I was not going to blog or comment on the Quebec Election. However, the sickening feeling I felt before I went to bed last night had nothing to do with the fact that the Sovereignist Parti Quebecois had eked out an electoral victory. It had everything to do with the last thing I heard before I went to sleep: one of the victims of the bath-robed, pyromaniacal gunman, who showed up at the PQ victory party, had died. This certainly was a tragic ending to a sobering evening!
The feeling in my stomach was similar to the one I felt the Saturday morning last January, when it was reported that Congresswoman, Gabriel Gifford had been shot at a community breakfast outside an Arizona shopping mall. Miraculously, she survived with significant cerebral impairment; six others were not so lucky.
Thankfully, political assassinations are rare occurrences in Canadian History. Although the motive of last night’s alleged gunman has not been established, the events outside of Montreal’s Metropolis Theatre were too close for comfort.
I have witnessed assaults and threats on political leaders. As a rookie MLA, I remember the enhanced security after 9/11 and the installation of metal detectors on the 3rd floor of the Alberta Legislature, to screen visitors before they entered the House’s Visitors’ Gallery.
And I was mere meters away from Ralph Klein when, during the 2004 Premier’s Stampede Breakfast, he was “pied” with an aluminum pie plate filled with shaving cream. And there was my own, silly, security incident when I was an MLA; during the 2002 Teachers’ Strike, a teacher well known to me protested imminent Back to Work Legislation by “mooning” me in a Westmount watering hole. It was far from being an assault; in fact, it was more of a profane way of exercising freedom of expression. However, timing is everything and this event occurred mere days after several Greenpeace Protestors had mounted the roof of Ralph Klein’s private residence and began installing solar panels. Colleen Klein was home alone at the time and, understandably, the Solicitor General’s Bureaucrats were hyper sensitive about MLA security. Accordingly, the “mooning” event was deemed significant and I was briefly assigned security detail.
It was terrible; being “advised” what events, social and political, I ought to attend and being escorted to the ones on the cusp. It was a barrier between me and my constituents I was uncomfortable with and thankfully the whole ordeal lasted only 72 hours.
But it and all of the aforementioned events continually reinforce for me that all public officials face potential security risks.
Parliament and Legislatures are public buildings and ought to be accessible to the public. Similarly, public officials, to the greatest extent possible, should be accessible to the public they represent.
Later this month, I will hold my annual New Citizens’ Reception, where I welcome new Canadians to Edmonton-St. Albert. Many will tell me that they marvel how accessible Canadian Politicians are. If you have recently immigrated from China or Iran, you will have undoubtedly never met a public official. Perhaps, I should hire security. But I will not, because I attempt to remove all practicable barriers between myself and the constituents I represent. Certainly the risk has to be weighed against the cost of security and the value of barrier free access.
It is absolutely tragic when a democratic process collides with an irrational act of violence, but controlled access to politicians is fundamental to the democratic process. Sadly, some politician insecurity is the price of free elections and democracy.