Style trumps substance too often

"All the talk about the upcoming provincial elections made me think of a small notice on one of the back pages of the Vancouver Sun..."

All the talk about the upcoming provincial elections made me think of a small notice on one of the back pages of the Vancouver Sun, now some 23 years ago. The reason I remember is the impression it made on me; the reason it caught my attention was the name of the late Tommy Douglas.

It was a brief statement of his total estate value, amounting to less than a hundred thousand dollars and that included his old Chevy Biscayne.

Obviously the editor of the Sun at that time missed a golden opportunity for a unique head line on the front page, something like “An Honest Political Leader?”

The poor chap probably never drank a sixteen dollar glass of orange juice in his life.

And not for him an air force helicopter ride to some distant fishing camp.

When he went fishing it was in his old Chevy to the nearest pond.

No friends such as the likes of a Karlheinz Schreiber, and I don’t recall him ever selling a railroad.

But most significantly, he was never invited to join the board of directorsof one of the major banks.

So why is it that we’ve turned our backs on political leaders of his calibre?

Or have we?

Is it possible that in the years since, we’ve been sold a bill of goods called “Bread and Circuses,” a tactic that today is even more successful than in the Roman Empire where it was first used.

The “bread,” in our case today being the relative comfort many of us still enjoy. And as for the “circuses,” well, take your pick: Hollywood, reality shows, royalty, both weddings and scandals, the Canucks – for some the Boston Bruins – traitors! – and not to forget, elections, to name just a few.

All super efficiently delivered, not just to your doorstep, no, right into your living room via that ultimate tool of manipulation, the TV. With the remote, no physical effort required, nor mental I might add.

So is it surprising that we’ve become a celebrity culture where appearance and charm are more important than substance?

When in October Justin Trudeau appeared on Global News for a couple of days in succession, the poll ratings for the Ontario Liberal Party made a dramatic recovery.

And even more remarkable, when some time ago Canadians were asked whom they considered the most influential Canadian of the last hundred years, the choice for an astounding number was Don Cherry, the guy with the loud ties – actually loud all over – from Hockey Night in Canada. In his case it obviously wasn’t a matter of charm, no, his frequent appearances on TV did the trick. (Heaven forbid should he ever decide to run for office of Prime Minister.)

Our leading politicians, of course, are well aware of the benefit of frequent TV appearances during elections. But the considerable cost of TV spots condemns many candidates to a relative obscurity compared to some, who, thanks to sizeable corporate campaign donations, are able to hog the limelight and as a result are often more successful come voting time.

It is then left for us to wonder where their loyalties lie, once elected.

According to the Canadian Well-being Index, the quality of our lives declined by 24 per cent between 2008 and 2010.

Isn’t it about time we started searching for that long lost old thinking cap ?

Peter van IerselFruitvale