What would you do if you met the President of the United States?
A few years ago, this would have been an easy answer, at least for many in Canada who seem to love the Democrats. A handshake or hug, maybe even a dose of fan girl or boy, as the case may be. #Obama
Now, it’s not so clear with a ‘special’ Republican in the Oval Office. Collectively, we seem to wonder: How to respect the office of president in all its complexities while not endorsing the person holding it in all his complexities? Is any interaction acceptable, other than explicitly speaking truth to power? #Trump
I had this debate with myself when Stephen Harper was in office, particularly during the 2011 federal campaign where I worked as a staffer for one of the other four main parties. Despite revoking the prison farms, for instance, would I still interact with him should our paths cross when he came to Kingston? That internal debate only deepened during his mean-spirited majority mandate.
I never met Harper.
But I came close to meeting his successor at the beginning of the month. Andrew Scheer, now leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, was one of the four political keynotes at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference that I attended with other councillors and Mayor Bryan Paterson.
Elizabeth May (Green Party of Canada), Jagmeet Singh (New Democratic Party of Canada), and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Liberal Party of Canada) were there, too.
As I tend to be centre-left, I rarely question how I would talk with these folks (of course, I have been friends with Elizabeth for seven years, so that ship has sailed), which is perhaps unfair. Either way, in previous encounters with Jagmeet — who was biking down a hill when I ran into him in Quebec City — and Justin — who was leaving the Justice Building in Ottawa while I was taking my grade 10 history class through security — I just said “Hi.”
But in an age of deep division — exacerbated by social media — and a time of climate and income insecurity, tensions are heightened. And what we do and who we are is under the microscope.
So what does this have to do with city council? A lot. Because each of the federal leaders presented to FCM — making their pitch to us local leaders — about who amongst them is fit to govern. Who could deliver the goods for municipalities? Their presentations were mainly about their policy, though how they presented said a lot about their personality.
I was fascinated by the process. Yes, because I am a political junkie. Also because one of them will likely be the next Prime Minister of Canada… Unless some tragedy, scandal, or the apocalypse comes (and no, I don’t mean Maxime Bernier pulling off the impossible).
With that office, they will set the tenor, tone, and timeline of debate in our country. Again, they will fund numerous programs that impact us locally. We need their support as only eight per cent of all tax dollars come to municipalities. Therefore, it’s important to consider what they convey in concert with what they want to do.
Trudeau was polished, especially in French, which was silky smooth. Ever the statesman on script, he was the only leader not to take questions after his discourse. He also unfortunately fell into platitudes about “working together” and “promising to follow through” — Good ideas if they inspire actual action.
Scheer had significant difficulty reading from the teleprompter, which is fine by me, as I think they are a disingenuous political tool (sorry JT). He also made, what was from him, a startingly admission: that Canada should be spending tens of millions of dollars more on programs. How? Not surprisingly: Paying down our debt so we don’t have to pay interest.
Jagmeet spoke, slightly awkwardly, in specifics about policies an NDP government would enact. From student loan forgiveness,to pharma-, dental-, mental health-, eye-, and ear-care. All sensible, needed programs. He even laid out a plan to pay for them by taxing Canadians who earn more than $20,000,000 by an additional 1 per cent.
Finally, Elizabeth May lit up the room. You may say I’m biased given my past partisan politics. Yet, while all of the leaders received some form of standing ovation, I did not expect the group wearing ‘I support Canada’s Oil & Gas’ T-shirts to be the first on their feet when she finished. They were. Her message was singular and unscripted, a clarion call that it is beyond time to act on climate change. We need all hands on deck to reduce emissions immediately and drastically.
All of this to say, none of these leaders, whether we meet them or not, will get to Parliament Hill as PM if their party doesn’t win the most seats (though of course, a coalition is possible between the second, third, and maybe fourth place party to bump governing from the first place finisher).
That’s why following along with what happens with the candidates in our ridings — the people we are more likely to meet and know and interact with — and seeing how their plans line up to help us mitigate and adapt to weird weather and protect the most vulnerable, concerns me, both as a councillor and as a citizen.
Robert Kiley is a Kingston city councillor representing Trillium District. Follow him on Twitter @robert_kiley.