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Clark's 'Sick Culture' Comments More Telling Than They Appear

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B.C. Premier Christy Clark has yet again found herself in a sticky situation with the recent publication of an interview in which she expressed explicit disdain for the "sick culture" of Victoria, the provincial capital.

Surely as a premier facing an upcoming election whose party is already struggling in the polls, such comments probably are not the smartest of political moves. Granted Clark made the remarks after the interview had formally ended, so perhaps she was under the false impression that they were "off the record," although that is not a legitimate excuse. To cite a line from Mitt Romney's playbook, one imagines that Clark could have responded by suggesting that her words were "not elegantly stated" (you think?).

I can't help but wonder though if all of the backlash to Clark's admittedly foolish comments are missing the mark. Which one of us, especially the politicians and political commentators in the bunch, can truly look in the mirror and say that the state of government in our society today is not a little bit perverted? If there is an "unhealthy" discourse in politics, which leads to gridlock and general systemic barriers, why are we not talking about those problems?

Of course it is easy to understand how many people can interpret Clark's comments out of context. Consider:

"I try never to go over [to Victoria]," she says. "Because it's sick. It's a sick culture. All they can think about is government and there are no real people in Victoria, and you get captured by this inside-the-beltway debate, and it's really unhealthy."

She certainly knows how to give ammunition to her opponents.

B.C. NDP MLA John Horgan is quoted as arguing that Clark's comments exemplify a lack of genuineness in her as a leader, and that it is "little wonder that the Liberals have little support on Vancouver Island."

National Post columnist Brian Hutchinson links Clark's comments to her government's decision to cancel the provincial legislature sitting for this fall, which itself is, as Hutchinson is not wrong to argue, "unhealthy."

B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix characterizes the cancellation of the fall session as embarrassing.

Maybe Clark, although no doubt inadvertently, is getting at something more profound here. It is a bit of a stretch to assume that the "sick culture" to which she refers encapsulates the city of Victoria and its general residents, which is the accusation that Horgan levels. More likely Clark was using "Victoria" to denote the culture of provincial politics -- a point she herself has since confirmed. Anyone who has ever worked in a government town before knows that the bureaucracy of it all can drive anyone mad at times.

But even that is an oversimplification. If the über-partisan and rhetorical debates that have dominated headlines recently with the federal government's return to Parliament are any indication, then yes, we do know that the "politics of politics" creates a vitriolic and sometimes useless environment. Does this mean that we should give up hope, and just expect our politicians to not sit in the legislature to do their jobs? Of course not, and Clark is wrong to even attempt to argue otherwise. Then again going back to "business as usual" does not do anything to fix the problem inherent in our political system. Participating in an "unhealthy" discourse is only a marginal step above avoiding your job in the first place.

And here is where Clark's words, perhaps unintentionally, could have an impact: If the provincial legislature is an unproductive space of mud-slinging and pundit-dominated politics, let's acknowledge these problems and take that acknowledgement upon ourselves as an opportunity to reflect on ways that can make politics more productive and less rhetorical.

Both the Liberals and the NDP need to critically self-reflect how they contribute to this "unhealthy" environment, and although Clark's argument that spending more time with constituents is a better alternative is a copout to detract from the fact that she and her party are abdicating their responsibilities, merely criticizing her for avoiding Parliament is not sufficient.

Of course Clark shoots herself in the foot with the cancellation of Parliament, but in many ways, merely debating issues in the legislature can be no less "undemocratic." Simply arguing that the legislature should be back in session is the easy thing to do. The harder job is what nobody has addressed yet: what to do once you get there.