This column isn't anonymous
By: David Haas
| Posted: Wednesday, Oct 09, 2013 06:00 am
In my mid-teenage days, when I was becoming politically attuned, I began noticing that downtown Edmonton lampposts frequently were plastered by small, crudely laid out posters shrieking with political content. Often their tone was so exaggerated that I questioned whether the authors were in touch with reality. While the posters gave impressive organizational names, they never so far as I recall offered personal identities, nor any way of readily getting hold of anyone to debate the content other than – occasionally – supposedly mass rallies. The posters were the equivalent of the websites one finds these days which are carefully designed to conceal who is behind them.
When I began this column nearly twenty years ago the authorities at the Gazette made clear that I had to do so under my own name. The editorial high command remains consistent with this approach in its October 5 response to the electoral offerings of a group calling itself the St. Albert Think Tank. This anonymous entity has been putting out critical observations on our current mayor and members of city council. Covert attacks are not a new technique. Back in the 1995 civic election a group calling itself the Edmonton Stickmen began putting up billboard commentary with the simplistic artwork from which they derived their name, and written attacks on Edmonton’s leftist incumbent mayor Jan Reimer, who lost the election. The Stickmen stayed hidden, though later and unsurprisingly it came out that they were a group of young businessmen who perceived the mayor as not catering to the business community. What is the composition and orientation of the Think Tank?
The Welsh socialist Aneurin Bevan once remarked that politics is the arena of interests, not morals. He meant interests in the sense of something involving an advantage for a person or group. Anyone seeking political office or openly critiquing those who do can be scrutinized as to what interests they are promoting, whose interests they may be serving. We can’t ask the Think Tank about this, or seek to explore the issue in any meaningful fashion, because we have no idea who they are and they seem determined not to tell us. One mischief with anonymity is that the hidden people may have oblique motives, other interests may be involved than what is suggested by the issues their polemics focus upon. Secretive groups may attack a politician on one set of grounds, while in actuality they may want a change in the political control of the community in order to achieve some other end. There is no way of knowing.
Our political process is far from achieving transparency. We still tolerate candidates for office accepting donations from donors whose names are not made public before we go to the polls. The fact that someone donates money can reflect the fact that the donor wants to be in the good graces of the candidate if successful. Voters should know before the ballots are cast the names of those towards whom the holder of an elected office may have financial incentives to feel grateful or even beholden. That may seem a different issue, but really it is the same mischief as the problem with the Think Tank – people staying cloaked and obscure while seeking to influence the vote perhaps to achieve objectives they won’t let us know.
Writer David Haas is a long term St. Albert resident.