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The politics of shaping clouds

Seventh heaven is a remarkably apt description of a ski run at the peak of Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia. I recently stood there under a clear, blue, cloudless sky surrounded by majestic mountains. It was a gift that I wish every Canadian could experience. 

The unparalleled perspective puts everything into perspective. The world seemed so clear and precious. The next day, clouds were more pronounced and the vista changed. I couldn’t see as well. The clouds took forms and I began to see shapes, objects and faces as we often do while staring at them. We are all familiar with the companion who sees an image in the clouds and tries to describe it when it is not so obvious to us. 

Life is like that. Clouds offer us an opportunity to see things differently, sometimes only what we want to see and too often what others want us to see. This is happening in our world, especially in politics, in social media and in our day-to-day interactions. Clouds of incivility, mistrust and misinformation are shaping opinions, perspectives, driving us apart and far away from a clear picture. 

SNC-Lavalin is a prime example. Jody Wilson-Raybould painted her cloud with implications of intentional pressure against 11 people. She left a small but crucial hole in the cloud, however, suggesting there was no criminal conduct involved. Many jumped to conclusions, some started to try to discern her agenda. 

The opposition party screamed corruption and scandal and repeatedly painted an even darker cloud. Clouds suggesting unfair demotion in cabinet and anti-female and anti-Indigenous motives were created. Personal accusations filled the Ottawa skies and we witnessed in the clouds what others, especially the media, tried to convince us were there or, indeed, what we wanted to be there. Some saw whiter clouds emerging in the perhaps more understandable explanation for the cabinet shuffle by Gerald Butts, who resigned as the prime minister’s principal secretary over the SNC-Lavalin affair.

Moreover, the professional and measured testimony of Deputy Minister of Justice and Deputy Attorney General of Canada Nathalie Drouin, although seemingly ignored by the media, offered real alternative perceptions of people’s intent. The government’s initial responses in this affair were poor to say the least. In its own way, it sought to blanket the dark clouds with limited information. It could all have been handled so much better. The deferred prosecution legislation was buried in an omnibus cloud. Had it been presented clearly, mistrust and misunderstanding of what it meant and how it could have been used would have added much-needed clarity. Indeed, the reason for refusing to apply it in the SNC case was itself a decision made in the clouds. There was no chance to examine those reasons in a clear public forum.

It is very interesting how the use of clouds in politics leads inevitably to disasters.

Winston Churchill had it right. He was successful and revered during the war because he told the truth about how dangerous the situation was. He is reported as saying to the British House of Commons:

Tell the truth to the British people. They are a tough people, a robust

people. They may be a bit offended at the moment, but if you had told

them exactly what is going on, you would have insured yourself against

complaints and reproaches which are very unpleasant when they come

home on the morrow of some delusion.

What is of real concern is the dark clouds of incivility emerging in politics. The shouting and disruptive antics in the House of Commons and not allowing the minister of finance to speak in presenting his budget, totally unconnected to the SNC-Lavalin issue, was childish, embarrassing and unpleasantly uncivil. As I write this, marathon voting stalled the business of government and Jane Philpott, who resigned as president of the Treasury Board over the SNC-Lavalin affair, has added new clouds to the government laundry line.

Is this how our Parliament and parliamentarians work?

U.S. President Donald Trump’s incivility and personal attacks have created perhaps an irreparable black cloud over the presidency, and some suggest, the entire United States.

He is a salesman of misinformation and a master of convincing his base to view the clouds as he does, especially the ones he created.

Social media has become a dangerous, poisonous cloud of misuse, misinformation, extremism and violence. A miraculous and awesome invention of communication and clarity has become a vehicle of shaming, child pornography, cultural and religious fanaticism and, recently, shocking murders in New Zealand.

The U.K. is buried in the darkening skies of brexit, driven by misleading clouds of job losses, cultural invasions and blind nationalism all primarily fed by social media for oblique political opportunism.

We are allowing the view of our world, including sadly, our nation, to be shaped by clouds of selfishness and dark perceptions. We are all too busy to pay attention to the erosion of democracy, forgiveness, understanding and respect for each other.

It reminds me of what Joni Mitchell told us long ago about clouds: “They only block the sun, they rain and snow on everyone. So many things I would have done, but clouds got in my way.”

And she shared this:

"It’s cloud’s illusions I recall, I really don’t know clouds at all.”