01 November 2016

Building higher walls #nlpoli

A new government security policy does everything short of banning people from Confederation Building altogether.  Visitors to the main government building in St. John's now have to enter through a single entrance in the basement of the building at the back.  There's no parking available and the whole thing is so congested that on busy days people will have to line up out through the door into the parking lot to get into the building.

The real reason for the change is budgetary.  The politicians can save a few bucks by cutting off public access to the Confederation Building through one or two doors. Tight behind that as a reason for the new policy was a poop-in-the-shorts over-reaction to the recent protests.

So out-to-lunch are the folks behind this scheme that they forced toddlers from the staff daycare to make the trek outdoors to the entrance on the other side of the building when they tried to go on a parade through the building to show off their Hallowe'en costumes on Monday.

Just to show you how crazy the Poopy-Pants Brigade are about this security stuff,  take a look at the hastily scribbled sketch at the right. Confederation Building day care is located behind the East Block in a space that used to be occupied by the roads testing crowd from motor vehicle licencing.

To get in the main building,  the kids have been traipsing for years along the short route to where the X is.  This year the urchins had to take the other red line around to the only way visitors are now allowed in the building.

Mind you, the official reason for the policy is - as James McLeod reported in the Telegram on Saturday - concern about the safety of our politicians.  "Multiple sources also indicated that government MHAs have recently been receiving death threats,"  McLeod wrote.
"The number of threats that are coming in to MHAs is really, really ramping up. There is a significant risk threat,” one source said.
And, at that point,  you should smell a rat.

If someone wanted to speak to Paul Lane, for argument sake, they'd be better off staking out a church basement in his district that going to Confederation Building.   The portly politico likes to tweet and facebook about the latest church breakfast, lunch, or dinner he's enjoyed. He apparently gets to chow down a fair bit.  You'd nab others at the golf course,  or,  for the likes of Steve Kent or the Premier,  you'd be better of staking out the airport for flights to Florida than heading to The Hill.

Most politicians don't spend very much time in the Confederation Building or the House of Assembly. The legislature sits for fewer days than any in the rest of the country.  And when the House isn't sitting the politicians are back in their districts.

Logically,  if you were worried that someone wanted to do harm to Tracy Perry or Gerry Rogers or even a cabinet minister, Confederation Building is not the spot to find them. Cabinet ministers from outside St. John's typically spend as little time in town these days as they can.

Logically, then, if the folks in Confederation Building are concerned there are credible threats against the province's politicians,  we are going to see all sorts of construction at MHAs offices in their constituencies and at their homes. There'll be a growth industry in bulletproof glass, security locks and steel doors. The fact that all that sort of  construction isn't going on is a good clue that threats against politicians has nothing to do with this policy.

Another good clue as to what the changes aren't about is the measures themselves.  You see, even by trying to channel visitors through a single door,  the security folks at Confederation Building haven't changed the actual threat to the people inside... if there really is one.  Unarmed, untrained,  and in many cases, physically unfit fellows in a uniform can't deter a determined individual even like the guy who managed to get into the Centre Block in Ottawa.

He was one lone nutbar with a shotgun. The guy got into the building and proceeded quite far down the main corridor before being killed by armed police and armed security officers.  In other words folks light years out beyond the well-meaning but ineffective guys at Confederation Building couldn't stop a fellow with a shotgun bent on mayhem.

The problem with putting meaningful security at Confederation Building is that it would take time, planning, and money. Making it as difficult as possible for ordinary folks to go to the House of Assembly or to view the Book of Remembrance is the way bureaucrats and politicians make it look like they are doing something without accomplishing anything of value.

They will all feel very self- important, though. The relatively value of a politician is apparently measured in how many tedious hoops you have to jump through to get within range of their Old Spice. The level of security at Confederation Building is just as high as in the American Capitol [ - or in Ottawa - or in Toronto - ],  they will say.  The implication is that they, representing the district of Arsehole Cove-Cape Despair, are as important as the mighty Americans.   Nothing could be further from the truth, but that will not deter the politicians from believing it.

The officials behind these moves will always point to some reason why the barricades are not merely necessary but crucial. The best one in this is the level of security at federal buildings in town.  They never notice that those security levels are determined nationally based on risk factors that, in all likelihood, don't apply here.  And even if they applied to the federal office in Sin Jawns, odds are they likely don't apply at all to the provincial government since it would have a very different threat profile and risk assessment.

Just because the politicians and bureaucrats say there is a security or risk analysis supporting their decision doesn't mean there is one or that, if there is an assessment, that it is valid. Government bureaucrats typically use external consultants to justify a decision,  not to decide based on evidence. Incidentally, that's another reason this whole business of evidence-based decision-making is proposed either by cynics - in which case it is dishonest - or by the hopelessly naive - in which case they are dangerous.

If the barricades don't really improve security, what they accomplish in spades is to make it harder and harder and harder for ordinary people to participate in our political system except by voting once in a blue moon. These measures will make it almost impossible to go to the House of Assembly, to visit a politician in his or her office, to honour our war dead, or visit a government office and speak to some real person and get a real solution to a real problem. Alone, either of those reasons might not seem like much, but coupled with the way politics has been going for the past decade and the prospect of improving our democracy doesn't look any better now than it did a year ago. Things don't get better for democracy when politicians build higher walls between themselves and voters.