The Christmas card photo blunder couldn’t have come at a worse time for the MacLauchlan government. While the P.E.I. legislature is debating a controversial referendum bill, the optics of a senior minister — on video — flipping the middle finger to a passerby who had shouted from across the street to “honour the vote,” was exceptional bad timing.
The fact that the video was shot in late 2016 as the Liberal caucus assembled outside Province House for a Christmas card photograph doesn’t really matter. The message is clear — a cabinet minister is flipping the bird to a citizen who called on government MLAs to recognize that proportional representation won the 2016 plebiscite on democratic renewal. The inference is clear: Government didn’t honour the vote in late 2016 and isn’t supporting electoral reform today with the current flawed referendum bill before the legislature.
Government is dealing with more than 14 amendments to try and salvage this legislation. The video is seen as further evidence that government is not serious about changing the current First-Past-the-Post system.
Is flipping the bird sufficient grounds for turfing Mr. Brown from cabinet? Probably not. It would have helped if the minister made a full and sincere apology last week instead of saying he regretted the incident. He made a belated apology Tuesday — but only after Justice Minister Jordan Brown said he was sorry for his actions from the same incident. Jordan, then a backbench MLA, was standing behind Richard and clearly thought the finger was funny as he applauded his colleague. Other MLAs appeared to miss the incident entirely.
In response to an Opposition question last week, Richard readily admitted he did give the middle finger and shouldn’t have. “It is regrettable.” An apology is the act of saying that you are sorry for something wrong you have done. His response was tepid, at best.
Later in the day Tuesday, Richard told the Guardian he regretted what he did, was sorry, and if it wasn’t clear from previous comments made in the legislature, he apologized for his actions. That’s all fine, but those comments should have been made in the house and not to media.
Mr. Brown had months to apologize for his actions but didn’t do so until the video began to circulate and the issue was raised in the legislature. What is truly regrettable is that such incidents occur that necessitate apologies from politicians. It shows a disrespect for Islanders. To tolerate these actions suggests that we accept a lower threshold of civility because of the diminishing level of debate, behaviour and decorum in the legislature. And that’s a failure by everyone.
The premier is supporting his minister as “... a man of passion, as we’ve seen here on this floor and he’s also a man of honour ...” That response is unsatisfactory from a premier who has called for greater decorum in the legislature but then tolerates bad behaviour from cabinet ministers.
The incident in front of Province House in late 2016 was far from honourable.