Brian Pallister, Manitoba Progresive Conservative Party leader and candidate in the Fort Whyte byelection, was off base when he made his first official statement attacking the NDP for engaging in politics.
Pallister criticized the government for announcing additional daycare spaces at the Whyte Ridge daycare centre. He complained that the announcement coincided with the NDP nomination meeting in that constituency. He did it again when the byelection date was announced. Rather than welcoming the news, he complained about the timing.
Pallister has proven himself to be a distinguished and successful politician, both in the federal and provincial arenas. It should come as no surprise to him that politicians will make announcements they hope will meet with public approval and get them votes. It is the business of politicians to get votes. The more the better. Pallister no doubt hopes his own announcement criticizing the government for being political will get his party votes. That is unlikely to be the case.
Indeed, the announcement made by Pallister about the NDP daycare statement was designed for the purpose of lessening support and consequential votes for the NDP and, as a corollary, adding support and consequential votes for the Conservatives. What was wrong about his announcement was not that it was political, but that it was probably ineffective.
If the provision of more daycare spaces meets with public approval, then the public couldn't care less about the timing coinciding with a nominating meeting. The public is not surprised that such statements would be timed when they would have the greatest effect. That is exactly when they expect such a statement to be made.
The protestation of the NDP minister to the effect that government announcements and party policy have nothing to do with one another is as egregiously ludicrous as is Pallister's criticism.
Why is it that politicians are among the first to criticize each other for acting politically? They appear to define politics as something to be despised.
Paradoxically, they want politicians to be above politics. There is no better example of an oxymoron. Politicians, by definition, are persons who are engaged in politics. And it should be emphasized that they are engaged in a noble and honourable profession.
Politics is the art of endeavouring to achieve the public good and of obtaining the necessary approval and commendation of the public for so doing. For some reason, there has developed in the public mind the notion that to act politically is to act in an underhanded way. This attitude prevails, and its prevalence is augmented by politicians themselves, who often engage in criticizing each other for acting "politically."
We often hear certain praise being offered to persons in the political field for being "statesmen" rather than "politicians."
The distinction is misplaced. Many statesmen have been 100 per cent politicians. I expect that Pallister will be a principled politician, but he should not start by belittling the profession.
His criticism of the NDP as far as daycare is concerned will not wash and may be counterproductive. I myself, and probably many others, didn't even know about the government initiative until Pallister made his public comment. The people in Fort Whyte may have had it brought to their attention by Pallister's release.
If they favour the additional daycare places, their support will be reinforced by his statement. Pallister will have to say something more substantial to be effective politically. He will have to be a better politician. I use the term in its best and most honourable sense.
There is no need for the leader of the opposition party to comment on every government announcement. He has several options. He may say nothing at all. Or he may criticize the government for failing to specify how the additional care will be funded. He may attack the government daycare program itself by stating that we could have better and more daycare for less cost if we stopped being wedded to the daycare workers' lobby and its main interest not being the welfare of children, but rather the professionalization and proliferation of daycare workers.
He could make these or better criticisms. But he will make no mileage for calling the announcement political. It is supposed to be political, and there is nothing wrong with that. What is political may be perfectly right. Indeed, a sound axiom for politicians is that "what is right is politically right."
Sometimes politicians are praised for making what may seem to be unpopular but necessary and courageous decisions. The truth is that these politicians make these decisions not because they are courageous. They make them because they know the public will recognize and approve of them. The alternative to making these decisions would be the cowardly thing to do and would ultimately result in their being thrown out of office.
Sid Green is a Winnipeg lawyer
and former NDP cabinet minister.