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(David Parkins for The Globe and Mail/David Parkins for The Globe and Mail)
(David Parkins for The Globe and Mail/David Parkins for The Globe and Mail)

B.C. Dispatch

Politicking with sorrow in tow Add to ...

Many exasperated voters consider B.C. politicians a sorry lot. Lately, some of the politicians have just been plain sorry.

Liberal MLA Harry Bloy has said he’s sorry for an attack on NDP Leader Adrian Dix in the legislature. While criticizing NDP policy on smart meters, Mr. Bloy accused Mr. Dix of lying, cheating and stealing money from the consumers of B.C., and then wondered about how he proposed to his wife, with a reference to Mr. Dix’s “good friend” former NDP MP Svend Robinson, who left politics after stealing an expensive ring.

Some day, there may be an explanation for what Mr. Bloy was thinking. Not today. Mr. Bloy did not respond to a call seeking that explanation.

In turn, Mr. Dix recently said he was sorry for travelling on Sky Train without the appropriate fare. “It was entirely my fault,” Mr. Dix says. “I am completely responsible for that. The rules are clear. You have to have a ticket when asked and I didn’t.”

In future, he said he would.

With sorrow in provincial politics comes the apology.

In 2003, the Liberal government apologized for past treatment of the province’s natives. In 2008, MLAs on both sides of the house apologized for the 1914 Komagata Maru incident.

But there is a difference between government, or policy, apologies, and individual MLAs in the hot seat.

Former attorney-general Geoff Plant says politicians are essentially employed by voters and so are acutely accountable for offense. That tends to make an apology a good political idea. “The stakes are higher for mistakes,” he said.

The most remarkable B.C. political apology came from Gordon Campbell in 2003. During a pressure-cooker news conference, Mr. Campbell apologized for driving under the influence of alcohol during a Hawaiian vacation.

“Words cannot begin to convey the remorse and profound regret that I feel for my actions, and for the hurt and disappointment that I have caused for others – above all for my family, my caucus colleagues, my constituents and for British Columbians and their families,” said Mr. Campbell, struggling with tears.

Political scientist Norman Ruff says it was all the more stunning for dealing with personal conduct. “I still have it on tape. It was real political theatre, like watching a Greek tragedy,” the University of Victoria professor emeritus says.

The NDP called for Mr. Campbell’s resignation. Perhaps Mr. Campbell would have done the same were he opposition leader dealing with a similarly embattled NDP premier. A poll suggested at least half of British Columbians thought he should go. The political stakes were high. The apology was key to Mr. Campbell’s political strategy. He won two more majority terms. Then came the harmonized sales tax. An apology probably would not have helped.

Brenda Morrison, director of the Centre for Restorative Justice at Simon Fraser University, says effective apologies have three components: responsibility for the offending conduct; an expression of sorrow; a request to help the person make things better.

In effective apologies, she says, the emotion behind the regret is also tangible.

“There’s an emotional component to a good apology. That’s when we feel it’s genuine,” she said. “A good apology has an emotive level.”

Political apologies, she said, rarely hit these targets, because politicians are uneasy about commitments to make things better.

Mr. Dix’s apology followed the Morrison arc with a slight variation on the third point, a pledge to future action: being sure to carry the proper fare.

Key aspects of Mr. Bloy’s apology remain mysterious. He has little to say about the matter. The Hansard record of the apology is barely a sentence compared to paragraphs attacking Mr. Dix as the deputy speaker tried to bring him to a stop.

While Mr. Bloy also apologized to Mr. Dix by telephone, that conversation isn’t on any official record. Mr. Dix’s response in the legislature is.

Mr. Dix spoke of the “great sincerity” of Mr. Bloy’s contrition. “We're going to disagree all the time. All the time. And that is part of democracy, and it is a good thing.

“But we can work together to do what we want to do, which is serve our constituents and serve the people of B.C. So I thank him for his apology.”

They’re sorry. Some B.C. political apologies:

“This mistake is solely my own and I am completely responsible. ... Looking back I ask myself always, ‘How could I have been so stupid? Why didn’t I just stay overnight? Why didn’t I call a cab?’ There are no sensible answers to those questions.”

– Premier Gordon Campbell, Jan. 12, 2003, apologizing for impaired driving during a Hawaiian vacation.[-dotted-rule-]

“Your government deeply regrets the mistakes that were made by governments of every political stripe over the course of the province’s history,”

– Lieutenant-Governor Iona Campagnolo, reading a Speech from the Throne apology for past treatment of the province’s natives by all B.C. governments. Feb. 12, 2003[-dotted-rule-]

“In no way did I intend to offend or hurt any British Columbians, as I understand some have been offended by my remarks. I want to unequivocally apologize , particularly to those members of the Jewish community if anyone has taken offence or reminded of painful memories. My apology is heartfelt.” – NDP MLA Leonard Krog, in an Oct. 29, 2010 letter to the regional director of the Canadian Jewish Congress, apologizes for comparing B.C. Liberal Social Development Minister Kevin Krueger to Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propagandist.

“Mr. Speaker, on the point of order brought up earlier by the member from Mount Pleasant, if I have offended anyone, I will withdraw the statements. I’m sorry for it.”

– Liberal MLA Walter Cobb apologizes to NDP House Leader Joy MacPhail for suggesting he felt sorry for Ms. MacPhail’s fiancé because it appeared she could never be satisfied, May. 13, 2004.

Ian Bailey

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