Monday, March 17, 2008

The Thick Skinned Politician

In political life you're expected to have thick skin. So the saying goes: if you dish it out you better be able to take it! Fair ball.

I sincerely believe that most people put their names forward for public office with the best interests of their Community, Province or Country in mind. Unfortunately, some fall into the grasp of personal greed, profit and corruption. The large majority of politicians serve with dignity and do great things for their respective riding's. Some sit on their rear-ends, collect a pay cheque and do nothing. Generally, people tend to give politicians an ear full when tough decisions have to be made. This became clear after last Friday's announcement concerning Education Minister Kelly Lamrock's plan for universal french language training in New Brunswick. Wow! The reaction has been enormous.

Personally, I have had quite a few angry parents calling me at home, on my cell, at my office and emailing. They say things like idiotic, moronic and a few choice words that I won't repeat on this site. What boggles my mind is the manner in which people call and feel they can express themselves. I don't mind a hot debate but it should be informed. I don't mind people expressing themselves but it should be dignified. A good friend of mine was with me this weekend when a lady stopped me in a public store and began yelling at me over this decision and how Government destroyed her child's future. After letting her vent we carried on with our business. My friend says to me - can you imagine if someone came up to me and carried on like that because they didn't like the business decision my company made?

I think his point was that this rarely happens in the private sector and if it does few people call up the CEO and lace them with personal insults and threats of non-renewal (when I say this I am not thinking of the Irvings - that's for you Charles). It's an interesting point when you think about it. Apparently, when you get elected it allows the public, at any time, regardless of who is with you (kids, wife, mother) it doesn't matter, to berate you over their beliefs or opinions while you sit there with a smile on your face.

Hmm. Strange job. I wonder how often it happens in the private sector? How many people would simply smile and listen while someone feels it's time to give them hell in front of their family for whatever reason. Most people are decent enough not to act in this manner but there are quite a few that aren't. Anyhow, I enjoy it.

Another saying should be added to the thick skinned politician repetoire, one that Stuart Jamieson told me years ago - you wanted the job, your ran for the job, you got the job, now do the damn job!

Thanks -



Autism Reality NB said...

Interesting to see your perspective on this matter.

In the private sector though business people are rarely dealing with the intensely personal matters, at least not in such a comprehensive and authoritative way, that politicians are dealing with especially ... people's children.

As you know there are few matters about which most people are as passionate as their children's interests.

The Pedgehog said...

The reason it doesn't happen in the private sector is because as a politician, your job is to represent the people. You are, in a sense, owned by the public. Someone in the private sector makes decisions that affect their business - but politicians, as representatives, make decisions that directly affect the public.

It sucks for you, or any politician, that people aren't more polite in their disapproval. Regardless, their concerns are legitimate because it's their lives and the lives of their children that are affected. We don't all know how to express ourselves calmly and rationally either; that's why not everyone is qualified to be a politician. :)

I do empathize, but I have to agree with the "you ran for it, suck it up" school of thought as well. Being approached (sometimes in a negative fashion) by your constituents is part of being a politician. I'm sure there are perks that balance it out.

T.J. Burke said...

I agree with both comments, when children are involved the debate becomes extremely passionate. Although, I believe the people in Dalhousie would have something to say to Bowater CEO's that has dramatically effected their lives.

As for the perks Hedgehog. LOL. I don't know. I left a job that paid me substantially more that offered a vehicle, cell phone, better hours and greater flexibility with family time. If there are any, I am trying to figure out where they are. :)

mikel said...

To be fair, government(and ministers) wield an extra-ordinary amount of power over people's lives. The reaction to this has been quite muted, from what I've seen of this I'm surprised Lamrock hasn't been 'ridden out of town on a rail'.

As many have pointed out (see Eugene's extended critique at Spinks site), the WAY this decision was reached and the information it was based on is as worrisome as the actual policy (although NB parents would probably disagree).

I always get a laugh when Charles says he 'guesses NBers are passive'. Au contraire mon ami!

It's also a stretch to try to characterize those arguing against this as 'uninformed'. In fact the opposite seems to be true, again, go check out the 'arguments' at Spinks site and the CBC. The only people who seem to favour the policy are those who practically admit they'd be perfectly happy if it weren't a bilingual province. And of course even on the face of it the policy seems to make no sense.

