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RICK MACLEAN: Politics, fear and caution are old friends

P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan dropped the writ to officially kick off a spring 2019 provincial election campaign during a Liberal party nomination meeting in Charlottetown on Tuesday, March 26, 2019.
P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan dropping the writ to officially kick off a spring 2019 provincial election campaign in March. MacLauchlan lost his Stanhope-Marshfield district seat, and later resigned as Liberal party leader.

He meant well.

“Have you ever considered running for office?” he asked, all innocent curiosity.

We both knew the innocence was a crock. This was an offer couched in a hypothetical. If I said no, I was rejecting an offer that had never been made. Welcome to politics.

I smiled.

“There are only two jobs I can think of that the public is absolutely certain it can do better than the people who have devoted years of their lives trying master.

“One is a newspaper editor,” I said.

“As an editor, I’d get a call every day from someone lecturing me about how dumb I was for something I had done, or failed to do. Explanations about such – apparently minor to them – issues as the laws protecting the rights of the innocent, or the laws regarding libel fell on deaf ears.”

The man smiled.

“And the other job in that category is politician,” I added.

“I ran a paper for much two decades. I don’t think I’ll try batting a thousand by giving politics a shot.”

So ended my political career. Likely for the best. Beautiful Wife told me the other day someone at a party we attended recently wondered why I looked so angry the whole night.

“I was kind of scared of him,” the man confided.

My memory of the party is it was a bit dull, but I found a couple of people to talk to and did that. Guess I’d never be good working a room. I don’t have the face for it.

Perhaps that’s why I have a lot of time for politicians, we’ve shared similar trenches as people have taken pot shots at us.

And it’s why I don’t tut-tut when I see politicians behaving the way they do.

At election time they promise us the moon, neglecting to say those promises must be paid for using our money. They smile, nod and do their best to say as little of substance as possible, fearful their words might upset a voter.

And given the polls in the looming federal election, that fear is a reasonable reaction for someone hoping to win an election and get, or keep, a wellpaid job for the next four years.

That’s the problem with politics. Its practitioners fear doing what might needs to be done because they’re either asking the voters to hire them for a job, or know they’ll be trying to keep one in the all-too-near future.

It’s what I always thought was the problem haunting Wade MacLauchlan.

He was handed the keys by a Liberal party desperate to win a third straight time. It didn’t look good and when MacLauchlan stepped forward, everyone else considering a run for the leader’s job stepped back. It worked, the Liberals won. Sadly, MacLauchlan then got caught up in the idea of ‘one more time.’ He didn’t look around, tell his party the chance of winning a fourth term was zero, and push ahead with changes he believed the province needed.

He dipped his toe in reforming education, for instance, but when the predictable push back came, he opted for the supposed safety of the status quo.

It’s the safe route. And it’s the road to nowhere. Let’s hope some political leader chooses another path, and we see some of the things we need get done.

Rick MacLean is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.

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