I wrestled with the idea of writing this column. We’re a biweekly, after all, and the news of elected officials from various parties and all levels of government travelling over the holidays first broke more than 10 days ago.
In the meantime, a lot of ink and political blood have been spilled.
I don’t want to pile on, and I don’t want to flog a dead horse. I’m not going to stake out the airport Arrivals gate, and I’m not going to analyze people’s rationales for travelling.
But reluctantly, I’m going to chime in.
Premier Jason Kenney showed some leadership when he first addressed this scandal on New Year’s Day. His then-municipal affairs minister Tracy Allard had been found to be vacationing in Hawaii, and angry Albertans wanted answers.
He could have summarily fired her. But she was by all accounts a strong and competent minister, so he didn’t want to do that. Instead, he took the blame on himself for not making it clear to his caucus that the rules applied to them. He allowed himself to appear ridiculous rather than offer up his minister to the indignant crowds.
It’s the kind of leadership one would hope for—if it was coming from a hockey coach protecting a slumping player from critical sportswriters. For someone who is supposed to be leading a province through a massive, complex, once-in-a-century crisis, it was sad and inadequate.
Three days later, the axe fell. Allard resigned, as did Kenney’s chief of staff Jamie Huckabay (who had travelled to the UK). Offending backbench MLAs were symbolically demoted.
The ensuing apologies referred to “mistakes” and “poor judgment.” These words are whopping understatements.
“Failure” would be a better word.
Kenney appeared to be surprised by the level of outrage that exploded in the wake of this scandal—it seems he thought he could contain it with a news conference.
How could he not have realized how deeply Albertans are invested in getting through this pandemic? How could he not have understood the severity of the sacrifices we have been making for each other? How could he fail to see that every single day for months on end, we all wake up wondering what more we will be called on to do, or not do, in the name of coming out the other end of this nightmare?
How could he have thought that we would be anything other than furious?
It’s obvious to anyone who will look, to anyone who would listen. To anyone who is “in this together” with us.
A hockey coach doesn’t have to lead the sportswriters or the fans. He just has to lead his team. And that’s been Kenney’s focus: keeping the party together as they manage their crisis communications.
But a leader has to look after the people’s interests and earn their trust. Leadership is all about service, and the greater the body you wish to lead, the more committed you must be to serving them.
And that means communication has to flow in both directions. It’s not good enough for political parties to pump out their variable recipes of self-serving statements, spin, half-truths, and pure bunk and then watch the polls to see what sells. True leaders know what we are feeling because they listen to us; but also, and more importantly, because they feel it too.
This pandemic isn’t a game to us. It’s not UCP versus NDP, or Alberta versus the feds. We can sort that out later.
We want it to be over. We are doing everything that is asked of us to get there. We want—we need—leaders who we can trust to take us through
The government is struggling to manage the political consequences. Meanwhile their critics and opponents are putting on their angry faces while they gleefully rake in some political capital, not to mention the fundraising that comes with it.
But the victims of this failure are not the politicians. People are losing jobs, businesses are closing, students and teachers are struggling, healthcare workers are burning out, ICUs are filling up. People are frustrated, people are lonely and isolated, people are getting sick.
People are dying.
And that’s why we’re angry. This wasn’t a political gaffe, it was an abject failure of leadership. And nothing has yet been said or done to address that.