I made a promise to myself in the past year to try not to sound so “negative” in my blogs. I have struggled a bit. Understand, I am not a cynic by nature. Do I have bad days? Of course. But I truly believe in the power of positivity because that power transformed the life I could have had to the life I now own. You may be aware I was born without arms due to the anti-nausea medication, “Thalidomide” and before I was a week old, I was also given up for adoption by my overwhelmed birth family. I wrote about my amazing Mom, Hilda Law, in my last blog in regards to Mother’s Day so not to repeat it here, but to reiterate that I have no clue how my life would have turned out had I not been adopted. That is no reflection on my birth family. It “is” a reflection of how powerful positive is…unless you are in politics.
It seems there is a federal election on the way, next week I think. At least that’s what it feels like all of a sudden. It is, of course, not until October, and it could be worse; I could live in the United States! Their electioneering begins the day after the election. I am not exagerrating either.
I want to be very clear here…This Isn’t Personal! In fact, that is precisely why I wanted to write this entry. Why are politicians and their parties so mean to each other? The idea behind writing this came from seeing the first set of political television ads for the Federal election coming out. They are somewhat benign right now, but the reaction to the Conservative ads are the first negative volley. The NDP are Canada’s “official opposition” of course, and I understand intellectually that they are required to ask tough questions and hold the governing Conservative party, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper to account. I might also point out that Mr. Harper can be a handfull, and isn’t even always loved by his own people but the negativity of the Federal NDP and especially, its leader, Thomas Mulcair, is astounding! And as to Justin Trudeau, the leader of the Liberal party, I find it amusing how hard he has to work on being “negative”, because he isn’t very good at it. But that is where I want to focus.
I will admit my bias here. I grew up in Saskatchewan and don’t remember ever having any other government in power than the NDP. I met Alan Blakeney, the Premier of the province, when I was young and I was awestruck. After he left, it seemed so did statesmanship! And it has never returned to the level it needs to. In fact, I got so tired of the declining manners in Saskatchewan politics, I ran for the PC’s in the 1986 Provincial election to “put my money where my mouth is”, so to speak. I had never been political and my decision surprised me and everyone who knew me, especially my parents. I vividly remember my Dad advising me against it. His exact words…”You are too nice for politics. They will eat you alive!” He was right! But why was he right?
My theory is idealogy. For whatever reason, us human beings are attracted to certain ideas and they are often taught to us by those who influence us at an early age. If I may use an example I personally experienced in my early years in the 1960’s. My Dad was a trained mechanic and when he retired in 1977, he had been one for 57 years! When I was growing up in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, he was the service manager for Mickelson’s Truck & Implements, and International Harvester and American Motors outlet. Mickelson’s was not unionized and therefore, my Dad’s point of view was you only require a union if management abuses its employees and the management team made sure that never happened. My Dad took huge pride in not only running a professional and courteous shop, but treated his mechanics with immense respect. Like in our home, he was the essence of “tough love” and he often spoke of the shop being a very dangerous place so a high standard was esential and sometimes you had to “tune people in”. I remember being “tuned” myself. Mickelson’s was “the” place to work in the entire area but it wasn’t until the ’70’s I ever heard my Dad speak ill of unions. It started when a mechanic they hired came from a government job, a unionized job. There was no issue at first, but then, this new guy started slacking off. He claimed my Dad worked him too hard, that he didn’t get long enough for lunch and no coffee breaks. He started talking to the other mechanics, even undermining my Dad.
We always ate dinner at the table together. Every night at 6:00 sharp. My Dad often went back to work in the evenings, many times taking me along just to hang out with him. Obviously, I am not exactly “handy” but I was so proud of my Dad and his work ethic. An ethic I emulate to this day. My Dad never, ever got overtime pay and he probably clocked over 80 hours a week for over 25 years! After they hired this new mechanic and he started his campaign, my Dad was showing signs of unhappiness. He started complaining about work at the dinner table, and it was always about this guy and “unions”.
One night, I asked my Dad if he had tried talking to this guy and I will never forget his answer; “Once someone only talks and doesn’t listen, nothing I say would help!” I remember it being the beginning of my Dad’s ending his career. I don’t know this to be a fact and I don’t even remember that guy’s name but I could just imagine that after my Dad retired, that jerk probably celebrated every day. For me, it made me dislike this guy that I didn’t even know, and it colored, rightly or wrongly, my impression of labour unions. Labour unions tend to be anti-management which in turn, makes them by nature, anti-capitalism, which is pretty ironic if you consider without “capital”, there is no money to hire the people that work in the union. So, in turn, unions tend to support anti-capitalist political parties. In the United States, people tend to support Republicans or Democrats and it is acknowledged that Republicans are right of center and Democrats, left. In Canada, and why has always intrigued me, we have three major parties and until the last election, had a fourth, the PQ who only ran candidates in Quebec yet were a “National” party…what a joke!
So when I voted for the first time, my experiences with my Dad and living in an NDP dominated government, which felt like forever, I voted for the most opposite I could find. Kind of ironic because young people tend to be “Liberal” in their beliefs as a protest “against the establishment”. I voted against the socialist nature of left-leaning government. In my experience, left-leaning poltitics, generally speaking, are full of people who are “defenders of the downtrodden” and against “The Man”, so they tend to be angry. Remember the “Occupy Wall Street” protests in the U.S. or the “Idle No More” movement in Canada? Was I against these protests? Yes? Am I completely uncaring and insensitive to the underdog? What do you think? I WAS BORN AN UNDERDOG!!!!!!! By the way, at 54 years old, I am not anti-union, I am pro-human and spend my career promoting the “value” we all possess.
