Friday, May 20, 2005

A Missed Opportunity?

[Editor's note: The following is a guest post from Ahab-beat reporter Blair Stransky.]

The buzz was unforgettable.

Inside Parliament, it seemed like any other day until you reached the Chamber. Hordes of people were present for what many were calling the social event of the season. Well known parliamentary reporters including Paul Wells, Lawrence Martin, Paul Hunter, John Ibbitson, Jane Taber, Tom Murphy (and the list goes on) crowded the press seats while hundreds of Canadians dotted both ends of the room where history would unfold. Many had come from far and wide, driving hundreds of kilometers in some cases just to gain a glimpse at the most memorable vote in the last quarter century. Hands were waving rampantly - MPs and audience members alike eager to exchange eye contact if only to remember for each other that they were there when the vote went down.

It would most certainly have been to the general public's amazement to witness the atmosphere that late afternoon. While the place was teeming with excitement, there was no knife-cutting tension, only a group of men and women from across the country on a path towards what appeared to be a done deal. This was evident in the comraderie between both sides of the House so often not covered by the press, as though letting Canadians in on the secret, that things change when the cameras go on, would be such a disaster. Pierre Pettigrew was leaned up against one desk talking away with Tory James Moore, the Prime Minister telling a few jokes to the NDP while Monte Sohlberg sat in his chair, shooting the breeze with Anne McLellan. But no sooner had the place gone on-air then each side had retreated to their respective chairs, ready to continue with the act that they hated each other's guts.

Beyond this, what I think many seem to forget is that Canadians have enjoyed some of the most vivacious days of democracy over the past month than they have in the past 25 years. When but now would gallery seats be "sold out" while millions trained their eyes on the long thought forgotten institution - Parliament. Oh, but it's a dirty place they say, with personal slights causing dastardly blights on what many have called a "dictatorial" system. Goodness knows, we wouldn't want our Parliament to be, like in the past, the focus of our country, where our hopes and dreams are born out of vibrant debate. While Question Period contains some disrespectful jibes due to the rust of apathy, are Canadians so lost to the days of great parliamentary contests that they can't see, or enjoy, a reinvigorated Commons?

Last night saw the will of the people carried. While some call the Liberals' deal with the NDP a "pact with the devil", I call it the result of a pluralist system which relies on the act of compromise rather than hardened principles to get things done. And when it all comes down to one man's vote, perhaps all the better.

Nevertheless, the $4.6 billion amendment to the budget did lack one thing - vision.

Chuck Cadman's vote encapsulated not only the wishes of his B.C. constituency, but the desires of the nation. Many breathed a sigh of relief that there would not be a vote this spring or likely one this summer. But, like the cameras that did not show the MPs' good will, or the Canadians who have not yet understood what a vibrant Parliament could mean to their country, Mr. Cadman's decision to vote only on behalf of his 107,000 constituents, rather than on behalf of his fellow countrymen, represents a missed opportunity in Canadian history.

As the NDP members started chanting the song "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands" to Chuck Cadman just minutes before the vote, I was reminded of another minority Liberal government that needed the help of two independent MPs. In 1926, J.S. Woodsworth and A.A. Heaps, two Labour Party MPs from Winnipeg, agreed to vote with Mackenzie King in exchange for the introduction of the Old Age Pension Plan, what many historians have labeled the "cornerstone of Canada's social security system". And so while some might say the real balance of power rested with the NDP and their $4.6 billion cash infusion, I believe that no new great vision was born out of yesterday. What a shame. These situations only come along once in a generation. I hope the next Mr. Cadman uses it more wisely.

Hence, we are left to watch and hope as other dreams hopefully come to fruition. Unlike my friend, James MacDuff, I've got my money on initiatives such as childcare and cities. Nevertheless, it is disappointing that our Mr. Cadman isn't a Mr. Woodsworth, or a Mr. Douglas, or a Mr. Trudeau. There is no doubt, that in this day and age, we could always use a little more vision.


Blogger James MacDuff said...

You have to love the patented BNS enthusiasm for Parliament, and I agree completely on the hope for a broader vision.

His post does contain that one glaring omission, though... after all, this night of drama in Parliament was actually sealed in a backroom deal with the sale of a cabinet post.

I'd put my money on childcare and cities as well, please don't misunderstand. But I'm still left wondering whether the underlying accountability/democratic reforms [that will MAKE the House relevant again] are ever going to get more than a token airing if we go forward on this track. And those are critically important too.

2:00 PM  

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