Les Leyne: De Jong finds life better without email

Les Leyne mugshot genericThe shaming of Finance Minister Mike de Jong for not using email must stop.

He’s actually far better off without it. If he sticks to his principles about ignoring technological advances through this brief period of humiliation and derision, he’ll come out ahead. De Jong could emerge as a trend-setter: a modern man who renounces connectivity. He could become the style icon for a new retro movement where people sit down and write letters back and forth, or talk to each other. On party lines.

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He was outed as a non-email user when his ministry responded to an information request demanding to see some of his emails. The response was: “The minister does not participate in email.” Consternation and alarm broke out in the twittersphere. (De Jong actually has a Twitter account. But it’s one of the bogus political ones operated by staff.)

“What’s he trying to hide?” was the general theme. But it’s more than just an unusual quirk in his nature, that he doesn’t like instantaneous written communication that intrudes on your life at all hours of the day and night. Everybody but him uses it.

But good luck trying to find anyone who thinks email has lived up to the potential it had when it was a miraculous technological breakthrough 20-plus years ago. Mostly it turned out to be a chore that eats up too much of the day.

Politically, he’s on much safer ground without email. The vast bulk of the multimillion-dollar freedom of information enterprise is devoted to unearthing embarrassing emails. Opting out means he has one less thing to worry about there.

You know someone in public life who relies heavily on emails? Hillary Clinton. She ran much of her secretary-of-state career through a private email account and it got her nothing but FBI investigations, committee hearings and widespread suspicion. Especially when she deleted 30,000 of them.

Locally, Energy Minister Bill Bennett used to make scandalous headlines via email eruptions.

De Jong is also behind the times on mobile technology, operating in 2016 without a smartphone.

But somewhere around the time the last 12-year-old in the country got a smartphone, they lost their cachet. It’s much more sophisticated now not to have one. Cabinet ministers have a half-dozen staff working directly for them in their offices. Any one of them can carry a phone around on behalf of the minister. It makes the minister that much more important.

If you want to exude power, just tell someone: “I don’t carry a phone. I have people for that.”

He was asked about the email issue this week by reporters and more than confirmed that he doesn’t use it.

“I think people send you ... there’s a site or something, there’s a site that people send stuff to. But I don’t see it. Unless they print it off. Then I see it.”

“How does it feel to be the last holdout?”

“Liberated.”

The downside is that he often carries around enormous binders of documents in the hallway. But he has people for that, as well.

He recalled former premier Gordon Campbell urging all ministers to get with it and get online years ago. He tried it, but found he was inundated with “crap.” So he quit.

“There’s also this expectation of an instantaneous reply. If it’s a really important issue, it generally needs a thoughtful reply, not an instantaneous one.”

De Jong also took some hits this week for his similarly old-fashioned attitude toward personal transportation. NDP house leader Mike Farnworth was stressing the importance of automobile sales to B.C. in the legislature and said some members don’t get that. Like de Jong, for one. He drives a 1991 Mazda Miata, and Farnworth advised him it’s time to come into the 21st century, for the good of the economy.

But de Jong has solid historical grounds for sticking with a beater. There was a well-known politician who drove around in snazzy late-model cars. His name was Ted Kennedy, and look what happened to him.

De Jong fired back at Farnworth Wednesday.

“I draw the line at my horse. If he starts criticizing my horse, I’m coming after him.”

lleyne@timescolonist.com

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