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EDITORIAL: Simple courtesy

Paula Biggar speaks during question period in the P.E.I. legislature Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018.
Paula Biggar speaks during question period in the P.E.I. legislature Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018. - Mitch MacDonald

MLAs, and especially our cabinet ministers, are held to a higher standard. They must lead by example.

One word would have defused the situation. A simple phrase would have ended any controversy. But that didn’t happen and Transportation Minister Paula Biggar finds herself in some well-deserved hot water.

Instead of an abrupt, “I don’t speak French,” response to a social media query from a concerned francophone parent about deficiencies at Evangeline school, all the minister had to say was, “Sorry, I don't speak French, but I’ll get back to you.”

U.S. president Donald Trump might have dramatically lowered the bar when it comes to how elected officials deal with the press, fellow politicians and citizens, but that behavior cannot be tolerated in Canada or in this province.

Just because Ms. Biggar was inconvenienced by a question posed in French is no reason to snap at a constituent. The minister has capable staff who can speak French, who could translate the question, get the information requested and respond in French – as the law requires.

The minister did apologize on her Facebook page several days later, as she should have done. She also reached out to the parent who unfortunately declined the opportunity to discuss the matter. Let’s hope they have that conversation soon.

MLAs, and especially our cabinet ministers, are held to a higher standard. They must lead by example.

There are other issues in play. The parent wasted no time in sharing the minister’s email response on Facebook, calling out Ms. Biggar for her, “good demonstration of ignorance.”

Attempts by the media to interview the parent were declined, and the Facebook post was later removed. Calling out the minister was fair, but once the parent went public on social media, it’s impossible to remain discreet or immune from challenge. Facebook or Twitter comments are in the public domain. We are all judged on our questions, our answers and our comments.

The issue didn’t end there. Enter the Green Party of P.E.I., which, in an unattributed statement, demanded the minister resign from cabinet. It was left to a party staffer to put his name on the release.

Morell-Mermaid MLA Sidney MacEwen was correct when he chided Green leader Peter Bevan-Baker and fellow MLA Hannah Bell for not stepping forward. “If you are going to make the serious decision to call for a minister to resign, sign your name to it. Don’t send out staff . . . to do the heavy lifting,” he said in a Twitter post.

One of those two names should have been on the Green release. Statements can’t just “come from the party.” You don’t see a Progressive Conservative staffer speak for leader James Aylward, and you don't see the chief of staff speak for Premier Wade MacLauchlan when such controversial issues arise. Party leaders and MLAs must step up. It’s goes with the job.

Ms. Biggar has a reputation of being curt on social media. She has learned a valuable lesson, one that all politicians should follow: “If you have nothing good to say, then . . .

It was a good learning experience for everyone.

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