Why do we need politicians and statesman?

It used to be hard to argue that politicians provide any value. In the past, one could easily point to the good that great statesmen did. One could point to Abraham Lincoln, Sir John A. MacDonald, Rt. Hon. Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Peter Lougheed, Churchill or FDR. One could argue that these men built or saved polities. Over time, our definition of statesman would grow. Eventually, Tommy Douglas, Famous Five, the Rt. Hon. Lincoln Alexander, Louis Riel and Elijah Harper would be added to their ranks. Each of them – regardless of gender, heritage or colour – would play their part; each would help to build the country.


Now to argue that politicians had value, one would point to statesmen and say that not everyone is exceptional. Accordingly, politicians were place holders. They were “lesser statesmen”, who would likely be forgotten and who held the fort. Their names could be mentioned here. I could talk about C.D. Howe, Alexander Mackenzie, John Abbott, Arthur Meighen or Louis St. Laurent and few would know if those men were Prime Ministers, Ministers, Premiers or Mayors. In a democracy, we are told that these lesser figures are required because chaos would surely ensue. But most people, I knew said one word: “really?”. Do you really believe that politicians have special skills? Aren’t they just money-grubbing, power-hungry people? It is at this point that I would give up because who would believe that they are necessary. I did, but History is my mistress. Who else would believe this?


For this reason, I am grateful for President Donald Trump, Premier Doug Ford and aspiring Premier-to-be Jason Kenney; because now I can introduce people to the “demagogue”. Yup, we now have real life examples. The demagogue was the type of person that was feared by the American Founders in 1787 and the Canadian Fathers of Confederation in 1865. For, before the American Constitution was ratified in 1789 and the Canadian Constitution came into force in 1867, there were worries about the rabble-rouser or leader who would exploit democracy. They would whip up the passions of the crowd and shut down reasoned deliberation. The demagogue, it was feared, could use the crowd to bring forth an autocracy, perverse monarchy or an even worse thing: the “tyranny of the majority”.


Canadian History has little evidence of this type of Tyranny. Admittedly, it could be seen in the creation of the Alberta Eugenics Board or policies created to destroy Canada’s Indigenousness People. However, this has generally been the exception and not the tendency in Canadian History. Yet, in the States, there has been much more than a few states Eugenics Boards. Politicians there have stirred up passions to support the Ku Klux Klan and segregation.


With all that being said, our two countries have had limited demagogic experience. However, names like Napoleon, Hitler, Franco and Mussolini from European history tells us that demagogues exist. So there is a silver lining to the election of Donald Trump and Doug Ford: it reminds us – the citizenry – that demagogues do exist. My hope is that the emergence of these creatures will act like an immunization: it will reawake the democratic immunize systems in Canada and the United States.


While, Donald, Doug and Jason – better yet, the Three Demagogic Amigos – claim that they are “Conservatives”, one can plainly see that they are not. They are not Bill Davis, Ralph Klein, Brian Mulroney, Ronald Regan, the Bushes or Maggie Thatcher. The Three Amigos are not Prentice, Stelmach, Redford, Clark, Lougheed or Klein. Demagogues, including these three Demagogic Amigos, don’t try to build anything. They merely cling to a simple idea and claim that all the ills will be solved if that demonized thing was destroyed: “Immigrants” for President Trump, “the Gravy Train” for Ford and “the NDP or protection of the Oil Industry” for Jason.


The problem, though, is once these demagogues attain power, they can never do what they promised. Donald Trump, as an example, vilified everyone who was not a white male. Just as an example, before the 2018 midterm elections, President Trump referred to a US-bound caravan of Central American migrants as an “invasion” and then claimed that there were “Middle Easterners” among them. The solution for this problem was a “border wall” which would be paid by Mexico, even though the “number of unauthorized immigrants living in the United States was lower in 2016 than at any time since 2004”. (5 facts about illegal immigration in the U.S., by Jens Manuel Krogstad, Jeffrey S. Passel & D’Vera Cohn, Pew Research Center, Nov. 28, 2018)


In fact, Donald Trump’s border wall becomes even more ridiculous when you find out that “two-thirds of those who joined the undocumented population did so by entering with a valid visa and then overstaying their period of admission”.  (Visa Overstays Outnumber Illegal Border Crossings, Trend Expected to Continue, By Catalina Gonella, NBC News.com, March 7, 2017, 12:27 PM MST / Updated March 7, 2017 / 12:28 PM MST)


But it gets better. For as the National Post has reported, Canadians tend to be the worst offenders of this overstaying phenomena. Or put differently, “more than 600,000 travellers overstayed their U.S. visas” in 2017. Nearly 93,000 Canadians over stayed their visa in 2017, while only 47,000 Mexicans did the same. (Canadians, not Mexicans, represent largest number of visa overstays in the U.S., according to Department of Homeland Security, by Maura Forrest, National Post, August 9, 2018, 4:31 PM EDT)


So, if two-thirds of the undocumented population in the United States come from people who validly came to the United States and then overstay their period of admission, and most of those who recently overstayed were Canadians – and not Mexicans – then Donald Trump should be building “the Wall” across the 49th parallel. However, any sane person would say that building a wall across the 49th parallel won’t work to solve the very real immigration problems that the US is suffering from. This is the problem of Donald Trump; this is the problem of the demagogue. The solutions just don’t make sense but they make various electors feel good.


Doug Ford has done the same thing in Ontario. Premier Ford argued that he would stop the “gravy train”. By “Gravy Train”, Premier Ford meant that he would stop government waste and get rid of unnecessary or bloated government programmes. Yet, what has been cut in Ontario has not come close to the desired $6 billion dollars of necessary cuts. The Ford Administration decided that the first things that it would go after were the Child Advocate’s Office and school budgets for specialized programmes such as in-class tutoring and after-school programs for at-risk youth. The only problem with that would be that those cuts would show up in crime statistics in future years.