But consider it this way, the actual big policies of this government have been pretty few and far between, so its kind of like working retail-it may get hectic at christmas but the rest of the year is a cakewalk.

And just because I can't resist: between this and the reaction I've seen to the health administration file you may only have to worry about these sorts of problems for another two years or so:)

T.J. Burke said...

Fair points Mikel.

Although, your analogy of retail sales at Christmas time is comical. You obviously have NO idea how busy being cabinet minister is! If you think its a cake walk you should give a try. Put your name up for public office and step up to the "cake plate." LOL.

Actually, I gentleman by the name of Wally Opal fits this mold. Wally is the BC Attorney General. He used to sit on the BC Court of Appeal (highest court in BC). He apparently thought he could do a better job than his predecessor and took on the challenge when confrontted by him. Well, not only did he leave a very high paying job knowing he could never get back after stepping down with lots of perks (as hedgehog calls them) he won his seat and became the BC AG.

Now that's putting your money where your mouth is!

Paul said...

It does happen in the private sector, except CEO's are able to insulate themselves from most of it because they have people who work in call center's to take the abuse on their behalf.

Having worked in a call centre for a telecommunications company, people threaten all the time, and if they could get the CEO on the line they would. Politicians don't have the same luxury, they have to respond. CEO's don't.

It does speak to a general lack of respect in society, that people believe they being abusive helps somehow.

However, methinks TJ is tough enough to withstand a good tongue lashing!

NB taxpayer said...

Excellent article, TJ! It reminds me of what my old boss (who himself is closing in on 20 yrs. in politics) reminded me about geting into the profession, he said: "if you get into politics to be liked, don't bother getting in at all."

Your post reminds me how that statement is oh so true even in New Brunswick. lol

The Pedgehog said...

I actually wasn't talking about financial perks.

I just meant there must be some things about your job that you really love, to balance out the stuff you don't - or why would you do it?

Gypsyblog said...

It seriously can't be fun being an honest politician. If I was a politician I'd have to take A LOT of bribes as payment for all the flack you get.

That's your problem TJ. Too honest. You've got to say to yourself. TJ, this is BS. Why am I working this hard for nothing but public beratings? Show me the money!

D Stewart said...

It's a job I am pretty sure I'd not manage for long. Anyone that thinks that as an elected representative of the people that.."if I do what is right and good and if I explain how we all will benefit from it..even if in the short term it means we have to sacrifice a bit", people will understand....well frankly your either very naive..or possibly NDP. When one considers that right from the very night your first elected there is a good possibility that half if not more of your constituents believes your the wrong man/woman for the job you have to know making everyone happy is really only going to happen in your dreams...or nightmares. Politicians do deserve to be watched closely, questioned regularly and reminded who they work for often. But I do not think they deserve being continually insulted over the phone, in person or in certain blogs out of shear malice as witnessed lately. If we are not careful we will end up with just what we deserve, politicians with such thick skins nothing will get through.

T.J. Burke said...

Gypsy cracks me up bad!! :)

Seriously though, I forgot to make the point that if the public is the employer/boss of the elected official, then does that mean the employer/boss has free reign to give their employee such a lashing from time to time?

If this were a true employer/employee relationship, and common in the workforce, how many employees do you think would be filing complaints under their workplace harrassment policies?

Good points by all though. This has been an interesting read on various perspectives. Thank you.

MarkM said...

Your story touches upon one of the things that I find most frustrating about New Brunswick politics. Just about every New Brunswicker acknowledges that certain aspects of life in our province need to change - reliance of the federal dole being one. I think most NB'ers agree with Premier Graham's saying that the "status quo is not acceptable". The problem is that any attempt to change the status quo is met with irrational outrage by the electorate. This happened with the UNBSJ debate of a few months ago, now its French immersion education. People need to realize that changing the status quo involves making actual changes, not just talking about it.

Canadian Rods said...

Hi TJ,

I see that a politician's job is much like that of any other profession. A comedian is always expected to be funny, a doctor or lawyer will have someone ask for advice, a programmer will be asked to fix someone's computer, and a mechanic will be asked to 'take a look at this'.

