I had almost forgotten the time line. But it is now 15 years since Like Father, Like Son: Ernest Manning and Preston Manning (ECW Press, 1997) emerged from my computer, went through an editor’s mind, then a printing press, before turning itself into a book.
This was a true story, written from a faith-political interface perspective, that ended with the early years of the Reform Party of Canada. Since then, of course, the story continued with the emergence of a Conservative-led Parliament which has now been in power for six years. And it has its own faith-political interface narrative.
The “Reform” reminder caused me to reflect on that word, on two counts:
- The first is to appreciate a tiny reform which took place recently at Forest Brook Community Church in Ajax/Pickering, Ontario, just east of Toronto.
- The second is to indulge in wistful thinking about some potential reforms in parliamentary debate, in line with conciliatory and collaborative concepts that might, at this stage, seem quite radical.
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I am indebted to Tom Korski, a columnist at The Hill Times, who told about Forest Brook’s emergence as a polling place in last May’s federal election. Korski’s conclusions about the advisability of such a development differ somewhat from mine. I will leave it to readers to read his report, at www.hilltimes.com. (You might have to sign up for a free trial to access the column, if you are not already a Hill Times subscriber.)
My own perspective is that Forest Brook did a fine thing.
And here is why: I grew up in the Plymouth Brethren assemblies, who, at one time, were noted for being somewhat separated from the political process. Further, their gospel halls and bible chapels were used for strictly-defined worship and gospel purposes.
Forest Brook is one of a number of “assemblies” that have found their niches in community service – without diluting the “Christian” aspects of such service. Go to their website, www.forestbrook.ca, and read their rental initiatives. They have a commodious building that accommodates around 1,000 regular worshippers, and they want the community to be able to use that building for many compatible purposes. While hosting polling places only happens at election times, it is symbolic of a church’s desire to serve, not only its own people, but their friends and neighbours, no matter their varied affiliations.
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The reforms for which I wistfully long are many. Just two relate to “time allocation” and the will to collaborate.
Whenever government wants to allocate a specific time for debate on a piece of legislation, opposition understandably complains that those holding power are choosing dictatorship over democracy.
From this perspective, it would seem that debate could become very much more efficient and effective if opposition and government could agree on time allocation.
The responsibility, for opposition, would be to marshal its arguments so as to say, effectively, in two or three hours, what might otherwise turn into an obstructionist 20 or 30 hours of debate.
Government, for its part, could be much more willing, given reasonable policy constraints, to accept opposition amendments. That, as well, could cut debate time and increase legislative efficiency – without impinging on democratic practice.
I will concede that such reform would involve many attitudinal changes on the part of governments and oppositions. And, further, it would involve structural changes in our adversarial parliamentary system. It might take a while – maybe decades – but many of the social tools that would enable such changes are here today, where they were not 50 or 100 years ago.
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Churches, like Forest Brook, are able to speak into – and listen – to their communities, in ways that recognize what some are calling our post-modern era. They are able to respond to people who long for relationship-building and an end to ideological and theological divisiveness.
Maybe nations and their political movements can yet learn something from their oft-ignored ecclesiastical counterparts.
Lloyd has begun work on his doctorate in ministry through Tyndale Seminary in Toronto. He hopes that his thesis research will relate, in part at least, to the role of faith-based organizations in meeting community needs. He welcomes your feedback into his research through responses to his OttawaWatch columns posted on www.canadianchristianity.com. Please respond in the comments section of his columns, or directly e-mail Lloyd. Thank you.