Some restraint needed on criticizing poliical leaders during pandemic

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In those memorable days when one could partake of a meal in a restaurant I was seated at a table in one of Amherstburg’s lovely small restaurants.

Close by, at another table, sat three local chaps – in for a lunch and a beer – discussing in vigorous terms a recent Detroit Red Wings hockey game.

I was struck by how loudly they debated the team’s apparent failure and boisterously arguing about how the team should have been coached. I supposed the Wings to be on a losing streak.

As I overheard these chaps, it occurred to me that in large measure all three were sideline critics of the team, its players and specifically its coach.

Presuming that none of them had ever coached a professional team or even have played professional hockey, it was truly amazing to me how they argued that they would have done things much better than the existing coach.

They bantered about players’ names almost as if they were personal friends.

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“Murgatroyd, he’s got one heck of a good slap shot from point,” and stuff like that.

“Yeah, he’s a good defenceman and tough enough. Too bad coach Wimp doesn’t play him more.”

There was around the table agreement that coach “Wimp” should be replaced.

As I listened to this inane banter, I realized how remarkably easy it is to be a critic.

Far too many people have inherent capacity to be critics, but when faced with the real challenges of responsibility and complexity, many would wither into babbling incoherence.

It seems being an armchair coach or critic is easy whether the critic focuses upon sports or politics.

Over my years of public commentary, I’ve been threatened, verbally abused and sworn at numerous times.

Most recently, a column I wrote about golf courses and churches offending public responsibility through lack of respect for COVID-19 pandemic rules garnered sharp criticism.

Some labeled me both a socialist-communist and/or a fascist. Remarkable inconsistencies among those who were hurling such allegations.

If I were a politician, I’m sure abuse would multiply exponentially.

A recent poll of Canadians’ opinions of elected federal and provincial leaders seems to show the ease and simplicity associated with criticism of those charged with directing Canada’s COVID-19 battle. No elected political leader garnered strong public support.

Although I have met and in some cases worked close to at least nine of Canada’s recent prime ministers and a half-dozen premiers, I would not offer to hold any of their jobs — past, present or future.

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I love politics, but I’m a lousy politician which explains why over many years I’ve rejected invitations from all political parties to seek election. I’m adverse to compromising values for political “Brown-John” points.

I carry no torch for any prime minister or premier. However, I do feel enormous empathy for the stress, strained emotions and frustrations under which all must function during our collective pandemic experience.

Ontario’s Premier Doug Ford could never have imagined that his limited leadership talents would be taxed to the maximum by a pandemic. He is constantly torn by responsibility to provide some modicum of public health safety, while desperately seeking to support his primary inclination within the business community.

Faced as all political leaders are with an elusive deadly disease and without any historical policy experience or certainty from medical advisors, Ford and other political leaders may appear to wallow in uncertainty.

They are easily accused of failing to respond early and vigorously.

Perhaps constructive criticism and comprehension of enormous challenges vexing political leaders would be more helpful. We have never experienced such a universally disruptive experience as COVID-19.

Consider giving political leaders some slack until we are all vaccinated and able to contemplate real life once more before holding them accountable for an entire season’s performance — not just one game.

Lloyd Brown-John is a University of Windsor professor emeritus of political science. He can be reached at [email protected]

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