Politicians getting too quick to pass the buck during the pandemic

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There is a machine that is better than you at finding Waldo.  A couple years ago, a team of (presumably bored) robotics engineers took Google’s creepy machine learning AI program and hooked it up to an equally creepy disembodied robotic hand.

In just under five seconds, the AI scans hundreds of tiny cartoon faces on a Where’s Waldo page, then this robo-hand drops down and points to Waldo’s exact position, with a 98 per cent accuracy rate.  Why such a device exists, I have no idea.  And as our pandemic continues to drag on, I’m increasingly starting to question why our elected officials exist either.

If you’ve watched any of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s press conferences (and you really should if for no other reason than to watch his rapidly graying beard) you’ve doubtless heard him answer numerous questions with some slight variation of the same, “We’re listening to the advice of experts” response.

Should people wear face masks?  “We’re listening to the experts.”

When should the country re-open?  “We’re listening to the experts.”

Was Rise of Skywalker really that bad or was it a perfectly acceptable entry in the Star Wars series?  “We’re listening to the experts.”

To be clear, listening to the advice of experts is a good thing.  Trudeau is an expert at selecting inappropriate Halloween costumes, but there are many, many other things for which he is not an expert, and in those cases, he should be consulting the multitude of experts around him.

But there are two problems with this ongoing situation.  The first is that for all the supposed expert consulting he does, he rarely seems to convey that expert advice to those asking him for answers.  Rather than simply assuring us that he has consulted an expert, perhaps he could explain what advice he received from those experts, and how his government plans to act on that advice.

The other problem is that ‘asking the experts’ seems to have quickly become a convenient way to brush off any question and pass the buck.  As wonderful and valuable as this expert advice is, we didn’t elect those behind-the-scenes experts, we elected politicians.  We elected those politicians to interpret the advice of those experts, make a sound decision based on that advice, and then explain that decision to us.

Left unchecked, we’re quickly going to end up in a situation where passing the buck and pointing to ‘expert advice’ becomes an easy get outta jail card for politicians who don’t want to accept responsibility for their poor decisions.  This sudden propensity for shirking responsibility to other people and organizations is how we ended up leaving our borders open longer than we should have, telling people not to wear face masks, and giving teenagers $800 tickets for shooting hoops at an empty basketball court.

In some cases, our politician’s newfound enthusiasm for passing the buck leads them to forget where the aforementioned buck actually stops.

Like earlier this week when Ottawa mayor Jim Watson was asked by one of his constituents about reopening city parks.  As has become the new norm for mayors across Ontario, he was quick to pass the proverbial buck.

“The moment the province allows it we will open city parks,” wrote Watson in response to the question on Twitter.

The only problem with that explanation is that it wasn’t true.  As was pointed out to him in response, the provincial emergency order did not force the closure of city parks, that decision was made at city hall.  So in fact, Ottawa already had the authority to do the thing that Watson said he would do if only he had the authority to do so.

If we don’t start pushing back when politicians pass the buck, we’re going to end up in a place where political accountability only exists as a weird mobius strip of pointing to someone else and saying “ask that dude over there” and that doesn’t strike me as a healthy way for any government to operate.

If the only thing our elected officials are going to do is point somewhere else and not do any thinking for themselves, well then why bother to even have them?  After all, we’ve already got a creepy machine with a disembodied robo-hand that can point to stuff even better than humans.

Photo Credit: CBC News

More from James Culic.    @JamesCulic

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