The burden of proof
November 8, 2013

This column first appeared in the Salmon Arm All Month Edition of the Friday Am in November 2013

Is it me or is the burden of proof especially heavy these days? I am gobsmacked at the sheer expense incurred by unearthing the truth behind the Senate and Ford scandal. Not that I’m not also gobsmacked by the scandals themselves, but the cost associated to both is what really leaves me reeling.

If I understand this correctly, we (and by we I mean you and I and everyone who pays taxes) have spent, on three senators alone, $500,000 in auditing fees. Which, if you follow my logic, means we’ve spent more money on checking into the problem than the actual problem cost in the first place. Now, again, it might just be me, but if my car repair cost me more than its total original cost, I probably wouldn’t have that car anymore. It would have promptly been picked up by the tow truck and sent to the wreckers.

We’ll likely never know how much money the citizens of Toronto have paid their municipal police force to unearth the alleged video of the alleged crack pipe smoking. I’m pretty comfortable alleging that it would be more money than anyone would ever put in any pipe and smoke.

On the other hand, we have the corruption inquiry in Quebec. We’ll probably never really know how much the inquiry will have cost the economy of Quebec and, in this case, it likely pales in comparison to what the bribes amounted to in the first place, but there again, the burden of proof, rather than the infractions themselves, has hijacked the headlines.

Perhaps it’s the drama that enthralls us. An episode of Coronation Street on steroids paid for by taxpayers. Who said what, who did what, who spent what, who hid what, who got what. Aren’t we really missing the point? The opportunity to repair, redress, correct, improve and move on. I think so.

We spend so much of our lives explaining, apologizing, justifying, projecting and blaming. It’s ridiculous. And we’ve no one to blame but ourselves. We elected them. And we keep electing them. What’s more, we give them permission to use their mandates as opportunities to get re-elected. Consider Harper’s speech at the recent Conservative convention. He wasn’t speaking to the problem, he was making the case for his next majority, complete with thundersticks, no less. Listen to Rob Ford’s radio broadcast apology. He turned it into a campaign speech. Tricky that. But he did it and his approval ratings are up.

When the late Edward Kennedy, one of the longest serving and most respected politicians of our time famously said “The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die”, he was talking about leadership, not election campaigns. Our politicians would do well to remember this. If you win, and good for you if you do, then lead. And keep the campaigning to the painful number of days of rhetoric we endure every election period.

When you make a mistake, admit it, redress it and get back to work. It’s enough that we have to pay for the mistakes in the first place. Please don’t make us pay for the rest. The burden, it seems to me, is too costly to bear. Unless, that is, you think we have money to burn.

A Word’s Worth
July 30, 2013

This column first appeared in the All Month Edition of the Friday Am in Salmon Arm, BC

Years ago, I read an article in the Globe and Mail about plain language. It went something along the lines of this: “If Martin Luther King had said ‘I have a mission statement’, would anyone have listened?”

I doubt it. They listened because he shared his story. His dream. And with that, inspired a generation to strive for ideals that needed striving for.

We live in a world of words. The most prominent seem to be so deep in political jargon and overly complex double-talk that we’re not sure what people are striving for anymore. It needn’t this way.

I think of Mayor Nenshi of Calgary who has been so inspiring in his leadership in Calgary during the devastating floods in Alberta. And I compare him to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford who could hardly string a sentence together other than to warn citizens that the city’s power grid was “hanging on by a thread”. We like to think politicians don’t matter and aren’t worth our attention. But they do. And they are. For Nenshi, there are t-shirts with his picture sold (and bought) enthusiastically for flood relief funds. For Ford, I doubt they’d find the enthusiasm for a garage sale.

I’m inspired by Trudeau. Not for who his father was or the party he represents but for his ability to engage with young people. I don’t know if that’s a skill you can learn or if it’s something you’re just born with. Either way, I suspect it will serve him well in the next election. And if our government doesn’t get a handle on the Senate scandal, that might come sooner than we think.

I’m not inspired by Harper, nor am I inspired by Clark. It’s not about ability, commitment or even politics. It’s about voice and authenticity. Their ability to engage with the ordinary Canadian is lost on me. When either of their voices are heard, I turn down the volume. I haven’t done that since Mulroney, and, truth be told, the guy who ran against Obama (seems I’ve gone as far as blocking out his name entirely).

I was more enthusiastic about politicians as a teenager than I am now as a voting adult. This irritates me. Maybe grown-ups are just more cynical but we can’t afford it to be that way.

Believe it or not, people want leadership. Good quality leadership. Inspiring, interesting, authentic and humble. Someone to believe in – not blindly – but for a reason. Not because they agree with everything but because they stand for something. Not because they are interested in the golden fruit it can bear, but because, as the proverb says, they are willing to “plant trees under whose shade they’ll never sit”.