It was recently in the media that the government of Canada perceived 'embarassment' a security threat at the G20 summit.
But how did 'embarassment of the Canadian government' become a national security threat? For the answer I believe we have to look to the current government's approach to governing: No apologies. No humility. No fallibility.
It is impossible for a person to go through life without ever uttering an apology. It is a natural part of the way people interact, expressing empathy and remorse for both ill-advised and well-intentioned decisions and actions that go awry. Apologies do not show weakness; they show strength. There is strength in apologizing and strength in accepting an apology.
We can start with the most recent: Tories tried to limit RCMP apology to Pickton Victims.
On June 2, 2012, the Conservatives rejected a Komagata Maru apology. The event took place in 1914.
May 23 marked the 98th anniversary of the date the ship arrived from Hong Kong in Vancouver. Due to the discriminatory “continuous journey” regulation, passengers were prevented from disembarking while the ship remained in Burrard Inlet for two months. Passengers were denied basic necessities, including food and water. The ship carried 376 passengers from India. This was one of several incidents in the early 20th century involving Canada’s exclusion laws, designed to keep out immigrants of Asian origin and descent.
Painting Canadians as Child Pornographer Sympathizers
Even when faced with an absolute need for an apology, where there is no question whatsoever, no apology is given. Vic Toews, on the record in the House of Commons, said that anyone who was against Bill C-30 was 'with the child pornographers'. If ever an apology was necessary, to prove some form of humility, some form of empathy, then this was it.
Asked Monday about privacy issues surrounding his new online surveillance bill, C-30, Toews told Liberal public safety critic Francis Scarpaleggia he could "either stand with us or with the child pornographers."
A number of critics have expressed concern about the bill, including Ontario's privacy commissioner.
In an interview with Evan Solomon, host of CBC Radio's The House, Toews said he has given some thought to the comments.
"And I've thought about this very carefully. If fair minded Canadians have come to the conclusion that my comments in that respect that I made in the heat of Parliamentary debate were not appropriate, I'm prepared to accept their judgment," Toews said.
There was an immediate and harsh online backlash to the bill and to the proponent, wherein it was learned that Vic Toews had an affair with a babysitter. You may draw your own conclusions, but this seems to be where irony meets hypocrisy. An apology would have shown Vic Toews to have been human, but instead he went on the war path.
Vikileaks Witch Hunt
This also prompted a witch hunt on Parliament Hill, with the Conservatives hurling insults and demanding apologies without evidence. And of course once again, unfounded accusations result in...no apologies. It is important to remember that no laws were broken and nothing illegal took place. What took place was an attempt to deflect humility that resulted in humiliation.
"I call on the NDP to stand up, to take responsibility for these dirty tricks, to apologize, Mr. Speaker, and to identify which one over there is responsible," said John Baird.
NDP Whip Chris Charlton demanded Baird retract the allegations. IT staff at the House of Commons confirmed the IP addresses could belong to any member of House administration or any user from any political party, she said, and the Speaker's office is looking into it.
"I would call on the minister to table in this House any evidence to back up his unfounded claims and if he doesn’t have such evidence, I would like him to immediately apologize and withdraw his statements unconditionally," she said.
Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan refused to apologize, referring again to the media report.
When the culprit was finally discovered, it had nothing to do with the NDP, and while the government abused the Ethics Committee scope and influence, no apologies were delivered to any of the affected parties.
Calling Canadians Radicals for Opposing Pipelines
In an Open Letter to Canadians, Joe Oliver demonizes millions of Canadians using alarmist rhetoric:
Unfortunately, there are environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade. Their goal is to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth. No forestry. No mining. No oil. No gas. No more hydro-electric dams.
This sums the whole point up nicely, from iPolitics:
“The Harper government strategy with regard to environmental groups has unfortunately dramatically increased the polarization of energy politics in Canada. The Canada characterized by compromise is not Harper’s Canada.”
As far as I could find through a number of searches, Joe Oliver has not apologized. This is yet again a great time to apologize, get a little bit of good press, show you're human etc.
A long time ago I was friends with someone who would lie to avoid humility and would continue to lie, regardless of how absurd, to continue to avoid humility. So much so in fact, that the humiliation in the face of the evidence was often worse, not that my friend noticed. Nope, my friend believed that there was only humiliation in defeat, and the only defeat was admitting to being wrong in the first place. If the words were never uttered, then the defeat never happened, no matter how messy the situation became. The ends absolutely and utterly justify the means.
