Spineless hypocrisy destroys trust

By Rob Wipond, February 2011

How can we lift ourselves out of the despair our politicians too often inspire?

Former minister George Abbott introduced his campaign for the BC Liberal leadership by promising to give disengaged voters more say. “It’s how government makes their decisions that is just as important to people as what those decisions are,” he explained to a reporter.

I dropped my head into my hands. A string of exasperating political proclamations like this began the new year, each one hitting me more personally, until I didn’t know how to stop my descent into bitter cynicism.

Abbott’s 18-point plan for leading our government, entitled “The People are Coming,” included “promoting public participation in government decisions,” restoring regular legislature sittings, and championing “proactive disclosure of government information.” 

Fantastic. Of course Abbott was primarily promising to now undo everything he’d helped do as a prominent Liberal minister during the past nine years of cancelling legislature sittings, ignoring public and expert opinions, and building walls of secrecy. 

The hypocrisy was most precisely revealed in his pledge to “Return responsibility, authority and accountability to Cabinet Ministers to run their departments.” After all, if the legally established powers of ministers must be “returned,” how had those powers been taken away, and by whom, and why hadn’t any ministers publicly protested? 

Evidently, Abbott was essentially admitting he’d always been playing along in sham support to Gordon Campbell’s dictatorial regime. So now with Campbell out and no potential controversy over his declarations, Abbott was ready to defend democracy? Where a few years ago this rebellion would’ve ignited my praise, and provided important leverage for critics of autocratic Liberal decisions, I couldn’t help but simply think now, “Abbott, you spineless, gutless, twin-tongued twit. Where the hell were you when we needed you?”

The emotional rollercoaster continued thanks to Kash Heed.

As a top cop in Vancouver, then a Liberal candidate, Heed had crusaded for years to get rid of our patchwork of municipal forces and RCMP units in favour of regional police forces. I myself had applauded his pluck for publicly standing against the entrenched, cozy, often corrupt politician-RCMP establishment (“Is it Time to Put the Mounties Out To Pasture?”, Focus, July 2009).

Then, Heed became Solicitor General—BC’s ultimate top cop. And as discussions about the RCMP’s future ramped up (their contract with BC expires in 2012), people began asking Heed about his intention. Suddenly, that was no longer clear. Heed stick-handled vaguely about making the RCMP more accountable and supporting better working relationships amongst forces. One night, a more dogged TV reporter interviewed Heed until, when the question of his about-face on regional policing could no longer be dodged without explanation, Heed walked off.

Heed’s unambiguous conviction, however, did return—months later.

A girl died after going missing in Saanich and, this January, Heed launched himself brashly back into the headlines, blaming the tragedy on our lack of a regional police force. Apparently, another crisis was occupying Saanich’s tiny police force at the time, and it was bureaucratically clunky trying to corral help from other area forces to search for her.

“When are people going to wake up and realize that the system for policing in British Columbia is broken?” demanded Heed.

Unfortunately, Heed was no longer in cabinet and our government was in a power and leadership vacuum. Which made me think, ‘Heed, you spineless, gutless, twin-tongued twit. Where the hell were you when we needed you, and when you could’ve actually effected change?”

I was still seething the next day when Victoria council learned $30 million in sewer repairs were needed. Councillor Phillipe Lucas suggested to a newspaper reporter that we explore all possible alternatives, like stepping up water-conservation efforts and focusing on just the most vital repairs. “I’m sure most of the families in our region are looking at ways to cut costs,” he remarked.

That seemed reasonable. But where was this spirit of frugality, flexibility, and compromise when Lucas was completely dismissing alternatives and lower-cost options for repairing the Johnson Street Bridge that were being proposed via countless citizens volunteering countless hours, by some researchers and writers right here in Focus, and by 40 percent of voters?

I wanted to yank my hair out. In all these hypocritical turnarounds (and if they’d come with heartfelt apologies, maybe we could have regarded them as healthy learning), I felt implicated, even personally betrayed; heck, I voted for Lucas. So it wasn’t like watching some distant, unknown official on the news mouthing phony platitudes. It felt more like I was stuck inside a B-movie thriller where my ex-girlfriend smiles sweetly and finally agrees to mutually kind and supportive discussion—except only after she’s knocked off my new lover, seized my home and money, and locked me at gunpoint in the basement. 

I felt like never getting involved in politics again. Trapped in my own bleak cellar. 

But then that depressing analogy made me wonder if dealing with political despair perhaps wasn’t so different from just dealing with any souring relationship. 

They can both feel grimly overwhelming. But at heart, it’s mostly just about a breakdown in trust, isn’t it? We keep catching glimpses of potential, and continue hoping, expecting and wanting a person to be different than they are. When our hopes are repeatedly dashed, it’s frustrating and embittering. 

Yet when we finally let go of that hope, when we stop emotionally investing in that deluded expectation, the frustration fades, too. Then, we simply see things as they are: Guns and bitterness solve nothing.

But what comes next, we wonder. 

We let our eyes adjust to the dark and try to open ourselves to new possibilities.

 

Rob Wipond has actually never dated any politician, even if he sometimes sounds like he has.