So, back to 1985. I had been working for four years for a non-profit agency called the Saskatchewan Abilities Council, previously called the Saskatchewan Council for Crippled Children & Adults, who ran workshops for intellectually and physically challenged adults. For all intents and purposes, it was a sort of adult day care where indeed the “employees” made things like ceramics and wood products. Ironically, our organization faced regular criticism for “warehousing” the handicapped in a demeaning existence and those critics were, in my opinion, a major catalyst for the huge jump in the homeless as “Institutions” for the disabled were closed in favour of smaller “group homes” with limited supervision giving the disabled more rights and choices! I digress.
I had also become a Saskatchewan “Celebrity” after being an Easter Seals “Timmy” in 1977, and then appearing on several telethons as a spokesperson and a musician. My entire motivation in my form of activism was based on celebrating people’s potential not mourning the absence of fairness and equality. Most important, I wasn’t “angry” at being born disabled, but I clearly remember butting heads with countless other “activists” who were so mad, I couldn’t be around them. Again, ironically, the squeeky wheel gets the grease and in what seemed like a “meant to be moment”, I was approached by the Progressive Conservative Party in Saskatchewan, who at the time had amazingly unseated the NDP in a 1982 landslide election which for the voters was less about liking the Conservatives and all about getting rid of a regime who had become arrogant, complacent, power mongers whose time had run out. Exactly what happened, albeit in reverse, in the Province of Alberta a few weeks ago! Naturally, the Conservatives in 1985 in Saskatchewan were trying to alter decades of left wing policies, largely motivated by trying to create a spirit of capitalism and investment in the small farming province in favour of raising taxes to fund programs. Again, it is an ideology and frankly, no ideology is “the right one”. It is, however, and here is the most important point…the ideololgy chosen by the electorate and the essence of democracy. People in Alberta may be shocked right now at choosing an NDP Government in a similar landslide moving the ideology from almost extreme right wing to who knows what, likely moderate left wing, but whatever it is, it is a big change, and a change we must accept and hopefully embrace, as difficult as that change may be.
Grant Devine, the Premier of the Conservative run Saskatchewan government in 1985 asked me personally to consider putting my name forward for nomination in the riding of Regina Northwest and if elected would become a member of the Legislative Assembly of my beloved Saskatchewan. I had “never” considered becoming a politician but what sold me on the idea was, if I won, and there was absolutely no promise, I would be a valuable asset to steer the new direction of disabilty issues in the future of Saskatchewan. I was also 25 years old.What would you do?
I put my name forth, won the nomination and with a brand new baby and a not so great marriage to someone who offered zero support for my new venture, (not current awesome wife, Darlene) I began campaigning. Looking back, I will never regret that I gave it a try but my Dad was right. I was too nice and I got eaten alive. Again, in one of yet another of life’s ironies, my riding and the area of the city of Regina where I also lived, was made up of an inordinate number of voters who worked for the government. As an example of Ideology, the NDP believed in state ownership of utilities so the telephone company (Sask-Tel), power company (Sask-Power), insurance company (SGI) and others were called “Crown Corporations” and they were literal monopolies, thus the outdated model of zero competition the Conservatives were trying to shift, but completely supported by every single employee of these companies because they were member of the Government Union and were literally ordered to vote NDP by their union leadership. Hard to believe, huh? Yet 100% true. Every single poetential voter I met, whether at their doors or at community events “hated me” and they would never, ever vote Conservative because if they did, the Right Wingers would privatize all the public owned companies and they’d disband the union and everyone would lose their job. It was nothing but fear mongering as none of it was true. It is funny to me that in 2015, these Crowns still exist in Saskatchewan as does the union so when I would deny this rumour in 1985, I heard language I can’t repeat here. I was insulted, degraded, even physically pushed off a doorstep one evening by a Conservative Hater (I called them that). I struggled to maintain a “positive” approach to my ideology but I was so young and nieve and the numbers were obvious…I was going to lose. Shockingly, in a 16,000 vote riding, I got around 4,000 votes but John Solomon, the NDP candidate got 9,000. Not only was my ego bruised, but I promised to never, ever run for political office again. That’s too bad because I think I would do a great job as an elected official because I truly care about people of all stripes. The trouble is, to get the job, one must first participate in the blood sport of politics and the once dignified, respectful arena of democracy has reduced itself to nothing but “school yard bullying”.
You know, that was not something that occurred to me back then, probably because in 1986, we didn’t talk about it, or better put, hype about it, like we have done lately. Yet, I was bullied…pure and simple. When you get bullied, the reaction is often to bully back so in essence, you “sink” to the level of the protagonist and if it is just two people playing this game, damage is minimal. But when you have Federal Political Parties “bullying” each other, democracy suffers and so much so, people lose faith in their elected officials. Worse, imagine how many potential candidates for election we lose because they simply have no interest in playing a game usually reserved for Junior High students!
I apologize for the length and tone of this blog but this a very serious issue and for the next six months, we will be tormented by ad after ad that offer absolutely no positive and instuctional policies for each particular party, just mean spirited, insulting, “Highly Personal” shots at each other. Years ago, the opposition Conservatives actually made fun of Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s facial tick? Can you believe they sunk to that tasteless level? Can you believe it worked! The Conservatives actually showed polling numbers that saw a jump in support for their party after airing those ads. What have we become? Isn’t it time to stand up to the BULLIERS? ALL OF THEM!!!
I am, and hope you will, send an email to our personal Member of Parliament as well as the leaders of the Federal Parties pleading with them to restore decency, decorum and statesmanship in our democracy. I am absolutely apolitical now because they they are “all” guilt of bullying and if we will not accept bullying in our schools and workplaces, why is it okay in our government? Please promise to act and demand a change…it is our right!