by Kelly Chia, Peak Associate
As I’m writing this, election news is very fresh on my mind. John Horgan has been re-elected as premier — and, to me, it is a relief that the NDP is staying in power. However, I know I’m not the only one to warily eye the presidential election in the United States. While it felt good to celebrate Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as President and Vice President-elect respectively, that celebration comes with the urgent reminder that we must still be vigilant and engage our elected politicians as our employees, not idolize them.
The most obvious case I can refer to for idolizing a political leader is the way President Trump’s followers are so devoted to him. In an exit poll examining how voters cast their ballots, 86% of people who voted for Trump thought that he was handling the pandemic very well. This perfectly exemplifies how political devotion can blind people to their leaders’ mistakes, as the pandemic in the states is far from under control. However, with the election of Biden and Harris, I’m even more worried that people will be content with political leaders that seem more candid than Trump, because the risks posed by them don’t seem as urgent.
“Rather than being complacent because a left-leaning leader has been elected, it’s more important than ever to make sure that they work for the people.”
That lack of scrutiny may further entrench marginalized people in silence. The United States is rife with blatant displays of systemic racism, something I’m reminded of seeing the Proud Boys being escorted by riot police a few weeks ago, knowing how quickly peaceful protests for Black lives earlier this year were escalated by them. Even so, having a leader that doesn’t embolden white supremacy groups like the Proud Boys as Trump did in the presidential debates, is the bare minimum. Rather than being complacent because a left-leaning leader has been elected, it’s more important than ever to make sure that they work for the people.
We need to pay attention to when politicians express meaningful sentiments of unity in their speeches, but their policies don’t reflect these sentiments. For one thing, policy-making is their job. We can certainly appreciate and celebrate their policies, but treating them as celebrities for accomplishing these policies is a dangerous precedent because it can make us view their mistakes through rose-coloured lenses.
A prime example here is how Trudeau was treated when he was first elected as Prime Minister in 2015, Trudeau was made the cover of Rolling Stone, with cover text gushing over him as a leader. Idolizing him as this unusually handsome and charismatic leader ignores how many mistakes he has made while he has been in office. For example, Trudeau campaigned for electoral reform, but did nothing to change the current first-past-the-post voting system. He also accepted the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) report while simultaneously buying the Trans Mountain Pipeline, disregarding Indigenous communities. And yet, as a global leader, his performance is celebrated compared to Trump’s because of his charisma. It completely undermines him as a political employee, and the people that he has hurt with his policies, which is unacceptable.
Even if Trudeau hadn’t gone against his word multiple times, and he has many times, we shouldn’t celebrate politicians for doing the bare minimum. As I said previously, I am relieved that John Horgan has been re-elected as many NDP policies reflect my beliefs. But already, Horgan has said that he can’t guarantee payments to families during the pandemic, something that his party promised in their re-election campaign. He is also allowing the Trans Mountain Pipeline to proceed legitimately despite saying he would attempt to stop it from expanding into Burnaby. For going against his word, he should be more harshly criticized. We can’t let sentiments like “it could be so much worse” distract us from that, because it makes their mistakes seem unimportant
We need to continue paying attention to local and federal policies and rallying against them when they mistreat people, because politicians aren’t, and shouldn’t be, in total control. This is something we should do regardless of who’s in charge, because hurtful policies under left-leaning leaders are still hurtful. Holding our leaders accountable to their promises puts them in their rightful position as people who are supposed to serve us, not be our idols.
In the end, their policies speak louder than whatever beautiful speeches and promises they make, no matter how much better they may seem in comparison to their political opponents, or other political leaders.