Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday January 6, 2020
Don’t lump all politicians in with scofflaws
Reading Spectator journalist Katrina Clarke’s report surveying local politicians about their activities over Christmas, you may have been struck first by the fact that one Hamilton-area politician did indeed travel.
Veteran Conservative Flamborough-Glanbrook MP David Sweet acknowledged to his leader’s office that he travelled to the U.S., first on business to deal with a “property issue,” and then later “for leisure.” But Erin O’Toole’s office didn’t know about the “leisure” part. Sweet “resigned” from chairing — of all things — the House of Commons Ethics Committee, the leader’s office reported Monday. And he has said he will not run again in the next federal election. Sweet remains in the U.S. at this point.
O’Toole had requested, explicitly, that caucus members not take part in international travel over the Christmas holidays, so it’s little wonder Sweet’s career as a Conservative MP was quickly declared dead in the water. It’s an ignominious way to end a 15-year-career in politics. Twitter lit up with reaction, much of it lauding Sweet for his work but even more of it bitterly critical, such as John P. Soleas, who Tweeted: “Why are you still out of the country? You should’ve been flying back yesterday! Your constituents are staying home and abiding by public health guidance. If you can’t stay in the country when it counts why not resign today and relieve yourself of this heavy burden?”
Sweet and other politicians caught up in this angry storm are learning the hard way: This is no minor bit of bad behaviour. Travelling while the rest of Canada is locked down and suffering has tapped a vein of outrage and hurt. Read the letters from Spec readers and others across the country. Read about broken-hearted families who wanted desperately to see each other but couldn’t due to the travel guidelines. Parents of adult children who always see their kids and grandkids at Christmas, but couldn’t this year. People who lost loved ones before or during the pandemic and could not be with relatives for comfort and consolation. People who are used to gathering with families who had to settle for the Zoom equivalent this holiday season.
The collective reaction is not annoyance at the display, yet again, of a double standard between “them” and the rest of us. It’s more like the reaction of people who feel they have been attacked and wounded. Is it entirely reasonable? You can argue either way, but it is what it is. Public reaction on this issue is like a force of nature, and it won’t be dismissed or managed, as so many Canadian politicians have learned.
But here is something else worth considering. For the story mentioned earlier Clarke got responses from something like 20 area politicians, local, provincial and federal. (Several others have yet to respond.) But if they’re all being honest — and they would be very foolish at this point to be anything but forthright — the rest of them spent their holidays season the same way the majority of us did.
They spent Christmas and New Year’s alone, or Zoomed with friends and family. They hosted small outdoor gatherings, masked and distanced. Some had “garage gatherings” which in our view is questionable, but for the most part these elected officials are living with the same public health guidelines we all are.
As we survive this latest pandemic outrage, it is important that we make it entirely clear we expect those elected to represent and serve us to abide by the same rules they levy upon us. And to use common sense. But we should also be careful not to lump all politicians together with those who have abused the public trust. Most are playing by the rules, and the few who are not are paying the price. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)