Just as when the Ford Administration tried to cut the amount of councillors in the city of Toronto to save money. Just after being elected, Premier Ford made a big deal about cutting the number of city councillors in Toronto in half. Yet, after the new council was elected, those new councillors found that they needed to hire more staff to deal with the new, larger ridings. So, the money saved by getting rid of councillors has now been eaten up by the need to hire more staff.


However, the ridiculousness of the Ford Administration does not end there. The Ford Administration has ended Indigenous education training for teachers, and decreased, nearly in half, the Indigenous culture fund intended to support preserving Inuit, Metis and First Nations heritage (i.e. from $5 million to $2.75 million a year). Some might argue that this is not a problem. That would be until the Ford Administration needs something from Ontario’s Indigenous people. For much of the development – from oil pipelines to forestry to mining – in Ontario that the Ford Government seeks to move forward will take place on Crown Land that Indigenous people have a claim too. The previous Wynne Government – a Liberal Government – knew that. That is why Wynne Government was trying to implement as many of the ideas held in the reports provided by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and in the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Obviously, the Ford Government isn’t as insightful.


Or look at the Ford’s government move to dismantle an expert panel on violence against women and its’ inability to honour the Liberals’ funding promise of providing $14.8 million over three years to increase services at rape crisis centres. It is not as if these problems will go away. By being a demagogue though, Doug Ford gets to ignore the real public policy problems in order to make his electorate feel good.


The only problem is in the cost that demagoguery provides. Just look at the tale of Hydro One. Under the Wynne Government – Hydro One became a private company. It is true that the Province of Ontario still holds 48.9% of Hydro One’s common shares (47.4% directly held by the government, and 1.5% held by Ontario Power Generation). Nevertheless, Hydro One is a private company who is traded on the TSX. As such, Hydro One no longer has to just look after the interests of the Province of Ontario. Hydro One now has to balance the interests of all shareholders, including the Province of Ontario, and has to put their collective best interest at the forefront of each of their decisions. As such, one would not be surprised that the original CEO was paid the market rate of $6.2-million. Most commentators agree that this was a reasonable rate; yet candidate Ford didn’t seem to understand that. For as a candidate, Doug Ford said that it was unreasonable that the CEO was paid $6.2 million dollars, when the previous public servant got much less than that in remuneration.


With that being said, it should not be a surprise that when Doug Ford became Premier, he started to push his demagogic non-sense on Hydro One. He kept his promise to push out the CEO because it would save money. He foisted his campaign promise on Hydro One and the costs started to rise because of the severance of the CEO was estimated to start at $10 million dollars.


Then there was the other $100+ million dollar consequence. When Doug Ford pushed through the changes, Hydro One was in the middle of merging with a Spokane, Washington based utility called Avista. The Washington State energy regulator was not impressed with Doug Ford’s actions. They felt that he was bring undue political influence to Hydro One and that the newly merged entity could not be trusted to be either a market player or to be able to defend the interests of Washington state customers. Consequently, the regulator would not approve the deal. This decision comes with a cost of its own: US$103 million break fee. Given the USD/CAD exchange rate, Premier Ford has caused Hydro One to lose more than $100 million CAD to get rid of one executive who was being paid $6 Million CAD. Yup, this is demagoguery in action.


Now, in Alberta, Jason Kenney is arguing that the problem with Alberta is the present NDP Government. Mr. Kenney has neglected the fact that most, if not all, of the commissions, municipalities, universities and hospitals are running deficits because of poor mismanagement of the 40+ year Progressive Conservative dynasty. Mr. Kenney has also forgotten that the Progressive Conservative Government led by Prentice indicated it was also going to run several years of deficits. While, I am not a fan of NDP policies, one can easily argue that the policies that they brought forth were necessary. Or put differently, should Alberta go back to being the only subnational jurisdiction in Canada or the United States without having farm worker labour protections or regulations?


Jason Kenney is clearly a demagogue. He has argued that he can maintain rural hospitals but cut the provincial government budget by 20%. It is hard to understand how this can be done when almost 40% of the provincial budget goes to health care (Alberta spends $2.4M an hour on health care —​ here’s what’s being done to reduce it, CBC.ca, Brooks DeCillia · CBC News · Posted: Mar 25, 2018 5:00 AM MT) and most of that is spent on wages of physicians, nurses and other health professionals. If Candidate Kenney were to hold his word, the Government of Alberta would have to cut many budgets by 50% or more. This would mean that education, university, policing and AISH supports would by halved. This would mean closing courts and firing judges. This would mean abandoning roads, highways and other major infrastructure projects. This notion is ridiculous on its face but this is what we have heard.


So with people like Jason Kenney, Premier Ford and President Trump it is easy to argue for simple, modest and artless politicians. It is now easy to support politicians – no matter how graceless – who will at least use facts; or responsible elected representatives who will not dissemble and fade when questioned.

It will be delightful to defend those people who will have a response that will have a reasonable, responsible solution. In a hundred years, names like Naheed Nenshi, Christy Clark, Kathleen Dunderdale, Joe Clark, Jean Chrétien, Stephen Harper and Preston Manning will only be known to journalists, academics, politicos and historians. However, it is because of those people that we have a legislature and a government that can move from problem to problem. It is because of politicians that Statesmen have a chance to flourish. However, either is preferable to the Kenney, Ford or Trump trap. This is my silver lining: by experiencing demagoguery, I hope we never repeat it.


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