Jane and I weren’t prepared for the sheer number of well wishes pouring in through various venues yesterday regarding my blog announcement that I wouldn’t be running again for politics at any level. To the hundreds of you – thank you.
I do feel ennobled by my stint in Parliament. Viewed as an MP that could work well with all members, I was fortunate enough to observe politicians of all stripes attempting to be functional under a thick and stubborn layer of designed partisanship. Ultimately, we never usually succeeded.
It’s important for those who read the post yesterday to appreciate that I am still a Liberal and that it was actually that affiliation that permitted me to act outside the normal box of Parliament. I am certain that I was infuriating for my own party leaders as I sought to develop common policy with the other parties, or when I blogged in defense of a Conservative, NDP, or Bloc member whom I felt had been misrepresented. There were many occasions where I refused assignments to take partisan jabs at government members. There were other instances where Liberals would witness me in the Opposition Lobby, deep in discussion with Jack Layton, Paul Dewar, and other NDP members, or when I held my frequent discussions with Nicole Demers, my favourite Bloc MP, and a true champion of women’s rights. Even more serious were those times when I would cross the floor during a break in proceedings and sit down next to a certain minister or backbench government MP to offer condolences over a death in the family or to discuss how we might work better on committee.
The point to all this is that not once in that entire time was I disciplined by my party for “fraternizing with the enemy.” It caused a certain squeamishness, to be sure, but the Liberal Party – MPs and staff – permitted me to play out my political life as I saw fit. Looking back on it now, I cannot thank enough all those in my party who believed in letting me approach things that way, even when they disagreed. To those many people who responded yesterday by saying I was a “man of honour,” or a person of integrity, please understand that such distinctions were only possible because my party protected my right to be that way. I witnessed other opposition members obtain a similar leniency at various times in my tenure.
Then there were the government members who sought me out in quiet. These were good Conservative people, with whom I obviously had some policy differences. They were trying to find a way back to decency and cooperation with Parliament. They asked about coming to Sudan, or assisting them in a certain charitable venture. I would ask them to assist me in policy on things we shared in common. I am not permitted even now to identify these solid Conservative members for threat of reprisal against them from the PMO. That fact saddens me because I respect them for their integrity. I miss them.
Until yesterday, that is, when a number of them came out of the partisan mist to offer sincere congratulations. Better yet, some stated that they wished I were still there in the Chamber. To those fine Conservatives I say thank you for taking the risk and for reminding me why Parliament still matters.
During my time in Ottawa, Parliament was largely dysfunctional. But it is not my belief that it will remain that way. There are good people from every party who simply can’t overcome a PMO that despises and seeks to destroy so many things – including the independence of their own members. Read Lawrence Martin’s article here to see what I mean. Believe me when I tell you that there were hundreds of efforts behind the scenes to cooperate among members of various stripes, but in a House where friendship and a desire for commonality is viewed as a sign of betrayal by the Prime Minister, it is almost impossible to pick up enough momentum to change the dynamic.
There will come a time when the present PM will move along and the war games will be pared down. Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, Bloc and Green alike will suddenly sense that the windows to the place have been opened. The bars on Sparks Street will again be filled with MPs of various stripes supping together. Committees will find compromise and a sense of personal responsibility and dignity will quietly take their seat in the Chamber.
That did not happen while I was there because the PMO could never permit it. But it had been there in the decades previous and if we can just keep from despoiling ourselves by the kind of partisan hypocrisy we now see south of the border, we can live to fight for the House of the People again. The next PM might be a leader of any party, including the Conservatives, but she or he will turn the partisan weapons into the ploughshares of respectful cooperation – at least as much as is possible in a political place. The people of Canada will demand it.
For that very reason, good folks from every community must run for office and take the better angels of nature with them. It just wasn’t for me; but it could be for you. To everything there is a time and a season. These days of recrimination will end soon enough and noble politicians can move into the Chamber once more, introducing a new time of political renaissance. It’s true, as Rihanna sings, that at present we are like lovers in a hopeless place. That will change when the present government leadership moves on and all parties can pursue together the best interests of their communities and the country, despite the differences. I didn’t quit politics because I lost hope; I left because my place is with my community. Don’t confuse the two. Be patient, hope, run for office, and prepare for the new Parliament when it finally emerges.
Next post – Right to Community