Of course this is a strange and quirky way to engage with people. And yet it seems that with the F-35 fiasco, and the fallout from the robocalls scandal, that is exactly what is happening. Lies are piled on top of lies and fall guys are piled up on top of fall guys. The goal is to obfuscate the issue so confoundedly that no one knows the truth of it anymore.
Pork Barrels and Gazebos
To make a long story short, John Baird and Tony Clement, two Ministers of Parliament, divided up $50M they pilfered quietly from the Border Infrastructure Fund and funnelled the money into Clement's riding for beautification projects that were denoted as potential tourist destinations resulting from spinoff of the G20 Summit, as if there were a burgeoning G20 Summit Tourism industry.
And from the scathing AG's report, which had many recommendations, not the least of which was that two federal ministers shouldn't funnel $50M into one of their ridings without any oversight. And all John Baird could muster was that "[the government] has completely accepted (the A-G’s) good advice”. I am not impressed that two federal ministers didn't realize the error of their ways sooner. There was no instance, no situation at any time, that one looked at the other and said 'you know, if we get caught this really isn't going to look good, no matter how you slice and dice it'.
To begin, no human or organization is infallible. There is no real divine right of kings. In fact, to put on the air of infallibility is one of many displays of hubris that a person or organization can manifest. The government, unlike its own self-promulgated claims to the contrary, is, like every other organization on the planet, is imperfect and prone to errors. Everyone knows this, detractors and acolytes both.
And yet the government constantly attempts to prove that it is incapable of making errors, no matter how ludicrous the situation becomes.
Erin Wherry breaks it down in MacClean's:
“Mr. Speaker,” the Immigration Minister declared, “the reality is that no government in the modern history of Canada has done more to invest in giving the equipment necessary to our men and women in uniform.”
The general concept of “modern history” is said to describe all time since the end of the Middle Ages, or something like the last 500 years. In that sense, the governments that saw this country through the first and second world wars might quibble with Mr. Kenney’s presumption of peerlessness. If, on the other hand, Mr. Kenney meant something like “recent history,” he might be right. Of course, it might also be noted that none of this country’s other recent governments have spent so long at war.
And even the day before, the Conservatives were making superlative claims:
Mr. Kenney now boasted, “objectively speaking, has made more progress on the quality of our environment and the air that we breathe than any government in the history of the dominion.”
Are these things true? The first one isn't, as Erin Wherry points out. The second one?
According to Environment Canada, air quality indicators focus on measuring two key elements of smog: fine particulate matter and ground-level ozone.
"Between 2000 and 2009, there was no statistically significant increasing or decreasing trend detected in PM concentrations."
"In 2009, the average concentration of ground-level O3 in the outdoor ambient air was 36.9 parts per billion (ppb) in Canada, about 2% lower than the previous year. However, between 1990 and 2009, the trend shows a total increase of 9%."
So the short answer is 'no', it is not really true. But it does provide perspective on the government's belief that it is the best government ever and that it has never done anything wrong. To be wrong is to be weak.
F-35 Fighter Jet Secretariat
When the walls came crumbling down on the F-35 procurement, and that it appeared that two sets of books were being kept, one for public consumption and one for internal consumption. First it was $9B. Then $16B. Then the internal numbers came out and they were $25B. And through it all the government maintained that nothing was wrong and nothing bad had transpired.
For more on the jetstream of money, see Andrew Coyne: "Not $9-billion. Not $15- or $16-billion. Not $25-billion. Forty-billion dollars. So far."
Once again, to be fallible is to be human. As the government attempts to colour the lenses rose on all Canadians glasses, it appears weak because it proclaims itself deitific, incapable of anything but perfection. Canadians do not expect perfection, and certainly tend to question it more fulsomely when claims of perfection are made day after day. When one can do no wrong then one is placed under intense scrutiny to be proved otherwise.
The government is acting like a cross between a spoiled brat, a horrible boss and a sore loser. And it is this behaviour that is embarassing.
Canadian values include empathy, humility and learning from mistakes. These are not the values of the government. While the government puts forth the notion that Conservative values are Canadian values, the reality is that they are drifting farther and farther apart. The perception of the government weakens with each attempt to show strength.
This is a government that will not apologize, will not be humbled and will never admit fallibility. And so why is embarassment a national security threat? Simply put, embarassment would force the government into a position where it might have to apologize, express humility or show that it made a mistake - in other words exhibit true Canadian values that the government abhors.