Running for office should be terrifying

(June 11, 2019)

If you are (or want to be) a candidate in the next election, you should be afraid about what will happen if you win.

In fact, if you are not actually terrified by the prospect of winning, you shouldn’t run at all.

I am not making a general threat against all politicians, nor am I warning them about other antagonists.

Quite simply, the point is this: whoever is elected to provide political leadership over the next four or five years, from whichever party and at whatever level, they will be responsible for whether our children and grandchildren will inherit a world in which they can survive.

Or not.

If this responsibility doesn’t scare the living daylights out of you, then you shouldn’t go anywhere near the political process. It should terrify you, as it would terrify any normal person — and if it doesn’t, you are clearly suffering from some form of social, emotional or moral defect that should bar you from holding public office of any kind.

We are almost out of time. It doesn’t matter that this next generation of politicians is not responsible for creating the problem. It doesn’t matter that they have inherited a situation that should have been addressed 20 years ago — even five years ago — but wasn’t. It doesn’t matter what ideological platform their party has announced, or what inane promises their party’s leader has made. It doesn’t matter whether they are tall or short, male or female, or any other personal descriptor of gender, orientation, race, age or ethnicity.

All that matters now, and to those future generations who will look back at this crucial time in history, is whether these new political leaders will do enough of anything, and in time. Will wisdom, compassion, science and common sense be reflected in what they actually do, not just in their rehearsed speeches?

What I fear, of course, is we will get another crop of self-interested time-servers, meekly following the party line (however skewed) or their leader (just as skewed), methodically racking up political bonus points for their silence and unquestioning loyalty, regardless of what actually should be done for the good of the people whom they have been elected to represent.

Too harsh? Perhaps, but collaboration across party lines in committee, using collective wisdom to create the best piece of legislation, went out the door with the antagonisms deliberately created by Stephen Harper’s imperial style of political management (remember how he mandated the use of “Harper government,” not “federal” or even “Conservative”?).

Now, we have omnibus bills, jammed through almost without discussion by government majorities — and usually without entertaining or allowing helpful amendments from opposition parties. In what passes for political minds these days, “might is right,” regardless of whether the resulting decisions are smart or wise.

In a time of climate emergency, we can’t afford to play “follow the leader.” At least on paper (if not always in practice), we have a democratic system of government in Canada, not an imperial one. Our leaders — prime ministers or premiers — are elected, not divinely appointed. These leaders are answerable to the people, even if they seem to demand the personal allegiance owed in past civilizations to emperors.

We need to set aside the expectation of party loyalty, the requirement of cabinet solidarity, of parroting “my leader, right or wrong.”

Each elected official is elected to fulfil their personal responsibilities, not just to the faction that voted for them, but to all the people, present and future, whose lives will be seriously affected by the decisions these officials must make.

So if you want to be a candidate, or already are, imagine yourself talking to your children or grandchildren 10 or 20 years from now — or to your neighbours’ kids, or whomever you like. When they ask for an explanation of the current situation in their lives, the struggles and dangers they face, and ask you why you did what you did back then, what will your answer be?

Those kids won’t want to hear about political wrangling in the House, how you scored points in question period by slagging the members opposite or how you felt you had to support the leader, whether you agreed with their decisions or not.

They will want to know what you did — personally — to deflect disaster, to protect those (like themselves) who were both innocent and helpless in the face of forces beyond their understanding or control.

To those children, to the next generations who will look back at what you did, you will be either a hero or a zero.

In the midst of a crisis, there is no middle ground between those two options.

You will have to choose, one or the other, for yourself — forever.

If that doesn’t terrify you, it should.

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