MacDuff’s Call: Parties need to screen candidates more carefully

They’re doing a disservice to democracy by not checking backgrounds

With all of the recent media coverage of the photos revealing Justin Trudeau’s propensity to paint his body and imitate people of colour, I am reminded of a comment made by a local pastor quite a few years ago when he was speaking at the swearing-in ceremony for the newly elected Maple Ridge council.

In addressing the fresh-faced politicians, the pastor cautioned them that while Canadians are eager to place leaders on a pedestal, they are just as eager to knock them off.

It garnered a laugh, but at the same time, it reflected the reality of the political arena, in that politics is viewed as a blood sport, which the vast majority of the population would never entertain trying.

According to Abacus Data, a research and strategy firm, which conducted a study in 2014 to determine how many Canadians would consider running for politics, six per cent of Canadians say they would consider running for office, and 15 per cent say they might consider it.

Although 21 per cent of the population is a pretty good pool to draw from, the number of people that actually go on to participate is considerably lower.

Within this small group of people who decide to participate, it would be reasonable to expect that they have a track record for upstanding behaviour, support Canadian values, have an understanding of current affairs and possess the capacity to address the issues that are important to their constituents, which in reality is not setting an unreasonable performance expectation considering the responsibilities of the role.

However, witnessing the degree of scrutiny candidates are facing, because of political correctness demanding perfection and social media exposing every flaw, the scrutiny could prove to be another reason fewer people, may opt to participate in politics, especially when they are tossed out by the party before they even get close to the pedestal.

It is hard to imagine in this day and age of social media that anyone would think they could hide their past indiscretions, especially in this hyper politically correct arena that makes no allowance for past acts of immaturity, generational ignorance, or previously held, outgrown, uninformed views.

Parties are now leading the charge in looking for reasons to politically behead someone’s career before it even starts, by scouring social media in hopes of finding any semblance of dirt on their opponent, or in turn, tossing their own candidate faster than yesterday’s newspaper when their own indiscretions are exposed.

The result has been that each of the parties have had candidates step down in the early days of the current federal election because of social media posts or inappropriate comments been made by the candidate, sometimes, years prior.

The revelation of these perceived indiscretions and ensuing expulsions have triggered many debates about whether people should have known their comments were wrong, or if uneducated views that have since changed, should warrant a second chance

In some cases, we are left wondering that if there had been time for a fuller investigation into the individual’s situation, would it have allowed for some latitude to accept that the person was remorseful and no longer carried the same views and, yes, actually forgive them for their error?

However, parties fearing special interest groups will pull their support if the party is not seen to respond at lightening speed to an offence, would rather scramble to replace a candidate than face the collateral damage of a group pulling their support.

This is not to say that people who hold opinions that disregard or work against our Charter of Rights should get a pass on holding such views.

The coverage of these instances and the distraction away from the issues the public should be hearing about, could be avoided with a more rigorous screening process.

It is clear that the parties are good at finding their opponent’s past indiscretions, so the capacity for parties to get a good candidate lineup at the outset, does exist.

By not taking the time to do so, parties are doing a disservice to the democratic process, considering the political arena is already not appealing to the vast majority of Canadians.

Having this election punctuated with highlights of candidates being tossed by parties early on, and the on-going saga of Justin Trudeau’s own images that continue to, rightly, dog him throughout the campaign, is not the best way to encourage the next generation to think about running.

Going back to the pastor’s comment, I believe Canadians enjoy putting our politicians on a pedestal and equally enjoy knocking them down, because metaphorically, the pedestal represents democracy and the role we play as voters.

Parties have a role to play also, by ensuring they have processes to put their best candidates forward.

Sending anyone less, is just a waste of everyone’s time.

Cheryl Ashlie is a former Maple Ridge city councillor, school trustee, constituency assistant and citizen of the year and is president of Alouette River Management Society.

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