Do decisions in Victoria and Whistler show political leadership?
Politicians are expected to lead, to make decisions on behalf of their constituents, and to act in their constituents’ best interests. Within that mandate there is generally a set of rules or a process to be followed that helps in making those decisions and outlines what jurisdiction the decision makers have.
One of those rules is presumed innocence until proven guilty. It’s a rule that has been stretched recently in Victoria and in Whistler.
Was Premier Mike Harcourt’s firing of cabinet minister Robin Blencoe, who faced accusations of sexual harassment, the right thing to do, given that an independent investigator was looking into the first of three allegations?
Was the seizure of Helmut Banka’s dogs and the shutting down of his operation by Mayor Ted Nebbeling and the municipality the right thing to do?
Neither Banka nor Blencoe have been proven in court to have done anything wrong, but in each case political leaders have decided there was enough evidence and the situations had gone far enough that action was warranted.
The pressures of politics — where, as the saying goes, perception is reality — probably hastened Harcourt’s decision to fire Blencoe. That decision has, at least for the time being, added weight to the "guilty" side of the scales. But until some type of inquiry or hearing is held no one will know for certain whether Blencoe is innocent or guilty.
The decision to clamp down on Banka came after media reports of a blind and deaf puppy found wandering the highway caused a public outcry. The action, clearly outside the municipality’s legal jurisdiction, came after numerous stories, over several years, about the mistreatment of animals and after other authorities showed no willingness to investigate or take action.
It’s probably fair to say that public opinion of both Blencoe and Banka is not high. In private our suspicions tend to become confused with reality — another case of forfeiting the innocent-until-proven-guilty principle.
Public pressure played a role in both decisions. But was it strictly public pressure that persuaded both politicians to suspend the regular procedures in favour of action?
In Victoria, where the alleged victims could come forward, Harcourt said he was acting because he had lost confidence in the minister. In Whistler, where the alleged victims had no voice, the decision was made because, in the judgement of Nebbeling and the municipality, the dogs’ health was at risk.
Were these politicians leading and acting in the best interest of their constituents by sacrificing normal procedures and, in Whistler's case, going beyond its legal jurisdiction? Some sort of inquiry or hearing would have to be held to know for certain.
– Bob Barnett