Those who know me, and the volume of daily messages I receive, may be surprised that I remember a single text from almost four years ago. But this was a message I’d been anxious about ever since I heard that Mira Oreck was considering a run in Vancouver Granville for the NDP in the 2015 federal election.
Mira wanted my support. She and I had worked together for years, sometimes sprinting through 18-hour days for weeks on end as we did in the 2008 municipal election. My commitment to get progressive women elected is well-demonstrated and, while I don’t often endorse candidates, I am a vocal supporter of my NDP MP, Don Davies. The challenge in Vancouver Granville was that Jody Wilson-Raybould had already declared her candidacy for the Liberal Party.
So, on a sunny day in spring 2015, I found myself taking a walk with Mira, her dog and an awful dilemma. She wanted my support but I didn’t know how to give it. There were practical barriers — Wilson-Raybould was months ahead in door-knocking and campaigning — as well as professional ones. I was worried that Mira’s community work would be damaged by taking on a likely future cabinet minister. Ultimately, however, I just strongly believed that the election of Wilson-Raybould would be a game-changer and I got into politics to change the game.
Mira made a strong case that regardless of the strength of Wilson-Raybould’s character and skills, the Liberal Party itself had irreconcilable policy contradictions and needed to be held to account. We parted that day without agreeing.
The results of the 2015 election are long-settled (Mira lost although she was the only NDP candidate in B.C. to increase support from 2011 “Orange Wave” levels) but it took until Wednesday this past week to settle our disagreement.
It turns out we were both right. This is the unshakeable problem for Canada right now: there is every reason to believe Wilson-Raybould and none at all to believe Trudeau. This credibility gap didn’t start last week or even emerge from the succession of heartbreaks caused by Trudeau’s abandoned promises on everything from respecting communities and international climate treaties, to taking action on electoral reform. It didn’t even start with our more distant disgust at prime ministerial scandals like Stephen Harper’s Duffy affair or Jean Chrétien’s sponsorship scandal.
No, the albatross around Trudeau’s neck is not a Liberal legacy or even a Canadian one but rather the echoes of the horrified gasps from denizens of western democracies when we got our first good look at modern political sausage-making through the Watergate scandal. The Watergate break-in, and the subsequent revelations of abuse of power in Richard Nixon’s White House, are well-recognized as the cliff that voting rates and democratic participation fell off. Not surprising: Watergate confirmed our worst fears about what happens when we give authority to the few to govern the many.
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Such authority was never intended to be unchecked. Yet, although committees, clerks and commissions to check power abound, they are populated by political appointees and the one thing every political party can agree on is that the process of policy-making — the craft of democracy — is best left to what has essentially become a guild of elected officials and professional advisors.
That Wilson-Raybould fought so hard to force cabinet to allow her to speak about the internal workings of the Liberal sausage factory is precisely what gives her so much credibility: her desire for light and oxygen on these issues echoes our own.
The fact that the defence from Trudeau, Finance Minister Bill Morneau and political staffers is, 'we did not break the law' illustrates how low this professional political class sets its bar. It’s a predictable response from a guild under threat, but this guild is the executive branch of the Government of Canada. Instead of aiming for the highest ethical standard, government is now only trying to avoid criminal action. We can do better.
Doing better, however, is not about walking away in disgust and I applaud Wilson-Raybould for sticking with it. I know there are thousands of people, many who are friends and past colleagues, who worked tirelessly to get this government elected. They deserve a lot better and, while I can’t guarantee that they will get it by sticking with the Liberals, I can guarantee that an exodus of principled, committed, grassroots members will make things worse. It’s the very dilemma I dreaded in counselling Mira not to run: not getting involved in democracy rarely, if ever, leads to better outcomes.
If Wilson-Raybould’s courageous testimony is a call to action for those already on the field, it’s a sonic boom for those on the sidelines. You get the democracy you deserve and Wilson-Raybould has shown us how much difference one person can make in determining the quality of a government. Imagine what could happen if we all showed up.
Andrea Reimer was elected for four terms to municipal government in Vancouver and is currently a Loeb Fellow in urban policy and civic leadership at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.
"an exodus of principled.
"an exodus of principled. committed, grassroots members will make things worse" ? Well for whom? The Liberals? On the contrary I think those dedicated members need to be cognizant of what wolf they are feeding and switch they allegiance accordingly. IMO feeding the Liberal wolf or feeding the Con. wolf is equally misguided and dangerous. The NDP wolf? questionable. I'd heartily feed the Green wolf.
For the last thirty years I
For the last thirty years I have observed that the greatest rage is hurled on those who fight for justice first instead of power. We in our comfortable pews applaud the powerful by falling silent for the sake of maintaining the status quo.
Andrea, yours is the
Andrea, yours is the perspective of a very experienced, and successful political strategist. People working every day within the political wrealm, understand the power of the individual, in influencing outcomes in the collective. I read this commentary as being reflective of that.
There is a scene in the animated movie The Lion King when the dark reign of the male lion Scar ends and the light returns to the world. The sunshines as the golden hue returns to the kindom under Mufasa’s boy child now a man Simba.
Those of us who admire and respect the legacy of PET, and even of Jean Chretien understand that governing a liberal democracy is not easy under the
threat of that return to darkness.
We would all do well to kept that in mind when judging this Liberal government, and in the JWR testimony, to understand that there is still far more about these circumstances yet to be revealed.
The most important aspect of this brouhaha is the Quebec vote. I could go on at length about how aspects of the mainstream media driven narrative skew public perception. Suffice to say that, in my opinion you couldn’t write a better strategy to help with Rachel’s reelection in AB, hold SNCL accountable at a far higher level than pardoning them could have, and assuaging voter outrage in Quebec sufficient to win the number of seats required to hold onto their majority in The House.
What if this was Gerald Butts’ greatest strategy coup?
You can be sure strategists in the CPC war room are asking this same question. If it was, and he really ought to have thought of it if not, then it is the perfect end to a brilliant career in the PMO, and transition into the private sector as a strategy analyst.
We must return the LPC to government with a Majority...anything else would serve to usher in the darkness again.
Thank-you for sharing your
Thank-you for sharing your thoughts. I appreciated your insight into the larger picture rather than get lost into incomprehensible details.
Was Butts under oath when he made his presentation the the Justice Committee? There seems very little attention given to the fact the the Justice Committee is stacked with Liberals. It is a very partisan committee