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Media Bites: Is B.C.'s Election a Race to Get Disqualified?

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The worst thing about the Canadian political system is the amount of power held by party bosses. The worst thing about Canadian political journalism is its obsession with quoting people out of context to discredit their careers. Whenever these two odious traditions unite -- as they are uniting right now in British Columbia -- the result is something worse yet.

Call it the gaffe-industrial complex. A politician says something controversial, the media repeats it endlessly, and a humiliated party boss eventually boots the gaffer from caucus. It's a vindictive cycle of oppression and censorship that's going to ruin Canadian democracy someday.

To date, three (perhaps soon four) candidates in the B.C. provincial election have been fired by their respective party bosses for the unconscionable sin of expressing inelegant, offensive, or politically incorrect opinions at some point in their lives. For good measure, they've all been publicly shamed by a ton of captious media coverage, too.

Now, I have to admit I'm not much predisposed to the idea -- so popular in modern Canadian political culture -- that there exists such things as "disqualifying statements" worth terminating someone's political career over. Personally, I think the only folks who should be disqualifying candidates are voters, or whatever  bureaucrat's in charge of making sure the nomination papers got filled out. But even if you're inclined to think otherwise, it's still striking to observe just how drearily mild the thought crimes of the B.C. rouges' gallery actually are, and how grossly their supposed wickedness has been exaggerated by a press salivating for scandal.

Turfed candidate numero uno, NDP wannabee Dayleen Van Ryswyk, once stated in an online forum that she resented the modern aboriginal reparations regime, in which non-native taxpayers subsidize various perks and allowances granted by the federal government to status Indians.

"It's time our generation stopped paying for the mistakes of the past," read the damning excerpt on the B.C. Liberal Party website that forced her resignation, "let us all be one people...THE SAME.. race, creed colour or gender shouldn't matter anymore in this day and age...enough is enough already."

The Liberals also noted that Dayleen didn't care much for national bilingualism, or, as she put it, "having french stuffed down my throat" in a province where no one speaks it.

Turfed candidate number two, Tory Ian Tootill, once mused on Twitter, "Who's really to blame? Hitler or the people who acted on his words?" He also stated that he was partial to the Ron Paul philosophy that "all drugs" should be legalized.

Turfed candidate number three, meanwhile, Tory Mischa Popoff, once used his editorial column in the Kelowna Daily Courier to take issue with women who consciously elect to raise children without a partner. Look, he said, "unless they're very well off, the kids they bestow upon this world are headed for disaster. Why applaud, let alone condone this?"

And last, NDPer Jane Shin, who once referred to Chinese people as "chinkasauruses" on some video game website back in 2002. For this, the Liberal Party has called for her head, and may soon get it.

While the above statements are undeniably crass and clumsy, is this really the sort of stuff a mature democracy disqualifies candidates over?

Ethnic slurs are always uncouth, but Ms. Shin made her offending comments when she was all of 21 years old, and, judging from the context, apparently some manner of immature gamer-person. As a Korean immigrant herself, the fact that she once went around calling Chinese people "chinkasauruses" offers little insight into anything significant about her worldview, beyond the fact that she once participated in the rude yet playful interracial chauvinism that's so common in Asian-Canadian youth culture.

The other three, meanwhile, are guilty only of engaging in conversations that would barely blink an eye at the average Canadian dinner table.

There are a lot of folks who don't like Canada's current aboriginal rights regime, particularly its guilt-tripping, segregationist undertones. There are lots of folks who think the German people get off the hook a bit too easily for World War II, considering Hitler didn't run the Third Reich all by his lonesome. There are lots of folks who think it's irresponsible and offensive for women to pump out babies when they lack the means to care for them -- especially when taxpayers are footing the welfare tab. There are lots of people who think the war on drugs is lost.

Control-freak party bosses and their journalistic enablers who feign shock at such exceedingly ordinary opinions are pushing unrealistic expectations of a sort unseen since Queen Victoria tried to stop everyone from saying "pants." There's a limit to how much honesty you can suppress.

When a nation's political and media establishments become so hysterically puritan, and when their standards of what sort of political speech is "not becoming" (to quote the Liberals' judgement of Ms. Van Ryswyk) become so impossibly high, the result is a neutered democracy in which only the most quiet, sheltered, and conformity-minded can ever aspire to high office. A gaffe-industrial complex that humiliates  and destroys anyone who dares speak openly and candidly -- let alone controversially -- on difficult topics will invariably yield a society run by men and women whose smothering caution and fear of causing offence will, by definition, produce spineless non-leaders embarrassingly ill-equipped to confront the challenges of the future.

Which, incidentally, is exactly what the British Columbia election seems set to produce.

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