He drew a circle that shut me out –
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!
— An epigram entitled “Outwitted” by Edwin Markham, 1852-1940, sometime Poet Laureate of the state of Oregon.
* * *
The above lurked just above the surface of my subconscious several times early in the New Year, as I looked back on the faith/political interface in Canada.
Admittedly, Markham’s epigram might have little direct biblical support. But it can be defended by a generous interpretation of one particular text and an equally restrictive consideration of another, seemingly-contradictory passage.
The passage receiving the generous interpretation is Mark 9:40 (Living Bible) – “Anyone who is not against us is for us.”
The one allowing for a more restrictive application is Matthew 12:30 (Living Bible) – “Anyone who is not helping me is harming me.”
* * *
One of the most significant 2011 parliamentary events, from this reporter’s perspective, was the filibuster over sending postal employees back to work. It was the first test of government-opposition relations following the May election. That vote saw the ascendency of a Conservative majority and the replacement of the Liberal opposition with that of Jack Layton’s New Democrats.
The NDP conducted a spirited verbal joust with the Conservatives over the back-to-work legislation. Having made their point – over and over – they stood down. The government, for its part, gave not an inch, seemingly. But repeatedly, their point included the availability of mediation services designed to bring postal management and union personnel closer to resolution.
When the dust cleared, and union leaders had done with the contention that the government was union-busting, the workers returned.
Those same leaders did their job and collaborated – even if a little reluctantly – with management, to get the mail flowing again.
Adversarialism is a natural consequence of both our parliamentary democracy and our labour-management construct.
But mediation is also a rapidly-advancing science-art. It requires a mindset on both sides that assumes reconciliation and collaboration are good things and obstructionism is not.
I hear, occasionally, from union-leaning people that their leaders are just resting in the weeds, right now. The implication is that labour will strike back and make the workplace a hell-on-earth for the governing Conservatives.
I am inclined to discount that because I think that there are people of influence within organized labour, some of them faith-based, who encourage their leaders to wind away from the “class warfare” concept. They would advance the idea of Edwin Markham’s “wit to win” epigram.
* * *
It would be too simplistic to suggest that ideological wars will cease in Canada, in the next few years. But there is hope that faith-based, community-based and corporate groups in the non-government sectors of society will get to understand each other. In so doing, they might cause power-addicted leaders to get help for themselves, in the interests of a social atmosphere of goodwill.
These things, from where I sit, are significant factors in the process of democratic reform.
And it could be that the quietly collaborative stuff done by Stephen Harper and the late Jack Layton, during the filibuster, will have contributed to that process.
Just one hint as to the possible veracity of the above thoughts: Harper provided Layton a state funeral and was given full credit by many oppositionists for so doing.
* * *
Lloyd Mackey is a member of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery in Ottawa and author of Stephen Harper: The Case for Collaborative Governance (ECW Press, 2006), More Faithful Than We Think: Stories and Insights on Canadian Leaders Doing Politics Christianly (BayRidge Books, 2005) and Like Father, Like Son: Ernest Manning and Preston Manning (ECW Press, 1997). Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.