We need politicians to be more accessible in the everyday lives of Canadians, not less. Politicians should not have to be fearful of engaging in public events, and parents shouldn’t have to be worried about whether it is safe to bring their kids to an event in their community. Photo credit: The Canadian Press/Lars Hagberg
As part of the summer circuit that routinely sees politicians of all political stripes travel across the country, the itinerary for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had him scheduled for a walkthrough of a farmers’ market in Belleville, Ontario last week.
Photo ops of this nature are not unusual, and the goal is to showcase a politician in a local community and meet with identified supporters. In the case of last week’s event in Belleville, parents and their children were present for their chance to glad hand with the Prime Minister.
But for a routine stop in a public venue, things quickly went off the rails.
Once onsite, nearly 100 protestors flooded the market and surrounded the Prime Minister, using this public visit as an opportunity to yell expletives and get in the face of Trudeau’s security detail.
While these kinds of events can sometimes draw the ire of community members who support other political parties, they are not closed to the public. The Prime Minister’s itinerary is made public each day, and it’s just as much an opportunity for motivated individuals to air their grievances in the form of protesting if they so choose, as it is for community members to come out and show their support.
What we witnessed last week wasn’t a respectful protest, however. Rather than use the opportunity to try and engage in constructive dialogue, or leverage the presence of the sizable group to draw media attention to some of the problems that are being ignored by the government, the angry mob chose to heckle and shout.
Video of the event in Belleville was shared widely, and several media outlets ran with the story. To read the comments associated with these posts was to open the door to baseless conspiracy theories speculating that the Prime Minister’s office paid actors to show up to protest, or alternatively, to place blame on Trudeau for choosing to wade through the crowd.
There are important questions that need to be addressed regarding safety and security. But the fact of the matter is we need politicians to be more accessible in the everyday lives of Canadians, not less. Politicians should not have to be fearful of engaging in public events, and parents shouldn’t have to be worried about whether it is safe to bring their kids to an event in their community.
As for anyone making the case for the fact that Trudeau has gotten his comeuppance for eight years of polarizing policies, the reality is that these vile acts of disgruntlement don’t stop when he is no longer Prime Minister. We need only look south of the border to see that this type of polarization has a way of permeating society and taking hold.
In today’s 24-hour cycle of social media, it’s easy to forget that serving on behalf of Canadians and stepping up to seek public office comes with its fair share of challenges. But this shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Whether or not you agree with the politics of the governing party, most can probably agree that last week’s event shouldn’t be a child’s first memory of meeting an elected official.
Rather than embrace anger, we owe it to the next generation to show respect when disagreeing, and to use the ballot as the ultimate vehicle for change.
Josie Sabatino is a Senior Consultant at Summa Strategies, focused on providing strategic insight and helping clients meet their objectives in an ever changing and complex political and regulatory environment. Prior to joining Summa, Josie spent nearly a decade in political communications and most recently served as the Director of Communications to the Hon. Erin O’Toole, former Leader of the Official Opposition.