Illustration by Geoff Olson

In his recent decision to burn his NDP membership card, former BC premier Mike Harcourt cited the party’s decision to nix the carbon tax along with Adrian Dix’s election opposition to a twinned Kinder Morgan pipeline.

Whatever the merits of Harcourt’s slow-fuse payback, or the wisdom of Dix’s petro-politics, the latter nixed attack ads against the Liberals during the 2012 provincial election and publicly refused to play dirty. The press painted Dix as too courteous for the political game. In other words, decency was positioned as the political equivalent of diabetes, which Dix also suffered from, incidentally (Type 1). Even though the NDP candidate for premier managed his illness through self-administered insulin shots, his compromised stamina reduced campaigning to a panicky trek across the province in the final days of the election — too little, too late. It appears the forever-fumbling NDP, true to form, had not factored health matters into his political marketability.

Harcourt’s resignation hearkened back to when he quit as premier back in 1996, taking a bullet for the party for his non-involvement in the “Bingogate” affair (scandal-wise, it was as dinky as it sounds). Three years later his successor, Glen Clark, was hounded out of office over a deck built by his neighbour. No wrongdoing was found, but the scandal — as much manufactured as reported by the local press — helped pave the way for the interim government of Ujjal Dosanjh, followed by an indefinite Liberal reign.

Politicians on opposite sides of the political spectrum are generally held to different standards of ethical behaviour. Bingogate and Deckgate put a knife into the political careers of Harcourt and Clark. In contrast, an impaired driving charge in Maui, torn-up contracts with civil servants and the abiding mystery of the B.C. Rail sale all failed to sideline the Teflon Premier, Gordon Campbell.

It took Campbell’s reversal on the harmonized sales tax to put a wobble in his career arc. In an inversion of the dictum, “no good deed goes unpunished,” the premier attended the ultra-secret Bilderberg conference in Spain in 2010, and in 2011 the ex-premier landed one of the plum positions in the Canadian federal government as High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.

It seems there is no height a reactionary leader can fall without bouncing back. Conversely, there is no misstep by a progressive leader that unfriendly media can’t portray as an airstrike on public decency and the future of our apple-cheeked children.

Consider Toronto mayor Rob Ford. He may be our nation’s biggest punchline, but he’s still in office. Imagine a left-leaning public figure engaging in similar behaviour. Even if he or she came with Ford’s brute will-to-power and Smithsonian-worthy liver, how long would it take for the local chamber of commerce and the old-boy’s network to make it too hot to stay?

The former fishing partner of Stephen Harper is by nature a performer. Ford is the guy who says outrageous things on camera, who famously answers every phone call and runs to fix potholes for “the little guy.” Last month’s squirming, sweaty performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live seems inevitable in retrospect — given that citizenry has been reduced to a spectator sport in the U.S. and bad craziness from public servants is just filler between car commercials.

It was only a manner of time before Canada caught the American virus of leadership-as-entertainment, with its RNA  traceable back to U.S. president’s Ronald Reagan’s reign of error. “It was demagoguery adapted to the cinematic age: he played the leader while ‘we the people’ relapsed into a predemotic state,” wrote the philosopher Sheldon Wolin in his 2008 book Democracy Incorporated.

Reagan’s administration tripled the U.S. debt, fed Congress lies about the Iran-Contra affair and let Latin American death squads do the empire’s dirty work south of the border. Impeachment was not in the cards for the former B-movie actor, however. It was the Democratic president Bill Clinton who had to get lawyered up after an intern’s knees hit the Oval Office carpet.

And now here we are in Canada, with similar double standards about accountability and electability. As of this February, Ford’s approval rating with Torontonians stands at 43 per cent — substantially higher than the ratings by British Columbians for Harcourt and Clark at their nadir.

But that’s show business.

The Vancouver Courier, Apr. 10


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