of 1993. Several of the candidates made lengthy presentations about the platforms of their parties and their positions on the major issues of the day. The Reform candidate, Darrel Stinson, stands up for only a few minutes of his allotted time, looking nervous and out of place. He tells the crowd everything they need to know is in the Reform "Blue Sheet." "Read it. If you have any questions, we'll be happy to answer them." Then he gives them the telephone number of his campaign office. Twice.

During the question-and-answer period that follows, several people ask Stinson about his party's position on specific issues. "I haven't looked into that one myself but I know we have a position somewhere here in this," he says, holding up the "Blue Sheet." It falls to me, the Liberal candidate, to inform the audience of Reform's position, quoting from the sheet as a furious Stinson looks on.

A Reform Party candidate who had no idea what his party's policies were.

In a bit of Deja Vu, Canada's newest patronage appointed senator, Larry Smith, fumbled through his first campaign stops.
The challenges of life as a star political rookie were laid bare last week as Sen. Larry Smith, the former Canadian Football League commissioner, took to the field for the Conservative Party of Canada. He stepped up his public presence with a string of appearances in Montreal, where he hopes to deliver the first Conservative seat in two decades.

At one of those news conferences, he confidently listed the benefits of improving local infrastructure to the lone reporter in attendance. At another, with more reporters present, he tripped over translations and admitted he knew little about the subject matter. He was asked, at a news conference where he announced a study on a possible trade deal with Japan, a basic question on what barriers to commerce currently existed. He was there last Wednesday on behalf of International Trade Minister Peter Van Loan. "I am not informed about all the details," Smith replied. "You'll have to give me another two or three months before I respond to that question."

In response to a question, in French, about how a trade deal with Japan might impact his suburban riding, Smith shuffled through his papers and read from a list, in English, of products Canada sells to its Asian ally — like coal, canola, wheat, and fish. None of those resources is quite considered an economic engine in a riding dotted with three-storey homes, strip malls and expressways crammed with traffic into downtown Montreal.
By his next campaign stop, he had done his homework, and was prepared with the appropriate answers. He even delivered them with conviction - to an audience of three.

His supporters attempt to explain away his ignorance:
They say he often plays down his own intelligence to encourage others to tell him what's on their mind. One ex-colleague likens his personality to Ronald Reagan's.
Pretends to be stupid as a political strategy? I've never heard anything so ridiculous in my life.

But Smith is pumped because he knows just how to charm the folks. He's going to give back a portion of his salary. Gee. Is Scott Walker in the House?

Darrel Stinson would go on to win his seat for Harper's Reformers, not once but twice. His accomplishments included challenging an opponent to a fistfight, asking him if he had "the gonads to take him on?" This in the House of Commons. He challenged the government's decision to provide compensation for Japanese Canadians interned during the Second World War, saying that Japan should first compensate former prisoners of war. He wanted to use provisions in NAFTA to ship our prisoners to Mexico, called the women in NDP "femi-Nazis" and once charged at the Tory leader Jean Charest, calling him a "fat little, chubby little sucker."

If you ever saw Darrel Stinson you'd know how ridiculous this statement was.

Jeffrey speaks of this dumbing down of politics and it's possible implications. And she wrote her book more than a decade ago.
Once elected, an MP's ignorance of the issues and the politic process could perhaps still be overcome with hard work and an opens mind. Unfortunately an open mind is also something very few neo conservatives appear to possess...

Unfortunately the consequences of this limited world view have been serious and sweeping. One Darrel Stinson or
Al Palladini in the legislature may not be a problem, but a cabinet or caucus full of such politicians is another matter. Despite his supporter's claim that "Darrel will do us just fine," the facts suggest otherwise. The dumbing-down of politics in Canada has had profound implications for national and provincial policy making, intergovernmental relations, and even the quality of constituency representation.

It is this narrowness that leads them to propose simplistic solutions at a time when political issues are becoming more and more complex. Once they are in power, this inclination to disregard expert advice in favour of anecdotal evidence, coupled with their authoritarian approach, leads them to single-mindedly pursue their solutions even in the face of overwhelming evidence that these approaches will not work. Worse still, they often generalize from single events to develop sweepingly broad policies. As they are unable to think strategically, their solutions are invariably short-term and ad hoc, frequently leading to unanticipated consequences.
We are seeing this now with the Harper led Reform Party (now calling themselves the Conservative Party of Canada). After five years of not listening to anyone, Canada has lost it's standing in so many areas. And this has been with a minority.

As Robert Kennedy Jr. said recently of Stephen Harper:
Harper, often referred to as "George W. Bush's Mini Me," is known for having mounted a Bush like war on government scientists, data collectors, transparency, and enlightenment in general. He is a wizard of all the familiar tools of demagoguery; false patriotism, bigotry, fear, selfishness and belligerent religiosity.
But there is another problem with this story on Larry Smith, besides his obvious ignorance.

We can excuse his lack of knowledge, when it comes to Conservative Party policy, but what we can't excuse is that he is a Canadian Senator. We are paying him as a Canadian Senator. The only thing he should be reading up on are issues that face all Canadians, not just those in the riding he is hoping to represent.

He is working for us, and drawing a salary from us. Why is he using public money to campaign? He's not getting off to a very good start. Stealing from us before he's even elected.

Unusually members of this party at least wait until they're sworn in.

This video came from a group called 'Save Larry Smith'. They are worried that if he gives back half of his salary, he will not be able to continue with his lavish lifestyle.

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