It’s that time of year again, for pink shirt-wearing, selfie-taking, speech-making, flash-mobbing and feel-gooding. Maybe even some politicking and grip-and-grinning with oversized, not legal tender novelty cheques. A provincial election is coming.
Feb. 22 is the annual Bullying Awareness Day, formerly Anti-Bullying Day. Not sure why they rebranded it, but they want us to #MakeNice this year.
Who could possibly argue against the basis of the message — to be kind to each other and to stop bullies?
British Columbians should, however, question the pink-garbed, messenger-in-chief and whether she is really devoted to the cause of anti-bullying.
Premier Christy Clark rode the pink wave to the premier’s office six years ago and she is using it again to get re-elected this May. Take a closer look and you’ll notice that it has always been more about her brand recognition.
Clark left politics before the 2005 provincial election and failed a bid to be the NPA mayoral nominee for that year’s civic election. In August 2007, longtime Liberal strategy guru Patrick Kinsella helped open doors for Clark to become a CKNW talkshow host. He knew that she wanted to return to politics and had ambitions for a high office. She needed a platform to build her profile and got it for three years during the early afternoon time slot on AM 980. Talk radio in B.C. has been a launching pad or a landing pad for politicians, from Chuck Cook to John Reynolds to Dave Barrett. For Clark, it was a relaunching pad.
Clark imported Pink Shirt Day to B.C. after learning of a Nova Scotia high school protest. A Grade 9 student had been bullied for wearing a pink shirt. His friends responded by coming to school, proudly wearing pink shirts. The bully was silenced.
Clark made it her pet cause. Former Deputy Premier Clark convinced Premier Gordon Campbell to proclaim Feb. 27, 2008 as B.C.’s first Anti-Bullying Day. He even gave her credit. It gave Clark immeasurable recognition and respect that she parlayed into that successful run for the party leadership, which culminated in the Feb. 26, 2011 win over Kevin Falcon.
She began using taxpayer resources in 2012 to promote Pink Shirt Day every year on the final Wednesday of February. Her former media employer is still involved as the sponsor of the pink shirt sales. Its Orphans Fund charity said it doled out $375,000 in T-shirt sales proceeds for various anti-bullying projects last year.
The campaign has always focused more on schools than workplaces. That is a colossal missed opportunity. The one workplace that Clark has direct control over, the Government of British Columbia, remains a bastion of bullying.
The longest-serving female head of government in Canada promised to bring motherly qualities to the job. Yet, consensus-building and collaboration are missing from our government. It still functions on right-versus-left, adversarial party lines. We’re more than 15% through the 21st century with enough history behind us to know better. A polarized political environment has been good for the bank accounts of lobbyists and spinners, but not really for the rest of us.
In Victoria, under Clark, there is an obsession with non-stop campaigning and non-stop fundraising. Fear and greed are the weapons. Truth is not adored, but secrecy is.
Reporters who don’t regurgitate press releases are shunned. Documents are destroyed or not created at all. Children die in government care, but no one loses their job or gets arrested. Lawyers cash-in while schoolchildren did without, until the Supreme Court of Canada told the government to hire more teachers. The fall sitting of the Legislature gets cancelled; the governing party chose to campaign and fundraise, rather than clap, desk-thump and endure sharp questions from the opposition. The conflict on display in the Legislature can be entertaining at times. It is, as Frank Zappa said, the showbiz wing of industry. But it really should not be.
In this environment, agreeing with an opponent is discouraged and considered a sign of weakness. Citizens are under the illusion that they pay the bills and call the tune. But the tune-calling is restricted to only one day every four years.
The premier, who decides who in her caucus gets better jobs and bigger paycheques, is the boss for the remaining 1,450 (or so) days. Everybody knows the game. Step out of line and no cabinet post and perks for you.
Sean Holman’s 2013 documentary, Whipped: The Secret World of Party Discipline, shows how government MLAs end up being more loyal to their leader than the people that they are supposed to serve in their communities. And opposition members, no matter how reasoned they are, are second-class citizens. Even in the hyper-partisan U.S., it is not uncommon for Republicans and Democrats to co-author a bill. But not in B.C. Not in the 21st century.
According to Imagine-X.ca, only 1.8% of votes by BC MLAs from 2013 to 2016 were cast out of party lines — that’s just two votes.
“Liberal-initiated votes always passed, everyone else’s always failed. Votes only pass when supported by the Liberals,” said the Imagine X website.
Party discipline is a type of bullying. And it, too, has to stop.
If the premier herself lived up to her anti-bullying message, she would not have lied and so lamely apologized to the NDP for the false accusation of hacking. She would have already passed democratic reform laws to stop the unlimited fundraising, expand rules regulating lobbyists and beef-up the conflict of interest laws. She would have found another conflict of interest commissioner who is not related to the longtime friend she made deputy minister of the government advertising and PR department. She might even have allowed free votes in the Legislature and encouraged her caucus to reach across the aisle and regularly listen to opposition ideas.
And we would have been told everything by now about the health firings scandal. Instead, we ask why eight innocent people were given pink slips? Why did one of them, Roderick MacIsaac, take his own life?
Some of those survivors got apologies and their jobs back. None of the wrongful firing lawsuits made it to court. The Ombudsman is investigating, but it’s not the public inquiry those affected had demanded. The victims and MacIsaac’s sister hope and pray that they will learn more before the election.
The Liberals have spent millions of tax dollars since 2012 to cover-up the biggest bullying scandal in a government workplace and they even lied about the existence of a police investigation. They would rather it all went away, instead of learning from what went on, to prevent a repeat someday.
So when I saw that 2017’s Pink Shirt Day was coming on Feb. 22, I also looked closely at the much-published photograph of MacIsaac. He is wearing a grey shirt.
I can’t wear pink like the premier because I’m concerned about the bullying that exists under her watch, in our government. You might even call her bully-in-chief.
So, I’m wearing a grey shirt on Feb. 22. Will you join me?