Politicians walk a fine line in the days following any high-profile tragedy.
In a context of anguish-heightened sensitivities, virtually any action they take – or fail to take – lays them open to accusations of insensitivity.
If they’re too front-and-centre at the scene – too eager to seize the photo opportunity or employ the ‘sound-bite’ – they run the risk of appearing opportunistic and self-serving, capitalizing on others’ grief for their own political gain.
If they’re too much in the background, too reticent to voice the customary platitudes, they’re skewered for an apparent lack of concern or unwillingness to take leadership.
Unfortunately, both extremes have been seen in the aftermath of the tragic death of a hockey mom brutally beaten while waiting to pick up her son in Newton Dec. 29.
Last week, Surrey-Whalley NDP MLA Bruce Ralston took Surrey-Panorama’s Liberal MLA Marvin Hunt to task for his lack of pronouncements in the media on the tragedy. According to Ralston, not stepping up to the plate in this manner means Hunt – who has continued to serve as Surrey councillor since being elected to provincial office – is simply not doing his job.
Hunt’s response is that he has been working hard behind the scenes – in collaboration with Surrey’s mayor, council, lawyers, parks representatives and police – to try to ensure that Newton, inheritor of the southward drift of many of Whalley’s social ills, becomes a safer place.
It’s interesting that the NDP MP for Newton-North Delta, Jinny Sims – while relatively silent on the tragedy itself – made mention of it while lashing out at the federal Conservatives for a “broken campaign promise” from 2006 to put at least 2,500 more police on the beat in communities across Canada. Sims’ political foes may wish to chastise her for an exercise in blame-shifting – but at least she was a little more forthcoming than her provincial counterpart.
While Hunt may have intended to avoid opportunistic comment, he must also recognize that such squeamishness has no place in the political arena. The public understands, even expects, that it’s the nature of the political beast to sound off on current issues.
We’ll save the biggest criticism, however, for Ralston, who calls for Hunt to resign over his apparent silence. What purpose does this serve, other than a chance to score political points?