We are starting off 2009 with best wishes for a Happy New Year — and a potpourri of stories that all point to the need for good communication of the listening kind around Parliament Hill.
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A spate of anti-coalition rallies popped up across the country before Christmas. One that caught my attention was organized by Meagan Ritz, a young woman in Kelowna who is a student at Heritage Christian School.
The full story is here. For the purposes of OttawaWatch, I refer specifically to Michael McDonald, 15, a student at Kelowna’s Immaculata (Catholic) High School. He was a keynote speaker at the rally and a newly-minted executive member of Conservative Kelowna-Lake Country MP Ron Cannan’s riding association.
While thoroughly conservative in his outlook, McDonald also noted that two of his political role models are Barack Obama and Al Gore, both Democrats.
The way McDonald sees it, the Conservatives in Canada are more like Democrats than Republicans — in part because the whole Canadian political spectrum is further left than that of our neighbours to the south.
McDonald also made the point that, had a minority Liberal government been in power, he would have just as fervently opposed a de facto Conservative-New Democrat-Bloc coalition.
The point, he stressed, in my interview with him, was that the Liberals should be co-operating with the governing party, rather than trying to take it down without an election, especially in a time of economic stress.
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Shortly after Christmas, Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin suggested that Governor-General Michaelle Jean was honour-bound to reveal the gist of her pre-prorogue remarks to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Intriguingly, in her New Year’s message, Jean made some oblique and perhaps unprecedented comments, not revealing any confidences but certainly hinting at what kind of political behaviour she hoped would come out of the upcoming parliamentary session.
What these recent events [including the activities surrounding the house prorogation] bring to light is how important it is for us to work together — nations, governments, societies, businesses, organizations, individuals, side by side. The ‘fend for yourself’ mentality has no place in an interdependent world, where the decisions of some have a profound impact on the lives of others; where our fates are inextricably linked. Today, I am calling for greater solidarity between us.
Now, given what little I know about the governor-general, I would guess that her use of the world “solidarity” comes out of a leftist sort of vocabulary with which she became fairly familiar as a journalist with Radio Canada. Nevertheless, her advice is pretty down-to-earth and common sense, something that could be equally taken to heart by the leaders of both the Conservative and Liberal parties.
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Bruce Clemenger, president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, had some year end comments, too, about the need for civility in the political sphere. The opening paragraph of an open letter he wrote on the subject read:
“In an immediate post election time of economic uncertainty, when political stability, civility and statesmanship are critical, there is a need for Canadians and Parliament to transition from divisive and partisan politics to focused good governance. We need more than rhetoric about civility in the House of Commons. Canada needs a renewed practice of civility where humility, self-control, respect, courtesy, and good manners are practiced.”
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My task, as a political analyst, is relatively easy. All I have to say is that all of the above are right and the key to good collaborative governance is for leaders of all stripes to listen carefully and act on this good advice.
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True, it is easier said that done.
Michael Ignatieff is the new Liberal leader. He has ascended the throne but is not quite “coronated”.
He has, as has been widely noted, a kingly bearing, likely inherited from his Russian count grandfather. He has firmly informed the prime minister, almost a full generation younger and about as unprincely in background as they come, that he needs to come off his high horse.
Is this kind of talk uncivil? A first judgement might be that it is only marginally so. The two leaders have different ways of expressing themselves. I think that the point made by Jean, Clemenger and McDonald comments is that, in an adversarial setting, vigourous debate has an important role and so does constructive forward action.
Politics is often defined as the presenting and reconciling of conflicting interests. I first heard that definition from Preston Manning, but when the phrase is “googled”, it finds academic and leadership citations from across the globe.
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A good wrap on this subject might come from California megachurch pastor, Rick Warren. He will pronounce the invocation at Barack Obama’s inauguration into the American presidency on January 20.
Both Obama and Warren were attacked by gay rights activists in recent weeks, because Warren had offered some mild verbal support to the California initiative to reverse the legality of gay marriage.
Warren answered back in a video to his congregants, noting that media leaders have a responsibility to play in this matter.
He suggested that America is being destroyed by the “demonization of differences”, for which the media bears responsibility.
In his video, he noted:
“[T]he media often fans controversy and conflict to create a story and we start yelling at each other so much, nobody listens to each other anymore.”
He had much more to say. Among his points: media-created conflict leads to more polarization and rudeness. And he suggests, as well, that bloggers contribute to the polarization.
Readers should be able to find the rest of the story at The Christian Post, an American evangelical on-line newspaper. I suggest doing so, to help ensure that I am not taking any of his comments out of context in the interests of creating more conflict. The story was posted on December 23 and its headline was ‘Rick Warren sets the record straight.’
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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.
What is ‘responsible government’ anyway?
During the prorogation debate a few weeks back, one journalist said to me that, in essence, the Constitution is whatever the Governor-General will permit. That’s true to a point in the Westminster system of constitutional conventions — the conventions only apply if the Sovereign and her first minister agree to abide by them. That’s why responsible government — the signal achievement of British parliamentary democracy — requires leaders to act responsibly.
Father Raymond J. de Souza, National Post, December 18
Pastor pick riles liberals
It’s the pastor problem Barack Obama least expected and has nothing to do with the America-bashing Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The president-elect was on the defensive yesterday after picking Rev. Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his Jan. 20 presidential inauguration. The decision has infuriated Mr. Obama’s liberal supporters, particularly abortion rights and gay rights activists, who say he has gone too far in his efforts to heal divisions across the political and ideological spectrum.
Sheldon Alberts, Canwest News Service, December 19
Also: Vancouver Sun
Obama’s nod to ‘bigot’ sparks backlash
U.S. President-elect Barack Obama is dealing with an angry backlash from the liberal base of the Democratic party after he gave a prominent inauguration role to a well-known pastor who opposes gay marriage and abortion rights.
Tim Harper, Toronto Star, December 19
Obama risks angering first believers for shot at converting evangelicals
Barack Obama has infuriated gay-rights advocates by asking Rick Warren, an astoundingly popular evangelical minister who strongly opposes same-sex marriage, to deliver an invocation at the inauguration. Mr. Obama has taken the risk of alienating some of his most enthusiastic supporters because he gets something they don’t: The next generation of evangelicals could be converted into Democrats.
John Ibbitson, Globe and Mail, December 19
With religion, even Obama abandons reason
Now, it is fine that there will be a prayer. It’s traditional and lots of people want one. Some of us angry atheists aren’t that angry. But Obama’s choice for this prestigious role is astonishing.
Dan Gardner, Ottawa Citizen, December 19
Barack Obama, Rick Warren and pride
The nay-sayers are going to have to get used to Barack Obama’s attempts to build bridges between diverse peoples — including people who disagree strongly on crucial issues.
Douglas Todd, The Search, Vancouver Sun, December 23