Sunday, April 15, 2007

An Inconvenient Truth of Kevin Potvin, Elizabeth May

"Benefit of doubt" for 9/11 celebrator

Kevin Potvin, the Green Party’s recently acclaimed candidate for Vancouver-Kingsway, has attracted controversy recently, via an article, ”A Revolting Confession”. Within the article, Potvin refers to an internal attitude he discovered within himself that found the 9/11 attacks “beautiful”, insisting this was a response that many people shared. “Nor was I alone, I know for a fact,” he insists, “whenever I passed a TV or newspaper with a report on the ensuing US war to capture Osama bin Laden, and I secretly said to myself, "Go, Osama, Go!" I am happy he has eluded capture by the Americans. I am in love with those Afghans who, whenever asked, said, "He went that-a-way," and their fifty hands pointed in fifty different directions.”

Potvin has weakly tried to dismiss the article as symbolic. Yet one finds it hard to find the symbolism in rooting for Osama bin Laden. A response published in The Republic, however, is much more telling.

While attempting to invoke Keats, Potvin notes that, on the afternoon of 9/11, “I went home and got out my pad of paper and made notes of everything that I could detect I was feeling. This is one of my journalistic techniques, it’s a form of shorthand. Rather than make notes of speeches at press conferences and other events, I instead pay attention and focus on the speaker, and then afterward make notes of exactly how I feel. Later, when I need to write up the story, I refer to my notes, and by being reminded of my feelings at the time, I remember everything that was said, and what’s more, I retain the meaning.”

In short, Potvin, the “journalist”, doesn’t take any notes or make any records of statements or events. He notes his emotional response, then uses that to remember what happened, or what was said. He also uses this to reconstruct the meaning.

Reconstruct is actually a very appropriate term. The science of psychology tells us that human memory is reconstructive. As such, using emotion as a recognitive tool in the place of any sort of record about what was actually said is a recipe for journalistic disaster. It’s entirely unlikely that mr. Potvin remembers anything as it was said, or as it actually happened. Whether this journalistic technique is an actual form of mental shorthand – as he insists – or if it is simply an excuse to promote his bias within his writing only mr. Potvin will really know for certain.

There are deeper issues here, however, than simply those for Potvin and his publication. There are very deep issues at play for the Green Party itself.

In a blog entry on the Green party website, Elizabeth May reveals that she chose the riding of Central Nova so she could challenge Peter MacKay on the foreign policy portfolio. “By running in Central Nova I will be taking on the Minister of Foreign Affairs, raising the clarity of vision of our international policies versus the “aye, aye, Sir” approach of Mr. Harper,” May insists.

Meanwhile, the Green party website has begun to feature more examples of foreign policy, ranging from the predictable pro-Kyoto stance to “be nice to Iran”.

More so than anything, the Kevin Potvin affair could prove to be the latest in a series of events demonstrating Elizabeth May’s unsuitability as a political leader. As with her recent kowtowing to Stephan Dion ., May risks demonstrating that she cannot ascertain the gravity of her decisions. Even while she sends a crystal-clear message to her party membership that her party will not campaign for a mandate to govern (thus accepting perpetual fringe party status), May has excused Potvin at a time when she wants to run against Peter McKay in Central Nova on the issue of foreign affairs.

A leader who undermines his or her own credibility has no real future in politics – and for obvious reasons. Potvin himself falls prey to this, but mostly through what can only be described as his own hypocrisy.

The masthead for his Republic newspaper reads, “The Republic of East Vancouver supports no party, advocates for no cause, serves no master, and considers problems with no preconceived notions”. Potvin would be able to reconcile this position against his Green Party candidacy if it weren’t for the fact that Potvin has used his publication to vigorously promote his own candidacy. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong this this, but it does break his promise of non-partisanship to his readers.

Furthermore, Potvin’s celebration of 9/11 as an attack on capitalism comes off as disingenuous coming from someone who, as a small business owner, is effectively a capitalist himself.

Furthermore (but not necessarily finally), he dismissed criticism over his comments by saying, “Don't you think the Parliament of Canada requires people that are free thinkers, independent thinkers and people that bring other points of view to the table besides those that are commonly accepted and those that are credentialed by the newspaper columnists?" In short, Potvin, himself a newspaper columnist – if one considers publications such as the Republic to be newspapers – argues that he is a maverick because his views aren’t supported by newspaper columnists. It smacks of an attempt at double-sided populism, and not a very good attempt at that.

Ironically, Preston Manning and the Reform party provided a good demonstration of how to deal with a controversial candidate, also in a Vancouver riding. When Doug Collins, a Vancouver-area radio host who had expressed racially-charged sentiments refused to distance himself from such comments, Manning himself refused to sign Collins’ candidacy. The Collins affair was still used to paint the party as racist, but one can only imagine how much worse this could have been had Collins not been dealt with appropriately.

There is another lesson that the Green party desperately needs to learn from the Reform party – that of not accepting fringe party status. The Reform party always declared its intention to eventually form the government, and as such was able to engineer a fairly meteoric rise to go from having no seats in parliament to being the Official Opposition in only nine years. Having already existed for more than 20 years in Canada, the Green party, particularly under May’s leadership, seems content to accept fringe party status.

This is not the kind of leadership this party needs.

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