For one, brief, shining, and yes, sad, moment last week there was genuine emotion in the House of Commons as Opposition MPs crossed the floor to offer heartfelt condolences to their Conservative colleagues on the loss of just-retired Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.
Flaherty, who passed away suddenly last Thursday at the age of 64, was widely admired as the man whose steady hand steered the Canadian economy through the perils of the global economic meltdown. That he did so by eschewing typical conservative principles, to which he generally adhered, and injecting money into the economy through the Economic Action Plan, is perhaps even more admirable.
There was genuine emotion in the House Thursday, and on Friday when a special session — simply to remember and talk about Flaherty — was held. Thomas Mulcair of the NDP actually choked up talking about him.
What I got from interview after interview is that Jim Flaherty was a nice guy. A really nice guy. A man who will be missed beyond politics.
I spoke to a young woman who worked as a staffer on Parliament Hill last year and now works for a federal political party — full disclosure: I’m related to her.
She told me that everyone was shocked and that there really was a genuine feeling that Canada had lost a very good person. But she also said that in the political world you get so caught up in partisan, party politics that the animosity you can start to feel for members of other, opposing parties can get a little out of hand. Flaherty’s unexpected death made her think, she said. They’re all just people. Most of them quite nice people.
Wouldn’t it be lovely if those sentiments shared in the House last week lasted? That they won’t is beyond doubt.
There was a similar, brief period of communal feeling after Jack Layton passed away in 2011. His inspiring last letter to Canadians touched many, including MPs. “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”
I’m sure many people, including those in politics, made a vow to themselves to be more loving, hopeful and optimistic. And probably many of them were — in their personal lives. But when it comes to politics, it’s pretty hard to follow those principles, chiefly because the people who choose politics as a career are passionate about what they do, and passionately sure that their philosophy, their Party, is the only one that can effect the kind of positive change we all want.
There is the odd politician who gets into it for the wrong reason — personal advancement, a fat pension, a possibility of a great private sector job after putting in a few years. But the overwhelming majority are there because they believe they can make a difference.
And when you are passionate about something, it’s pretty hard not to passionately disagree with someone who has opposing views.
No, in politics the plaintive words of Rodney King, “can’t we all just get along?” have no place.
It can get a little ugly sometimes. It does get a lot ugly sometimes.
But it shouldn’t get personal. Because at the bottom of it, the MP or MLA or Councillor across the aisle or across the table is just a person doing their best, passionately.
Carolyn Grant is Editor of the Kimberley Daily Bulletin