In the closing days of the Alberta 2012 campaign, Wildrose candidate Dr. Ron Leech has come under some fire for comments he’s made on two separate occasions. Excited tweets from leftwing extremists that “another video” surfaced on Friday was belied by the minor twist that this new video contained the same general comments as the first time.
In Ron Leech’s words:
They need someone who would represent their community, and I believe that as a Caucasian I have an advantage that for the Punjabi community I am able to speak for the whole community and to lift the community up in our region, I believe I have a voice and I believe that the community has my ear, and I want the community to know that, that I am attentive to their needs, that I have been studying about their culture and about their religion so that I can be better understanding their special needs, but I recognize that there are many needs in this community, in the Punjabi community, and I believe I can help those needs.One thing we can say (and indeed Colby Cosh actually said) about Ron Leech is that he isn’t particularly well-spoken or eloquent. Still, the sentiment that he’s expressing isn’t particularly outrageous or racist or (and here’s the kicker) untrue. Basically his point is that unlike professional race grievance mongers like Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson or Phil Fontaine, he’s able to act as a spokesman for minority immigrant communities without bias and with a degree of authority that is absent when the spokesman is himself a member of the group in question.
If you think that’s crazy and outrageous, explain Charlie Angus.
As you may remember, Charlie Angus is going crazy about the conditions on the Attawapiskat reserve located within his riding. The specific details with Attawapiskat aren’t important to this discussion (hint: they’re bad but it’s their own fault), what is important is that Charlie Angus manages to be a perfectly acceptable advocate for conditions on that reserve despite not being an Indian himself. One of the primary reasons for this is that as a white man, Charlie Angus is able to speak about Indian affairs without coming off as campaigning for his own political gain. When Charlie Angus, white man, talks about spending billions of dollars on Indian Reservations, you know he’s not getting any pieces of that pie…or more accurately, you know there is a chance that he won’t.
This blog has routinely criticized the Edmonton Somali Community, quite rightfully, for getting irrationally pissed off that the City of Edmonton isn’t serious about investigating crimes that impact young Somali men (again, the reasons are irrelevant, you can read all about it in the link). The community leader always making the outrageous claims? Why look, it just so happens he’s a Somali male. The City of Edmonton doesn’t spend enough resources on Somali males, says a Somali male. Film at 11.
Who could be a more effective advocate for the Somali community? Just to pick a random name out of a hat, NDP MP Olivia Chow. When Olivia Chow in Toronto is talking about issues affecting Somali men in Edmonton, people (whether rightly or wrongly) sit up and pay more attention. That’s just how it goes. It doesn’t even have to be a racial issue: one of the pre-writ knocks against the Wildrose Party is how its “beholden” to oil interests: people who work in the oilpatch or who own companies that do business in or with the tarsands. There’s no better way to take the wind out of their sails than to have these issues brought up and defended by somebody who isn’t personally involved in the oil industry: say, the editorial board of a major newspaper.
In fact, newspapers are pretty much the epitome of this principle: Paula Simmons isn’t a sapphist, Ezra Levant isn’t a Christian, and one of the complaints about Edmonton sportswriters is that they are too beholden to the fortunes of the local hockey team to be properly unbiased sources discussing the matter in the public eye.
So where, exactly, did Leech go off the rails? As noted a little higher up this post, he’s not a very good public speaker: he has trouble expressing a fairly sensible concept properly meaning that he expresses the sentiment clumsily enough that it comes across as condescending or paternalistic or just plain boorish. Of course, that problem means that Leech wouldn’t be an effective advocate for minority groups: but I don’t recall hearing that as being the knock against him, do you?
It’s certainly not what Danielle Smith is being called to apologize for: apparently far-left liberals again expect her to apologize for a candidate who – like the last one – made 100% accurate statements. It would have been nice for Danielle to say something along the lines of:
I have absolutely no interest in apologizing for my candidates comments. There’s nothing in Ron’s statements that were offensive or bigoted or outrageous in any way. Indeed, the principle that Ron was referring – that you don’t have to be a member of a specific group to understand their concerns or to advocate for them – is a fundamental principle of representative democracy. Those who object to the notion that a person can represent people of skin colours other than their own, who believe that a person whose ancestral heritage was known for oppression cannot hundreds of years later chose instead to be inclusive and supportive, are spitting on the very system of governance which we are all working hard to be a part of. As an MLA and a member of the Wildrose cabinet, we will expect Ron to speak out for his constituents, to be speaking about the concerns and struggles of minority groups within his riding when required, and to be their representative and advocate in policy discussions. We cannot do that if Ron or any member of our party thinks that “only a black woman can understand the problems faced by other black women” or “if I don’t work in the oil and gas sector it’s impossible for me to be a minister whose portfolio includes that industry”. That is a foolish and ultimately destructive way of looking at how our system of government works, which is why the Wildrose Party is glad to state – without apology – that this indeed is one of the core beliefs of our members and that with that mindset we shall be capable of governing and administering this province without requiring that all stakeholders in any issue meet a predetermined racial characteristic.That, in a nutshell, is what Ron Leech was trying to express. If we’re going to start demanding that all 87 candidates for every party in every provincial election be naturally eloquent speakers, we have eroded beyond repair the very notions that our House of Commons was created for.
Wildrose is uninterested in doing so. It’s surprising that so many other parties existing in Alberta have signed onto shady identity group hustling techniques that have so diminished political dialogue in the United States.