Saturday, August 18, 2012

From the Gardiner to Kelowna, A Flagging Link

What do Rob Ford and Kelowna, British Columbia have in common? Considering that one is a man and the other is a city in the BC Interior, probably not all that much. Nevertheless, some isolated bits of recent news have drawn a connection between them that's all the more important for being not immediately obvious.

The first news: earlier this week, Rob Ford was photographed reading papers while driving on the Gardiner Expressway, and after the photo appeared on Twitter it quickly spread through the Greater Toronto mediascape. It's easy to understand how this came about if you know anything about the man--not only does he have mayoral responsibilities, but he's practically allergic to delegation. He made his name in city politics by eschewing perks like "office budgets." He's not going to let 80 km/h traffic keep him from absorbing the information he needs to absorb.

Fortunately for Ford, reading while driving isn't illegal in Ontario, but soon enough he's going to be given a driver--causing an accident while distracted by mayoral papers would not be good for his reelection prospects. The media is on him, the police are on him, even his brother and other mayor Doug Ford is on him to accept a driver. Sure, some people are capable of coping with that sort of split attention in ideal situations, but situations aren't always ideal and lives are more important than documentation that can be dealt with just as easily inside City Hall.

Now, the second news: Kelowna is currently considering whether or not it will fly a pro-life flag over City Hall during its Protect Human Life Week, and when I Google that phrase the first hit is of Pro Life Kelowna, a site of the sort that comes as no surprise at all, featuring stories of "abortion caravans" and a ticker of "Babies Killed Since 1969." According to Kelowna Community Resources this is the website of the Kelowna Right to Life Society, the same agency whose executive director is quoted by CBC News as saying that "there's nothing controversial there's nothing particularly political or religious" about a pro-life statement.

I'm not questioning the city of Kelowna's right to fly a flag in honor of whatever time it chooses to recognize. After all, it's flying a rainbow flag right now. In this case, I'd say the important issue is the source of the flag. It's not something that already existed that Kelowna is just going to run up the pole--it's something that's being created for this specific function, the first version of which has already been rejected by the city.

If you're looking for a flag that's "for human life," why not just fly the World Health Organization flag? Oh, wait, it's part of the UN, and they've distributed contraception...

I said there was a commonality here, and there is--it's the necessity of using good judgement in politics. Rob Ford may have been a busy man, and he may have thought there was no problem reading and driving, but he demonstrated poor judgement by actually doing it. Likewise, when it comes to the flag situation, the Kelowna city government's judgement is of paramount importance. The politics of pro-life and pro-choice are lightning rods here as they are in the United States. So is the whole issue of gay rights, but they're fundamentally different issues--the rainbow flag represents an entire group of people that were systematically discriminated against for generations. The pro-life flag, in contrast, represents an organization with an axe to grind about that specific issue.

If the situations were reversed, and Kelowna was considering flying a pro-choice flag over City Hall, I don't think it would be appropriate. The whole issue is a fundamentally personal one that should be dealt with at the personal level, not at the level of the state. It all comes down to exercising proper judgement, and demonstrating that the people holding positions of power are worthy of having been placed there.

Besides, when you get down to it, the flag design itself is horrible. Writing "PRO-LIFE" on the flag defeats the whole purpose of having a flag--it's supposed to be a simple but standing-out design easily recognizable from a distance. Don't these people know the first thing about vexillology?

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