The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

A Government Eating Its Young

The following is a piece I penned for the Huffington Post, laying out the sad story of how one government MP, for a brief moment, attempted to hold politics to a new standard and ultimately was felled by the old political structure itself.

Seriously, what else did we expect? Like some kind of flash of alternate reality, newly-minted Conservative MP David Wilks stood up for a brief moment to the oppressive politics of the day and informed his constituents he would vote against Bill C-38 — Stephen Harper’s omnibus bill that will wipe out decades of progress and some important Canadian history along with it.

But David Wilks is merely a caricature of everything that is wrong with federal politics at present. His attempt to live out Mr. Smith Goes To Washington in real life only launched political cynicism to new heights in Canada as a result of his reversal. Brave, wonderfully naïve, even humble, he eventually ended his remarkable escapade with eleven watery words: “I look forward to supporting the bill and seeing it passed.”

Welcome to Canadian politics 101 — “Never oppose the chief.” For a former RCMP officer and mayor who had served with distinction this must have been one of the most humiliating moments of Wilks’ life, and he had only just begun.

Wilks was correct concerning this bill, on so many fronts. It was like Harry Potter’s transparent cloak attempting to hide reforms that were never part of the last election and which refused to permit opposition parties to undertake due diligence on its rather draconian measures.

Stephen Harper and his cabinet know a thing or two about Canadian voters, and that is that they sleep through elections. Bill C-38, an omnibus bill of rather major proportions, would sail through Parliament simply because the majority government wished it so. The PM had stated not all that long ago that he would alter the face of Canada — Bill C-38 was his change-agent of choice.

So it was kind of refreshing to see a young, green member of Parliament actually stand up against his party’s own bill, stating in the process that he was only voicing what his constituents had told him. It’s been a long time since we’ve witnessed something like this from the Conservatives, and we stopped to watch. But Wilks was a mere comet in the heavens about to burn himself out, not by his own energetic efforts but by caving in to the most oppressive political force in Canada: the Prime Minister’s Office.

Let’s be clear: he didn’t have a chance. It’s hard to imagine the massive pressure that ensued from the party leadership once his intentions were made known. The Prime Minister wouldn’t need to involve himself in the clampdown, instead leaving it to his professionals to do it. It’s easy to imagine the rationale. “If you want to get anywhere in this party — your committee of choice, perhaps even a ministry eventually — then cease and desist immediately.” In many ways Wilks is not to be blamed. It would have ruined his political career for good. In fact the party would have pulled his nomination and he would never have run for the Conservatives again.

The story of Wilks is already being forgotten by a sleepy citizenry — just as the PM might have suspected. In affirming that this is all that Canadians expect from politics, the Harper government merely moves on in its deconstruction of Canada — hiding behind an omnibus bill and the shooting of one of its own. But for one brief moment a slanting ray of light broke through the clouds. Sadly, in the end, it was Icarus flying too close to the sun and tumbling down in a fiery conclusion.

Vaclav Havel knew a thing or two about morality in politics:

“Genuine politics — even politics worthy of the name — the only politics I am willing to devote myself to — is simply a matter of serving those around us: serving the community and serving those who will come after us. Its deepest roots are moral because it is a responsibility expressed through action, to and for the whole.”

David Wilks tried to be true to that principle for the sake of his constituents, but in his withdrawal he proved once again that in modern Canada the PM, not the citizen voter, is the ultimate arbitrator of all things Canadian.

It is this kind of arrogance that will eventually turn the country against this kind of politics. The shooting of your own naïve young star is particularly abhorrent to a nation used to being treated better by its overseers. If you eat your young, what will you do with the rest of the country? Thanks to Bill C-38, we’re about to find out.

The Long Road Home

Of all our numerous undertakings, our work in Sudan over the last 15 years has stretched us the most. Something about attempting to function in what was then Africa’s largest country and in the continent’s longest running civil war helps you mature pretty quickly.

When we first journeyed to the region in order to fight slavery we were totally in over our heads – and we knew it. Moreover, we had CBC television and the London Free Press along with us for the duration and feeling a sense of responsibility for their protection when you’re trying to learn the situation yourself was a sobering exercise.

And yet it was life-altering. We had walked into history and we sensed it every minute. It had taken a long time for the world to wake up to the reality that was slavery in Sudan, but once it was “out there” Canadians reacted with alacrity and a far-ranging sense of compassion. Canadians are born for this kind of thing – not just because of our own history as the destination point for the Underground Railroad, but because Canada could boast of a long history in Africa and wonderful heritage of siding with the oppressed over lengthy periods of time.

That first journey was indeed remarkable – as were the umpteen follow-up trips to the region. We were cooperating not just with the southern Sudanese, but with the UN and other countries who were attempting to acquire data and fact-based evidence that slavery was not only a reality, but was in actuality a tool of war. Thanks to the London Police Department, who supplied us with fingerprint training and the tools to go along with it, we were able to provide that evidence in a way that proved conclusive. Moreover, Macleans magazine came with us twice, as did the London Free Press.

These were remarkable days that not only saw us enmeshed in the deep pains of human mortality but also the danger to our own safety. Yet despite all the worry of family and fellow citizens, their backing of our efforts was vibrant and consistent. This is the kind of community we live in and we were but extensions of their compassion and commitment to human justice.

We were there for the end of the war, the deconstruction of slavery, and the eventual peace that was to see south Sudan become the newest nation in the world just last year. Along the way we were able to free over 10,000 slaves, none of which were recaptured. We made thousands of friends, endured many failures, and ultimately shared in the Sudanese success. And, yes, first one, then three children ended up coming to Canada to live with us once their mother was shot attempting to escape slavery with her children in tow.

So many people ask us about those early years and it just seemed that the time was right to chronicle our efforts during a difficult time. And so we agreed that I would write a book if Jane would do the illustrations. What you’ll see in the video below is the final product. The book is available at Amazon.com here, but you can also get a copy from Jane and me if you’re in the London area.

The events recounted in the book are those of two average Canadians caught in exceptional circumstances. More important, we were backed by a community and a media that wanted the story told. In that telling, the world grew aware of a massive atrocity and their response brought the worst part of slavery to an end.

The entire thing was a human drama from beginning to end – just as the book recounts. Yet when we go back to Sudan every January we see these former slaves, now attending school, operating a micro-enterprise, enjoying the grandchildren, and yet still suffering deprivation. A few yet wear Canadian pins in their ears and the Canada flag flies proudly over the schools that have been constructed by the good people of Canada. Our biggest development challenge now is raising funds to build a secondary school for Darfur refugees. To see more of what we’re doing, check out www.casscanada.net.

The Long Road Home is a tale well worth the telling; perhaps you’ll find it worth reading. The cost of the book is next to nothing, but the blood lost in the telling and the many friends we lost along that journey make it priceless to us. This is just the kind of stuff Canada does, and a new nation has resulted that owes a tad of its new birth to the generosity of Canadians. We walked that path together and, indeed, it was a long road home.

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