As I approached the age of consent, to vote, in the 1960s a few interesting names were on the national political stage: Robert Stanfield, David Lewis, Tommy Douglas, John Diefenbaker, Lester B. Pearson, and Pierre Elliott Trudeau. They were all familiar political names that left an impression on me.
While they were taking care of the nation’s political business, the “old school” politicians as some people refer to them—on either side of the political House—conducted business with civility. There was hardly any of the nastiness that we’ve become accustomed to in today’s “new school” political business.
So as we close in on the end of this sometimes rabid and extended 2015 federal election campaign something struck me: politics is not what it used to be. I call it extreme politics.
I’ve never embraced—and never will—Conservative politics, but always liked one of the Tory leaders of the 60s Robert Stanfield. He was a good man, always civil, never had a bad thing to say about his political adversaries. Some people still describe him as “a man of great warmth and humility…” To me he was the Jimmy Carter of Canadian politics. A nice, trustworthy, good politician who, despite his political stripes, truly had average Canadians’ interests at heart. Maybe that’s why he never won a national election.
In the history of the Canadian political discourse, Mr. Stanfield is still described as “the best Prime Minister Canada never had.”
None other than former Finance Minister and Prime Minister Paul Martin once said, “Throughout his career, Robert Stanfield stood tall on the strength of his conviction and integrity and worked tirelessly and sincerely to improve the circumstance of his fellow citizens…”
He continued, “I, like other Canadians, fondly remember Mr. Stanfield’s great warmth, humility and compassionate nature, but also his intellect and humour.”
Most importantly, in observing the man, Mr. Stanfield wasn’t a self-serving politician (a preponderance of which we have today dominating the political landscape). As the saying goes, “In the game for the money.” Why should he? He was born into a thriving textile [family] business, Stanfield Underwear, in Nova Scotia.
Another politician who impressed me was David Lewis (he was the progenitor of another good man and humanitarian, and former politician, Steven Lewis).
On-line descriptions of David Lewis include Socialist politician (he was steeped in Canadian politics), labour lawyer, university professor, and more.
Some of the things I learned in Canadian history included the founding (in Calgary, Alberta in 1932) and history of the CO-OPERATIVE COMMONWEALTH FEDERATION (CCF) Party, a precursor to the NDP of which David Lewis was one of the architects.
Lewis, quote, “became one of Parliament’s most devastating debaters.” Especially with respect to what was labeled “corporate welfare bums,” as he raised political hell in Parliament for corporations to pay their fair share of [Canada’s] taxes.
What I refer to as his social philosophy and ideology emerged from the suffering Tommy Douglas witnessed following his ordination as a Baptist minister in Saskatchewan, and the social disparities and suffering he observed, as economic depression and drought repressed residents of the prairie province.
The Baptist minister and politician who led the first socialist government elected in Canada, and was the first leader of the New Democratic Party, was recognized as the father of socialized medicine. In later years he assumed the moniker “The Father of Medicare.”
However, in ensuing years that kind of medicine has gradually become unaffordable and unattainable to most Canadians. But it is readily available, contingent on one’s financial means.
Tommy Douglas is probably spinning, not resting in his grave; good affordable health care is gradually dying… a slow death as it were, taking thousands of Canadians on the journey.
Tommy Douglas, the old bulldog would be mad as hell (not ashamed if he could see the state of “socialized medicine.”
In addition to being steeped in Christian ethics, Tommy Douglas, based on his experience of the Great Depression, saw political action as a necessary means to alleviate the suffering he saw around him.
Once he entered federal politics, Tommy Douglas was instrumental in the institution of other programs such as a Canada-wide pension plan, and bargaining rights for civil servants.
Conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker must be credited for appointing the first female minister in Canadian history to his Cabinet, as well as the first aboriginal member of the Senate. Kudos to him for seeing that Canada was not just populated by men, and that there was a large community of marginalized peoples whom his “old stock” met when they landed on Canadian soil.
His government must also be credited for passing the Canadian Bill of Rights and “granting the vote to the First Nations and Inuit peoples.” Also, in foreign policy, his stance against apartheid helped secure the departure of South Africa from the Commonwealth of Nations is laudable. He went against the grain of many sons and daughters of colonialism, who still perceived natives—across the world as inferior.
For doing the right things, his Conservative ideology notwithstanding, tells me that some of them (Conservatives) have the capacity to be as affable and all-around good people like Robert Stanfield.
Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson was a diplomat and instrumental in making the name Canada popular on the international stage (compared to today’s Canada and its role in global affairs that was a millennia ago, before other political party and national leaders, like our present one, wanted Canadians to stop waving love and peace flags and don military fatigues and tote guns).
Lester B. Pearson and Canada were internationally popular for helping nations to seek peaceful solutions to potential conflict before they happened, or help nations to resolve them. For his (let’s say pacifist efforts), Lester B. Pearson, quote, “prominent as a mediator in international disputes” was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1957, specifically for his efforts to solve the Suez crisis of 1956.
With its 21st century posturing to position itself as a quasi-military power on the geopolitical stage in the world’s seemingly unsolvable conflicts, Canada’s reputation has been tarnished, especially with the help of the present national government, which is on the precipice of what many are hoping will be its just Conservative political desserts…
Here’s an example of his [peace-oriented] service to Canada: headed the Canadian delegation at the United Nations, represented Canada at the founding of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949, in 1951 he was chairman of that organization, [his government] introduced a national pension plan and a family assistance program, broadened old-age security benefits, and laid the groundwork for the National Free Medical Service… Today’s governments—nationally and provincially—are “cutting…”
And then came another impressionable and influential Canadian political man and former Prime Minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau. The polarizing Canadian political icon was responsible for a few things: the Official Languages Act, enactment of the War Measures Act (during the FLQ-October Crisis) in 1970, creation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, [independence from Britain with] the signing of the Constitution Act, first PM in Canadian history to appoint women to key political positions: Speaker of the Senate, Speaker of the House of Commons and Governor General…
So where have all the good politicians gone, the ones who truly saw politics as a “calling” to genuinely help people, and not as a career (paying six-figure salaries, good pensions, etc.), a way to “get elected and stay elected” as long as they could command an audience. That breed of politician is extinct.
So, if you don’t like the Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper wrested from the Liberals and has been lording over for close to a decade, and where the country has gone since, when you walk into that voting venue next Monday, remember what he once stated at a press conference: once he’s finished [Conservatizing] Canada we won’t recognize it.
He lived up to his word.
So, for whatever your vote is worth, where will you mark your X?