It continues to amaze me that so many who are attracted to politics struggle with the fundamental principle that you must not only do the right thing; you must also be seen to be doing the right thing.
Understand — I cannot vote in next Tuesday’s BC provincial election because I haven’t lived here long enough. Some would say that means I have no business commenting on it. They would be wrong. First, everyone living in Canada has the right to speak their mind about anything at any time as long as they’re not slandering or libelling someone or engaging in hate speech. Second, I am a recovering politician so yes, having been there, I have something to say to Stephen P. Roberts, the BC Liberal candidate in Saanich North and the Islands:
What were you thinking?
Roberts, as it turns out, owns a waterfront home on the west side of Salt Spring Island and he wants to put a swimming pool in — specifically, a two-lane, infinity-edge lap pool overlooking the ocean along with a hot tub and a cabana. Trouble is, that part of his property is also a sensitive First Nations archeological site — a 2000 year old village and possible burial ground. The Victoria Times-Colonist reports that Roberts submitted a revised application for a heritage site alteration permit in January, after his first application was approved, then suspended when First Nations raised concerns (Roberts won the BC Liberal nomination last June.) As the Times-Colonist reports, the archeologist who did the original impact assessment recommended Roberts move the pool “…further east and outside of the archeological site boundaries” — in other words, further back from the edge of the lot — but Roberts submitted a mitigation strategy instead, because, he said, “We wanted the site to be a little bit closer to the water.”
Well, don’t we all? But as Mick Jagger sang many years ago, “You can’t always get what you want.”
This story is coming out now, mere days before the election, because as the Times-Colonist’s political and BC Legislature columnist, Les Leyne, points out, when Roberts submitted his revised application, the BC Archeology Branch, “..following standard practice, solicited input from First Nations. The input…continues to be negative.”
When the Times-Colonist asked Roberts for a comment, he initially said he didn’t know the application process was proceeding or that First Nations had been asked for their input, then appeared to throw his archeologist under the bus, then went on at length about how he is “following the process scrupulously”, “abiding by the requirements of the archeology branch”, and “just doing what I’m asked to do every step of the way.”
Leave aside, for a moment, the obvious conclusion that anyone who was following the process scrupulously would know that the process was, um, proceeding; and even on the off chance that one missed that part, one who was following the process scrupulously would understand that First Nations are asked for their input as part of the aforementioned scrupulously followed process:
There’s a rocky outcrop in Ganges Harbour called Grace Islet, also a First Nations archeological site, on which a rich Albertan decided to build a house a few years ago, playing right into the stereotype a lot of Left Coasters have about Albertans that they don’t give a damn about anybody but themselves. Salt Springers made such a ruckus in support of First Nations’ rights on Grace Islet that they forced the BC Liberals to spend $5 and a half million to buy out the rich Albertan and preserve the islet.
Roberts had to have known how that battle turned out, because he was the BCLib candidate in this riding in the last election — and lost to New Democrat Gary Holman by 163 votes. (Green Party candidate Adam Olsen finished third, just 216 votes behind Roberts. All three are contesting the riding again this time, along with independent Jordan Templeman.)
So even if respecting First Nations archeological sites wasn’t the Right Thing to Do in its own right — which it IS — Roberts has to know what his prospective constituents think is the Right Thing to Do and therefore how they expect him to behave if he wants to be their MLA — even if it kills him to give up his precious pool-with-a-view.
If you want to be a politician, the people have every right to expect you to behave better than they have to. They have every right to expect you to put the public interest ahead of your self-interest — every time. You are required to hold yourself to a higher standard as a public servant (or public servant wannabe) than as a private citizen. All. The. Time.
As the Times-Colonist’s Leyne writes, “Run or swim. He shouldn’t do both.”