I don't know whether it's a lack of respect or what it is, but people seem to relate a person to their job and expect them to be available 24/7.

TJ, you are (in my mind) a politician when you are at the office, in the legislature, in front of the media, or at a government-related function. When you leave your work day behind, you become TJ, the individual. If I had an issue that I wanted to discuss with you and were to see you about town, I might come over to introduce myself and say that I would be appreciative of some of your time and ask if would it be okay to contact your office to arrange a meeting. If you looked busy or were otherwise engaged, it would be rude of me to interrupt and impose myself on you. That, to me, is a sign of respect and I was taught that if you want to be respected you first have to be respectful.

For whatever reason, people seem to think that, because you are a local politician, you should be available to them at all times. If you think that you're getting an earful, just imagine what Mr. Lamrock is hearing. I don't have children, so I will admit that this issue doesn't have a direct impact on me. Regardless of that, I respect a politician who is willing to take a stand on an issue as sensitive as this one. I have even more respect for one who can keep an open mind throughout the process and does what is right, whether or not it was his or her original position and whether or not it is the popular one.

Being expected to be 'on' all the time can quickly burn a person out. It can make seeing the big picture and the reason for taking on the job all that more difficult. Keep in mind the reason that you ran for office and the good work that your department has already done for our province. I'd love to see some work done on issues that are of concern to me but I'll save them for later. Perhaps I'll give your office a call and see if we can get together to discuss them. said...

Let's make a different comparison. I know of people who work for Irving. One constant complaint they have is that they catch grief with just about everybody for everything 'their boss' is doing. I worked retail, and I listened to people's problems all day-whether it had anything to do with me or not. Waitresses get complaints about the food, DMV workers get complaints about policies, heck, bureaucrats got their pictures on charles blog and called names walking out to lunch.

But elected office has one big difference between all those jobs and those mentioned above-they don't HAVE to do them. You don't HAVE to be in cabinet, don't have to run for office. In order to survive, people HAVE to work and take what comes with it-for a lot less money. That 'choice' is a pretty big distinction.

For work, the Maine legislature doesn't even have a cabinet-and it has 400 legislators who still earn less than the 58 members of NB's legislature. Commissioners handle the implementation of policy, and the legislators handle the legislation.

There are ways to spread the work around, and there are ways to limit the amount of angriness out there-involve people in making legislation.

Rob said...

Hi TJ,

I think your friend was looking at it in the wrong direction, with a customer angry with a business decision of his. A better way to look at it would be if his superior was unhappy with his work performance.

Some bosses use was Stewie Griffin calls "The Compliment Sandwich", and hide negative feedback between two pieces of positive feedback.

Other bosses will dance around the issue, and are polite throughout.

Another boss would scream, yell, throw things, and possibly fire an employee, even if the employee's family was present.

I guess it's up to each and every voter to decide what kind of boss they want to be. I feel I get a message across by being polite but forthright, but that's just me.

By the way, the Stuart Jamieson quote should be on a plaque above every single elected officials desk =). Love it!

NB taxpayer said...

Seriously though, I forgot to make the point that if the public is the employer/boss of the elected official, then does that mean the employer/boss has free reign to give their employee such a lashing from time to time?

If this were a true employer/employee relationship, and common in the workforce, how many employees do you think would be filing complaints under their workplace harrassment policies?

Not sure I know too many employers who get paid nothing to look over their employees? :)

Maybe the berating part is a form of currency?

T.J. Burke said...

Thanks for your post broadcast, but uhmm...the New Brunswick legislature has 55 seats not 58. I get your point though.

T.J. Burke said...

CBC is doing an article on this blog site. I hope everyone has a chance to listen sometime next week.

Charles LeBlanc said... won't post my comments???

Hmmmmm??? You sure you're not an Irving's blogger???

Got to blog that one....


Spinks said...

About time. What took them so long? ;)

Here's the interesting thing you'll notice. Mainstream media coverage does almost nothing to raise interest in a blog except for a short nominal jump. The other blogs are far greater promoters. 101 people who are screwing up Canada got mentioned in Australian media, CBC, newspapers, and a Montreal radio feature length interview. All of that paled in comparison to where small dead animals or Calgary Grit mentioned it.

Still this blog is newsworthy so it id good to see CBC doing something on it.