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In The Centre Ring

by Stephen Lautens


September 22, 2000

I know everyone now expects politicians to be men (and women) of the people, but whatever happened to dignity?

Every politician feels they have to make a spectacle of themselves to get attention. Trudeau did backflips off the diving board and pirouettes behind the Queen. Mulroney got on stage and sang "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling". Chretien has given us everything from scooter rides to white water rafting.

And it's not just Canada. It wasn't that long ago that Russian President Boris Yeltsin was up on stage at a rock concert leaping around like a vodka-powered dancing bear. A week or so ago New York Mayor Gulliani was on TV emceeing a contest ­ get this ­ for singing dogs.

I'm not sure "dignity" is even in Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman's vocabulary, and he's one of the most successful politicians in Canada. There isn't anything he won't eat, ride or wear if it means he might get his picture in the paper.

And of course we had Stockwell Day showing up for a press conference in a wetsuit riding to shore on the most annoying means of water transportation ever invented. I'm not sure what it was supposed to prove. It was like Baywatch goes to Ottawa.

I keep wondering what's next. A pie eating contest for Supreme Court Justices? A dunking tank to choose Canada's next appointment to the UN?

It used to be we elected our leaders because they had vision or policies we respected. We sent them to Ottawa or the Legislature or City Hall because they were smart ­ or at least sensible. After all, what's the point of electing someone dumber than you?

You'd like to think that we elect the best and brightest to public office, but we both know that's not really the case. The hours are long, there's not that much money ­ especially if you're honest ­ and you don't get a lot of respect. In fact, you pretty much have to have a screw loose to want to be in politics. It's just about a job requirement.

After all, who wants to commute all week to a different city, just so you can come home on the weekend to listen to the problems of the people who voted for you (or at least claim they voted for you)? Every time there's a block party, meeting of local crackpots or sewer opening, you're expected to be there, preferably with a fat cheque in hand.

I used to work for a politician. One of my favourite photos was a picture in the newspaper of him eating a mound of fried pig tails at a local fair. I have never tried pig tails. I don't want to get angry letters from our pork producers, but that to me showed what real politics is about ­ doing something you'd rather not be doing with a big smile on your face for the camera.

Now with a general election in the wind I fear the worst. We'll see the leaders of all the parties compete with feats of strength and athletic photo ops. All except the NDP of course. They're above this pandering to the juvenile interests of the public, which is why they'll finish dead last again.

Everyone else will be running with the bulls, bungee jumping or wrestling alligators to prove that they have the ideas and dignity necessary to govern us.


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