On Tuesday, Canada Day, Toronto's infamous mayor came out of rehab and joined a Canada Day parade. His re-entry to the workforce was marked by a press conference in which only invited members of the media were permitted to attend, and no one was allowed to ask the mayor any questions. The parade, however, was open to the public.
The day was hot and sticky so numbers of people dressed, or undressed, for the weather. This included one man who encountered the parade while on his regular jog. The shirtless jogger took the opportunity to do something the media had been forbidden to do the day before: He asked the mayor questions. He wanted to know rather a lot about the mayor's previous recorded statements. He wanted to know about some of the mayor's business dealings while in office. And he was angry. "Answer the peoples' questions!" he called. "I'm expressing my democratic opinion," he replied when challenged by the mayor's brother.
When the mayor's brother, a city councillor in his own right, learned that the shirtless jogger, Joe Killoran, is a secondary school teacher, he seemed shocked. Mr. Ford and his supporters implied that publicly confronting the mayor contravened the jogger's duties and responsibilities as a teacher.
Nonsense. As a teacher of law and civics, Mr. Killoran was modelling for his students what civic engagement looks like. It is not always polite or pretty, and it may not always be well-dressed. But civically engaged people who live in democracies have a duty to ask questions, even if it makes their leaders uncomfortable. If Mr. Killoran is the kind of teacher who is working to help his students be the citizens every democracy needs, he is encouraging them to think critically. His questions may be different from the ones his students would ask. But a good teacher will encourage students to develop their own points of view and their own concerns. In fact, many of us who consider ourselves to be thoughtful and active citizens can remember at least one passionate teacher who encouraged us to deliberate and debate, even when our points of view differed greatly from their own. If we keep our teachers from asking questions of those in authority, how will our young people learn to be actively engaged?
Like it or not, our elected leaders should expect to be asked hard questions -- and they should be ready to answer those questions, because in a democracy, we expect accountability. Accountability does not only occur at the ballot box. We have the right to demand that our elected leaders are accountable for their actions and their public expressions the whole time they are in office.
On Canada Day we celebrate our Canadian identity. We enjoy talking about our diversity and our ability to live together in peace. However, the fact that Canadians tend to be rather polite and frequently say "sorry" does not mean that we are patsies. If we have been taught well, we know when our politicians are trying to pull a fast one. And we should be relieved that teachers like Mr. Killoran are demonstrating the courage it takes to stand up and ask hard questions.
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