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Damaging ‘double standard’ on display as politicians caught travelling for holidays, during pandemic

WLU professor says the bad behaviour of politicians leads to resentment in electorate, must be met with ‘material damage’
2020-11-04 Rod Phillips GL
Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips answers questions at Queen's Park in Toronto on March 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

In the wake of the resignation of former Finance Minister Rod Phillips, the news continues to roll out of elected officials of various political stripes across the country being caught travelling during the holidays – whether it be for crucial family business or to finalize the sale of property in sunny California. Amid the ‘double trouble’ of a global pandemic and an ‘economy in shambles’, politicians already face low levels of trust – and Andrea Perrella said this bad behaviour on display only makes matter worse – even for those doing the best for their constituents.

Perrella is a professor of political science at Wilfrid Laurier University. Speaking as a guest on the Mike Farwell Show, Perrella said the occupation of politician is already one not looked upon with a great sense of pride – calling it a tough, necessary job. And while the vast majority may put in all they’ve got to represent their constituents, he said it still comes with a bad reputation.

“When you see acts like this it only feeds that skepticism and that cynicism – it only feeds that impression that people have that ‘these politicians are only in it for themselves’…” said Perrella. “There’s the other layer that they’re not only going on vacation when they shouldn’t; they’re going to vacation to these expensive resorts that most of us will never be able to set foot on…”

Perrella said the continuing news of politicians caught breaking COVID-19 travel restrictions while urging stay-at-home measures is damaging even to those elected officials and authorities who are doing a good job, as the behaviour of few creates an ‘extra layer of detachment’ between the position of politician and the electorate. The political science professor said the double standard on display likely has many individuals feeling more resentful – and that there needs to be consequences.

“It’s particularly dangerous when we begin to resent our authorities – it just undermines their legitimacy…” said Perrella. “I think that’s why these resignations are necessary… because there has to be some material damage that comes from behaving badly.”

He adds that, particularly in a time when many are being asked to act for the greater good of others, the actions of these few politicians can be particularly damaging – leaving the impression that elected officials are unable to do the bare minimum in a time when their own constituents are suffering under imposed pandemic restrictions.

“It’ll feed the widespread notion that political leaders are out there for themselves; it’ll damage careers and make it much more difficult for those that are doing a good job… and at the end of the day, it just makes it much more difficult for us to feel good about our elected officials – and to feel a greater sense of legitimacy toward them.”

“When people start to lose a sense of legitimacy toward their elected officials (…) that’s the beginning of a revolution,” said Perrella. “I don’t think we’re anywhere near that, but it’s still a step in that direction…”


Luke Schulz

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