People are certainly allowed to have their own opinions. It’s just as well, because anyone who says they don’t have an opinion at all is likely either trying to curry favour or defuse a potential argument.
That extends even to politicians: while some may be loathe to admit it, politicians still have their own opinions on things big and small, from liver and onions all the way up to the seal hunt and capital punishment.
Some of those personal opinions may well conflict with the general view of those same politicians’ constituents — that’s not a problem, as long as the politician involved is careful to ensure that his or her personal beliefs do not trump the interests and desires of the voters who elect them.
This past Friday, the last person left in the provincial Tory leadership race, Frank Coleman, issued a written statement about his own views on abortion. Coleman has regularly taken part in Good Friday anti-abortion marches in Corner Brook. This year, his family attended, although he did not, because he was out of town.
“As a leader I believe in the rule of law. It would be weak of me to deny my beliefs and at the same time it is important that people understand I do not intend to impose my personal views,” said Coleman. “I have too much respect for all the people of this province.
“I celebrate the fact that we live in a diverse society and I therefore do not seek to impose my personal beliefs on others for respect does not insist on its own way.”
Fair enough. It is much better to answer than it is to simply hide or obfuscate in the interest of garnering political support.
But if Coleman is rightfully allowed to have his own personal opinion, there’s certainly something he should not be allowed to do much longer — and that’s to continue the practice of answering questions and concerns with crafted written statements.
The polished written statement may seem like a straightforward way to guarantee a clear expression of views, but it also means a politician who either doesn’t want to be questioned or simply can’t handle the pressure of defending a position.
One of the big knocks against former premier Kathy Dunderdale was her inability to connect with voters: governing by written statements without ever answering questions is an unlikely way to show a true change in the direction of government, or in any way frame it as open and approachable.
The Tories are now on the verge of electing a leader who will become premier, and who has yet to explain very much about his plans for the province. He’s an enigma, wrapped up in a press statement.
The least he can do is to answer questions in his own words in front of the microphones.
It may be flippant to say this, but if people really wanted to be governed by the polished handouts from communications staff, they’d probably elect those communications staffers.