A great man once said, "Politics is inherently stupid." That great man was me.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Prime Minister Takes Flak for Missing HIV Conference

The Prime Minister didn't show up to the International AIDS conference this weekend, offending organizers so much that they publicly spoke out against him in retaliation:

The best guess among organizers here is that Harper declined the invitation because he doesn’t want to be booed for his opposition to same-sex marriage.

“Same-sex marriage is a side show,” Wainberg said. “Mr. Harper knows full well that internationally this is a heterosexual disease. And so what if people boo him? If you want to be prime minister you have to be prime minister for all Canadians. (Former Prime Minister) Brian Mulroney knew that when he went to the international AIDS conference in Montreal in 1989 he would be booed. He was and he took it. He understood that the prime minister has to show leadership to the world. Mr Harper should have done the same.”

Before I passed judgment on Dr. Wainberg's comments, I did some preliminary research on him. The reason I did this was twofold:
  • Find out about Dr. Wainberg.
  • Examine if he held any political views that might give him an ulterior motive for attacking Harper.
Now before you mock me for investigating the "angry-liberal" angle, you've got to keep in mind that nothing is said in a bubble. You've got to dig deep.

I've got to say, I'm impressed with Dr. Wainberg's credentials. He's authored and co-authored an enormous list of journal articles on HIV and AIDS, and has contributed articles to the Globe and Mail. In addition, he was the head of the International Aids Society for two years and was inducted into the Order of Canada (presumably for his work on HIV). In addition, he has been extremely vocal in his criticism of HIV dissidents. I consider Dr. Wainberg's support of public health initiatives to combat AIDS to be quite laudable.

I couldn't find anything to suggest Dr. Wainberg had anything against Harper. So in light of the evidence, I have to go with my initial gut feeling on the matter at hand. He seems to be a man who is genuinely upset at the Prime Minister for supposedly making light of an issue Wainberg feels so strongly about. I don't blame him for his reaction. I do, however, think he's wrong.

One of the things people don't understand about politics is the busy schedule legislators must follow. Last summer I worked in a student position as a constituency assistant for a local MP. Believe me, it was a learning experience. The truth is, everyone wants face time with their MP. They might want to discuss something frivolous; they might want to discuss something of paramount importance. Regardless, everyone wants a piece of the pie, and somehow your local MP has to fit each person in. People can and will get upset when the meeting isn't on their own timetable. That's no one's fault - it's just the way it is.

I don't have a sweet clue what the Prime Minister's itinerary for this weekend was. All I know it involved a trip up north to announce protection for our sovereignty over the Canadian Arctic. Beyond that? Hell, he could have been eating ice cream and knocking back a beer on his front porch. But the more likely scenario was that he was busy running the country.

I'd be behind Dr. Wainberg in criticizing the Prime Minister for missing this conference, but I can't for a few simple reasons. One, both Bill Gates and Bill Clinton aren't spending the majority of their time running Microsoft or the United States anymore, so it makes no sense to criticize a world leader for missing an AIDS conference when he has an entire country to run (in the midst of an international crisis no less). Secondly, it makes no sense for Dr. Wainberg to criticize Harper for not showing up when, according to the Conference's own Speaker List (PDF file, see end of page 3), he sent someone more appropriate to attend. Someone like, oh, Tony Clement. You know - The Minister of Health. In light of the fact that Clement belongs to the Conservative Party, the "same-sex marriage" argument doesn't hold water. Hell, it doesn't hold anything. I also have no doubt that Clement is going to give Harper a full briefing on the conference. So why is Wainberg so upset?

This whole brouhaha is much ado about nothing. Dr. Wainberg likely doesn't understand the scheduling restrictions faced by the PM. On the other hand, in light of the fact that Tony Clement attended, Wainberg's arguments don't make much sense. My opinion? Since I've got no proof that he has a beef with Harper (although he might for all I know), he's probably just a well-intentioned man who believes in his cause and feels slighted by Harper.

And that's my two cents.
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