WEATHER ALERT

A flash of humanity, and then… right back into the commode While elected officials play Reach for the Bottom at the legislature, a growing number of Manitobans are deciding the democratic process isn’t worth their time

It may have been one of the most remarkable, most unsettling moments ever in the Manitoba legislature.

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Opinion

It may have been one of the most remarkable, most unsettling moments ever in the Manitoba legislature.

On Thursday, Tory backbencher Bob Lagassé (Dawson Trail) delivered an unprecedented member’s statement just prior to the beginning of question period.

A screengrab of Bob Lagasse.

Speaking via video link from his office, Lagassé told the chamber he was battling previously undiagnosed mental-health issues, including depression and ADHD. He admitted to feeling “dead inside” and that he often broke down in tears after leaving his office and getting into his truck.

Lagassé’s statement seemed to be a call to others suffering with the same burden.

“I have learned in the past few weeks, as a man, it’s OK not to be OK and to recognize this doesn’t make you weak.”

However, in his concluding remarks, Lagassé seemed to connect his mental health to the often toxic environment in the legislature. He urged all elected officials to be “kind to one another, be uplifting, be truthful. In this environment of political theatre, we tend to be harmful to the detriment of our own and others’ mental health.”

Was he talking about the behaviour of all members from all parties? Or, was he reacting more to what he may perceive to be the constant attacks on the Tory government by opposition MLAs?

Nobody knows for sure. All that we do know is that following his heartfelt statement, elected officials from all three parties represented in the chamber demonstrated the temperament of sleep-starved toddlers.

Deep into question period, NDP house leader Nahanni Fontaine took another run at former city councillor Kevin Klein, who has been nominated to represent the governing party in a critically important Dec. 13 byelection in Kirkfield Park.

Klein previously and periodically worked for disgraced Winnipeg fashion mogul Peter Nygard. Nobody has ever found any evidence Klein knew or should have known about the alleged sexual crimes committed at Nygard’s Bahamian estate. Alleged crimes that have prompted charges in three provinces and the United States, and locked Nygard in a Toronto jail cell awaiting trial.

Even though they have no evidence that Klein is even remotely involved in Nygard’s purported crimes, the NDP has continued to take every opportunity to mention the two men in the same sentence in the prelude to the byelection.

Fontaine’s decision to go after Klein, yet again, pretty much derailed the remainder of question period.

Tory house leader and Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen responded by referencing the NDP’s decision to nominate several candidates in the 2019 election who, it turned out, had criminal records. That low-blow caused the chamber to erupt in angry taunts.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / FREE PRESS FILES

Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen told the Liberal leader he was a disgrace.

The animus continued when Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont asked why the Tory government did not take more direct action to remove “freedom convoy” protesters from Winnipeg and the border crossing at Emerson, which would have been allowable once the federal Emergencies Act was activated.

Although the question and subject were fair game, Goertzen told Lamont he was “a disgrace.” Lamont responded by giving Goertzen the finger, a gesture he later referred to as “the St. Boniface salute.”

All of this transpired after Lagassé’s impassioned plea for respect and decorum.

It’s pointless to debate who is more responsible for the childish behaviour we saw Thursday.

New Democrats feel entitled to play fast and loose with the facts after being treated to what they believe is years of misrepresentation by the Tories who, in turn, feel entitled to use the same strategy because they were treated just as badly when they were in opposition following the 1999 election.

Behaviour in the Manitoba Legislative Assembly, and in similar chambers all over the world, is anchored to the idea that all is fair in political war.

Dynamics like this prove that among all the standards, rules and traditions that govern the behaviour of elected officials, there is one that eclipses all others.

“What goes around, comes around.”

Forget about parliamentary privilege, Robert’s Rules of Order and the traditions of decorum and civility. Behaviour in the Manitoba Legislative Assembly, and in similar chambers all over the world, is anchored to the idea that all is fair in political war.

Unfortunately, politicians are so focused on scoring cheap points using whatever means necessary, they have ignored an important reality: citizens neither understand nor support the flexible moral and ethical standards that elected officials utilize in their day-to-day work.

Voter turnout seems destined to continue its endless downward spiral. Parties are having increasing trouble convincing good people to stand as candidates. Election campaigns are finding it nearly impossible to recruit volunteers to canvass and help get out the vote.

We are, in general, more self-obsessed and much less interested in what is going on in our country, our province and our city. And not just because many politicians are loathsome.

There are myriad reasons for the disengagement from politics. We are, in general, more self-obsessed and much less interested in what is going on in our country, our province and our city. And not just because many politicians are loathsome. We’re more interested in our phones, less interested in our neighbours.

We volunteer less and donate less to worthy causes. We consume less news about what’s going on in our communities.

In that context, misbehaving politicians may not be the cause of the disengagement. But at the very least, it’s safe to say they are doing absolutely nothing to remedy the situation.

And that begs a question.

If your behaviour is so ugly and undisciplined that it discourages people from paying attention to what you’re doing or saying, why are you in politics?

dan.lett@winnipegfreepress.com

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

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