(This column was published in the North Shore News on Oct. 3, 2001)


Leadership lacking when most needed

By Leo Knight

ON Saturday I sat in an airport bar in Alberta reading the daily newspapers and chatting with a fellow traveller. The topic of conversation turned inevitably to the aftermath of Sept. 11.


In front of us were two newspapers, the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Sun. In the main, the problems of this country were manifestly displayed on the front pages of those journals.


The Globe had, on its front page, a story of a new poll indicating that Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was enjoying new heights of popularity. The Sun, for its part, had on the front page blaring headlines and a story telling how the PM had been caught in a lie.


Chrétien had been hiding from his clear duty in not going to New York showing our country's solidarity with our stricken cousins to the south, saying he had been asked by the office of the Mayor of New York not to come. He used this line on several occasions to deflect criticism.


A reporter with the Sun decided to ask the mayor's office if this were the case. One of Rudy Giuliani's aides denied any such request by the mayor, and, quite emphatically I might add.


Sid Dinsay, a spokesman for Giuliani said, "At no time, in no fashion, in no way. I can't say it any clearer," in response to the attempts by the Sun to verify the prime minister's statements.


Well, that would certainly seem to be clear enough. My companion in the lounge merely shook his head and said, "Well, that's Ontario for you."


Sad isn't it?


On Monday, I spoke with a friend who toils on Parliament Hill. (Yes, I suspect he is a masochist.) I asked how the story was playing out in Ottawa. "It's not," he replied. "It got barely a notice." He went on to explain how the political media know "which side their bread is buttered on."


While on the subject of flying, I couldn't help notice the so-called "enhanced security measures." This is interesting because of the battering the Minister of Transport, David Collenette, has been taking on the subject of airport security in the House of Commons over the past two weeks.


The minister said in the House last week, that he had issued specific instructions to all airport authorities to increase the level of security. What he did, in fact, was to send out a memo telling everyone involved to be more vigilant.


Baggage screening checkpoints across the country began taking toenail clippers from shaving kits. As helpful as I'm sure that is, it is obvious there is no consistency in the screening being done by security. For example, in Edmonton airport, I was asked to turn on my laptop, my Palm pilot and cellphone to prove they were "real" electronic devices. In Vancouver two days ago, there was no such request by security.


Does this mean that travellers in Edmonton are more prone to have a bomb secreted in their CD players or does it demonstrate that the Minister of Transport has not, in fact, issued specific instructions?


The practical reality is the federal government has done precious little to improve security at the airports and the minister continues to dodge the hard questions being put by the opposition parties with vague references, untruths and deflections.


But, it is not just the prime minister who has demonstrated a distinct lack of leadership throughout this crisis or the minister of transport. They have been ably supported by Elinor Caplan, Minister for Immigration and Martin Cauchon, the Minister of National Revenue, who for some inexplicable reason, has responsibility for Canada Customs, the first point of security for our borders and all points of entry, including our international airports.


They have been getting creamed daily in question period. Caplan, thus far, has only managed to tell the country that her new Bill C-11 will make everything sweet. She also runs back to hide behind the racism card whenever someone says anything critical about the refugee policies in this country.


Cauchon, for his part has been little more than a cheerleader for the customs officers. Witness this exchange from question period last week: Mr. Rahim Jaffer (Edmonton/Strathcona, Canadian Alliance): "Mr. Speaker, last night the revenue minister met with the U.S. ambassador. The United States is moving to create a secure perimeter with or without Canada. Our trade dependency dictates that we must be within that perimeter. What if any concrete assurances did the minister give Ambassador Cellucci to ensure that Canada does not end up on the outside looking in?"


Hon. Martin Cauchon (Minister of National Revenue, Lib.): "Mr. Speaker, of course I first would like to pay tribute to all customs officers who have been working very hard over the past few days. They have rendered wonderful services to our Canadian society and they deserve a big round of applause.


"Second, Mr. Speaker, I have requested a meeting with the U.S. ambassador. Indeed the meeting took place last night. I will tell you that there was a meeting of the minds in the sense that we share exactly the same vision. We will ensure that we continue to better protect our communities and to work in co-operation, which is the key to success."


I hope you are all suitably enlightened after that.


We are at a crossroads of history in Canada. The country desperately needs leadership. And leadership, by its definition is strong, honest and forthright. Thus far, we have seen little, if any of these qualities in those who should be defining the word.






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