Under Attack, Our Leadership Failed Us
Yesterday morning at 9:52, a lone gunman fatally shot Cpl. Nathan Cirillo as he was standing to post at the National War Memorial. Three blocks away, my wife Maggie had just left her office to make a presentation in a building across the street from Parliament Hill. As she took the elevator she, along with tens of thousands of other civil servants, had no idea what was about to be unleashed.
After shooting Mr. Cirillo the gunman, now identified as Michael Zehaf Bibeau, left the memorial to drive the short distance to Parliament Hill. He abandoned his car in a no parking zone on Wellington St. directly in front of the Parliament Buildings. Carrying a rifle, he walked from his car onto Parliament Hill where he commandeered a car and drove to the centre block of the Parliament Buildings. Pursued bu the RCMP entered the building walking through the rotunda where he started shooting as he worked his way toward the Parliamentary library. A few moments later, he was dead, shot by Parliament’s Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers who met his responsibility to protect the institution and its members.
It was during the shooting that the Canadian government in Ottawa, as well as much of the downtown core, went into lockdown and like countless others, I lost contact with my wife, her daughter and a dozen other members of our family.
There was no information available from our government about their security. Like everyone else, I was left with nothing but ongoing media coverage, often scant at times, to try to get some reassurance that Maggie and family members were and would continue to be safe.
Today, on the day after, many questions about security need, and have already begun, to be asked but the most obvious question to me is glaring.
Where was our political leadership yesterday?
While government employees were concerned for their security; while their families worried about the safety of their wives, husbands, daughters and sons; as the Prime Minister’s own office staff hid under their desks, the Prime Minister of Canada remained silent after allowing his personal security detail to whisk him to safety.
There was as deafening a silence from Canada’s Public Safety Minister, the Honourable Steven Blaney, the man to whom the same RCMP risking their lives on Parliament Hill report. Likewise the Minister of National Defense, the Honourable Rob Nicholson had nothing to say even though it was a member of the military reserve who was shot and killed. Their lack of leadership tarnishes the very meaning of the word honourable.
Nobody expects government to be able to absolutely prevent every possible threat from occurring but it is beyond reasonable to expect that the people responsible for this country’s national security should be standing publicly to provide reassurance to Canadians and showing confidence and determination to our enemies.
That is not what happened.
As Parliamentary day care providers worked to keep the children in their care calm and safe; the government was silent. Stephen Harper was evacuated to safety immediately after the attack began – children were left on Parliament Hill during the entire ten hour crisis.
The only communication provided to Canadians by their government during the entire day came in the form of a standard situational statement from Jason MacDonald in the PMO and later from Jason Kenney who tweeted that Cpl. Cirillo had died from his wound.
That was it. That is all the leadership provided to anxious Canadians by Stephen Harper’s government: a brief statement from his Chief of Staff and a tweet from a cabinet minister.
It wasn’t until four hours had passed; almost two full hours after the American government had addressed its people on the Canadian attack, that law enforcement officials held a press conference. It offered little information and less reassurance to an apprehensive and anxious city. It was just one more exercise in banal politically careful talking points.
The Prime Minister of Canada did not address the nation until after 8:00 pm later in the day. It is the first time in his eight years as Prime Minister that Stephen Harper has addressed Canadians outside of press conferences, interviews and election speeches. He was ten hours late and more than a dollar short.
This is what the Harper government and its supporters call leadership. It is a government that was nowhere to be found when Canadians needed it to demonstrate it was in control, unafraid and that public safety would and was being maintained. Instead we were provided conflicting reports in the media and no information from the Prime Minister and his key cabinet ministers.
Appearing before the cameras to condemn the attack and to announce that you are committed to keeping Canada safe, long after the attacker has been killed and the crisis ended, is the worst kind of political redundancy and failed leadership. It left many believing that the government was more focused on waiting to get the messaging right than it was on providing leadership in a time of national crisis.
It is more than just a little reminiscent of the invisible leadership provided to Americans by the Obama administration while the American mission in Benghazi was under attack for nine hours.
Even though nobody knew the full extent of what might be happening or who might be at risk, Kathleen Wynne, the Liberal Premier of Ontario, who is much-hated by conservatives, showed more leadership. She united her legislature by reaching out to get the agreement of the opposition parties to conduct business as usual.
“I have spoken with the leaders of the Opposition parties, our belief is that people who are using violence to undermine democracy want us to be silenced. And we refuse to be silenced,” – Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne
It is the kind of public statement one would have hoped to hear from Canada’s Prime Minister as the chaotic events unfolded.
I am anything but a fan of Wynne but I respect her for the action she took with her colleagues in the other parties. The united Ontario legislature, sought to demonstrate with action during the uncertainty and confusion of the situation, the words that Stephen Harper delivered by rote after the fact.
Almost immediately, partisan conservative trolls attacked Wynne for taking the stand she took while others engaged in Islam-bashing and a few used the crisis as an opportunity to criticize Justin Trudeau who had nothing to do with what happened yesterday. Is this really the best that the Harper government and its most slavish supporters have to offer Canada? Is this really what they believe will make Canada a better, a stronger and a safer nation?
This government was not prepared. It cut budgets for national security, the RCMP and public safety in order to bring in a budget surplus that would allow it to hand out goodies to voters before the next election. It is a government that having slashed defense spending nonetheless sent Canadians to war. It is a government that had ample warning of a potential terrorist threat and that had raised the threat level earlier this week.
How is it possible for someone who considers himself a world leader to refuse to be visible with demonstrated confidence and resolve in the face of such situation? One can’t imagine Winston Churchill or Margaret Thatcher or even Brian Mulroney being invisible and silent as their nations fell under attack.
Stephen Harper loves to use the phrase: “we stand with….” and he used it again last night. They are hollow, empty words, written for him by a speech writer. When he was called on to stand with his colleagues in Parliament, the civil servants who serve his government and even his own staff, Stephen Harper was nowhere to be found.
Silent. Invisible – a leader unwilling to do what leadership demands.
First responders showed great courage and determination, putting the safety of others ahead of their own. Ottawa citizens rushed to provide CPR and what assistance they could to Cpl. Cirillo as he lay on the ground and across the city civil servants and countless other citizens tried to do whatever they could to get information out to loved ones that they were safe. People in lockdown helped each other in countless small ways and worked together as they reached out to reassure others that the situation would be safely resolved.
Canadians from all walks of life, all political ideologies, religions and cultures, with the exception of their Prime Minister and his key Cabinet Ministers stood in solidarity yesterday. The political leadership that presents itself as fearless, tireless leaders refused to lead.
Ultimately, the buck stops on the Prime Minister’s desk. It is his responsibility to ensure that every part of our security establishment is properly funded, staffed and equipped to maintain public safety and it is the Prime Minister who is accountable when the government fails to meet these responsibilities . It falls to the Prime Minister to visibly lead when the nation is threatened but as his ‘fellow Canadians’ scrambled, he was missing in action.
When we were attacked yesterday, we didn’t get leadership; we didn’t even get courageous words like those being thrown around today. We got nothing but silence from Canada’s government until after the crisis had passed.
Canada deserves better than it got from Stephen Harper and his government yesterday. Canada must have better to remain safe, to remain secure and above all else, to remain a free and vibrant democracy.
© 2014 Maggie’s Bear
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