July 11, 1997 Halifax Herald

Needed: a vaccine to cure political arrogance

In Canada, we select individuals by secret ballot to represent our interests in either federal or provincial legislatures. However, as we've learned from past experience, many winners look out for personal interests first, the party's second, and our wearisome and unimportant concerns last.

Only as an election date nears do our views get a bit of priority. During the campaign, politicians court us with gusto and pretend we are important.

If campaigning for the governing party, they tell us what wonderful things they've done for us. They do this, blind to the fact that the tax increases they've imposed to cover these wonders have driven us closer to personal bankruptcy and poverty. The opposition counters by promising wonderful things they can't, or won't, deliver.

Then, after the election dust has settled and the winners take their seats in parliament, or a legislature, many of them contract a disease called "political arrogance." An early sign that the disease is taking a grip is that they stop returning phone calls from long term non-Party associates.

In the case of a cabinet appointee, an early indication that the disease is taking over the appointee’s soul is that he/she begins to surround her/himself with assistants, who are often afflicted by a disease called "cabinet assistant arrogance." The main function of these arrogant yokels is to keep the electorate at bay, thus, sparing the minister the agony of responding to an elector's legitimate complaints or concerns.

After several months in a cabinet portfolio, or as assistant to a cabinet minister, the arrogance of many a minister and assistant begins to reach God-like proportions. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if some even begin to think that walking on water is an option open to them.

By this time, they've enclosed themselves in a cocoon which can only be penetrated by people they recognize as good supporters, or as persons they may want to bootlick for future advantage. Woe unto anyone outside those mentioned who happens to question their mode of operation or wisdom.

For one who has injured their egos, there is probably more possibility of having a one-on-one session with the Great Spirit than being ushered into their presence for a chat.

I speak from experience on such matters. I've known most of the premiers and cabinet ministers who have held office in Nova Scotia over the past two decades, and can say that many were victims of the disease. However, to be fair, some politicians have displayed a built-in immunity to it: Guy LeBlanc, Guy Brown, Roger Bacon, Alexa McDonough, John Leife, John MacEachern, to name a few.

Of the crew now holding sway over Province House, I'll just discuss three of the many who appear to be afflicted by the disease - or perhaps most harmed because the disease has taken over the souls of their assistants: John Savage, Bernie Boudreau and Wayne Adams.

In the case of John Savage, it must be the assistants who have it. Before, and for a short time after, he became Premier, John was very accessible. I know this because he, as the new Premier, took the time to be chief speaker at the launch of my book, We Were Not the Savages. Since then, when we meet by chance, we've had a few words. But through official channels - no-way!

For instance, when I decided to write a column on taxation, I thought it would be only fair to talk to him and Bernie Boudreau. I made several attempts to contact both by phone, with no luck. Meeting the Premier afterwards at a function at Province House, I mentioned the problem. He seemed surprised, and suggested I contact one of his assistants, who would set up a meeting. I contacted her on two occasions, and am still waiting.

In the case of Bernie, when in opposition, he was quite accessible and cordial. I met with him on several occasions and he often sent messages, passing along information he thought I might find useful. Since he became a cabinet minister, I've tried to arrange meetings with him on at least four occasions, with no luck. Phone calls have not been returned.

Prior to his election as a Liberal and his appointment to cabinet, Wayne Adams and I met on several occasions to discuss racial issues and examine possible solutions for these problems. After his cabinet appointment, Wayne suggested I call his office and arrange for lunch. This I did on several occasions. Suffice it to say the lunch has not come to pass.

What happened? Did I suddenly become a non-person, or have they all succumbed to the arrogance bug? When considering this point, one has to keep in mind that former Premier Bob Stanfield often answered his own phone. In a small jurisdiction such as Nova Scotia, with a population equivalent to that of a medium-sized city, the failure of politicians to respond to the inquires of citizens, and to mingle with them, is unforgivable and spells trouble for the offender. A case in point is the present plight of the Liberals.

Although I am not a politician, I have over the years held responsible career positions, and never failed - except in instances where messages were lost - to respond in one fashion or another to phone calls or written inquires. This, my friends, is called feet-on-the-ground, good manners and civilized behaviour!

Daniel N. Paul


Home   Column Index 1997   Web Site Map