MPs’ panic buttons a symptom of a larger ill
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/07/2022 (251 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The connection between citizens and their elected representatives is a bedrock part of democracy, dating back thousands of years to ancient Greece.
History shows society can suffer if that relationship is absent or severed. Prior to 1776, the 13 colonies of America spurred on their fight for independence with slogans that decried “taxation without representation.”
The disconnection that weakens nations’ resolve also applies in the modern context, even here in Canada, which is considered to be one of the world’s most stable democracies. In this case, however, politicians are distancing themselves because of concerns for their safety in public settings.
A growing number of members of Parliament, including Manitoba MPs, have resorted to carrying a “panic button,” an electronic device that can alert local authorities in the event its user faces a threat when out in public.
Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux, who has represented Winnipeg North since 2010 and was a Manitoba MLA for 18 years prior to that, is one who has begun carrying a mobile duress alarm after noticing an increasing number of intimidating encounters when meeting constituents.
“Without the panic button, I don’t know to what degree I’d be as open,” Mr. Lamoureux said.
Dan Vandal, Manitoba’s lone representative in the federal cabinet, said he doesn’t have a panic button, but worries more for the safety of his family and staff. His constituency manager was attacked in his office in 2019 and a window in his Winnipeg office was smashed in 2021.
Candice Bergen, the Portage-Lisgar MP who is the interim leader of the federal Conservative party, has had the device on her desk since she was elected in 2008, but says she has never had to use it.
Mr. Lamoureux’s situation is most illustrative. He’s a backbencher who is removed from the Liberal government spotlight, yet he is considered one of Winnipeg’s leading “retail politicians,” someone who holds regular meetings with constituents and attends local events throughout his term in office rather than just knocking on doors come election time.
It’s the often forgotten part of the democratic process in Canada, but Mr. Lamoureux’s hard work has consistently paid off at the polls. It’s an effective political style that crosses all party lines and connects people with their representatives.
Mr. Lamoureux and other MPs have experienced a definite change in public attitudes; some of the shift can be attributed to online commentary and public rhetoric such as that employed by those who brought Ottawa to a standstill in February, their demand for “freedom” from vaccine mandates a thin veil over more corrosive intentions and a deep-rooted hatred for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the governing Liberals.
If intimidation tactics such as these diminish or cut off the connection between elected representatives and the public, politicians will find their jobs more difficult and voters will feel more isolated.
Legitimate debate of issues will suffer if politicians cater to extremists and egg them on even further.
Legitimate debate of issues will suffer if politicians cater to extremists and egg them on even further, a strategy that seems to be favoured by Pierre Poilievre, the Ottawa MP who is running for the Conservative party leadership.
Encouraging confrontations by reinforcing rage fuelled by misinformation will only widen the gap, by discouraging voters’ trust in their representatives and keeping politicians from interacting with those they serve.
Panic buttons that offer politicians greater security only mask the symptoms of Canada’s current political malaise. They do nothing to address its causes. More effective remedies would include doing essentially the opposite of Mr. Poilievre’s current campaign strategy: employing rhetoric that quells, rather than feeds, the fury; resisting the temptation to cater to extreme elements; and focusing instead on winning voters’ support by offering clearly expressed policy ideas.