Dishonesty as the political reality

Posted on July 7, 2010 in Governance Debates

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July 7, 2010.   Charles Lewis

I have believed for some time that truth has been missing from our public discourse; the events at the recent G8/G20 meetings in Toronto crystallized that suspicion.

What went on before and after the summit was a prime example of how we have become used to being misled by those with influence. Rather than complaining about it, we accept the idea that obscuring is just part of business as usual.

Take the G8/G20: The federal government spent more than $1.2-billion on what turned out to be an annoying and disruptive photo-op. In an age of technological wizardry the idea of dragging thousands of people from around the world to a downtown fortress for a day or two was beyond ludicrous. Nothing that was done at these meetings could not have been done during a conference call. We all knew it and yet it went ahead anyway — even though most of us suspected we were being sold an expensive bill of goods by the politicians in charge.

Everyone in Toronto knew, for example, that businesses that were forced to close because of the meetings would not be compensated for lost income. Instead of trying to change this, there were a lot of fixed smiles from the political class and a shrug of the shoulders from everyone else.

Once the summit was was over, Stephen Harper, a fiscal conservative, could have admitted that maybe we spent too much and suggested perhaps the next time around there would be a more sensible way to organize these meetings. But that would have been admitting to a mistake — something politicians don’t do.

Police chief Bill Blair could have acknowledged that there were things that went wrong with the detention centre and the way suspects were handled. He could have said that fully accredited journalists doing their jobs should not have been arrested, let alone charged. In other words, he could have been forthright and honest about the shortcomings of the police’s handling of the summit. But being frank about shortcomings isn’t something those in power do.

Unfortunately, none of this surprises us. For years we have gotten used to politicians saying one thing to get elected and doing something else entirely to stay in office. More and more I hear people justify this situation as the political reality. A politician who promised to raise taxes, for example, would not have a chance at getting elected — even though it might be the truth and what he would do once safely ensconced in office. The G8/G20 meetings are just a symptom of the greater problem: We have become allergic to the truth. And worse, we are aware of this state of affairs and accept it as the price for getting along.

Deep down, though, most of us have become utterly fed up with our politicians and leaders. It has lead to cynicism and isolation from each other and the institutions we should respect.

C.S. Lewis said more than 60 years ago: “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.”

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