Ignorance aplenty: the rampant immaturity of political Ottawa


When I was even younger than I am now, I wrote a column in the Fulcrum quite often. I could do without most of those having been written — even my favourite, entitled “Fuck, just vote” — because, really, how useful were they to the on-campus greater good of the University of Ottawa?

One opinion I’m not ashamed to have is re-published below. Its title in print was the same as this post. For our purposes, this re-printing is a response to this, which linked to this.

Politicians and journalists are rarely all wrong, all at the same time. Even in Ottawa, there tends to be a voice of reason. That so many political types have been so uniformly disrespectful of the life and death of Chuck Cadman is no less than pathetic. The tone of debate, whether in the House or on editorial pages, is frighteningly immature.

Cadman could count himself as one of a handful of MPs to be liked by everyone in the House: Ed Broadbent and Bill Blaikie — both New Democrats — enjoyed similar support during their times, and for similar reasons. All three men were known as principled, respectful members who managed to evade the gross theatrics that have become so commonplace in federal politics.

Broadbent retired in 2005, and Blaikie will retire as soon as the current government falls. Cadman left politics in a different way. He passed away while in office. In his last year as the elected representative of Surrey, B.C., in 2005, Cadman only sat in the House a few times. He was otherwise too sick to make the trip to Ottawa, or in the midst of cancer treatment. In what might be the most unfair circumstances forced upon a dying man, Cadman was thrust into the political and media spotlight in May 2005.

The federal budget that year was a political showdown for the ages between all four political parties. The Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois were hungry for an election and voted against it. The Liberals and the NDP voted in favour, and it fell on three independent MPs to decide the outcome. Two of the Independents, former Liberals Carolyn Parrish and David Kilgour, voted in favour and against the budget, respectively. Cadman was the reluctant Kingmaker.

On May 19, the Surrey MP did something alien to most politicians; he voted with his constituents’ interests at heart and saved the government in the process. He died two months later after a struggle with cancer. And now, nearly three years later, Cadman’s story has been startled into existence, politicized, and explained by an annoyingly powerful number of politicians and journalists.

Passages from a book about Cadman, entitled Like a Rock and written by Tom Zytaruk, were leaked to reporters. His wife is quoted as saying that the Conservatives offered Cadman a $1-million life-insurance policy in return for a vote against the budget, something Cadman never disclosed — he said no offers were made to him in the days before the budget.

The Liberals are now calling for an inquiry, reporters are digging for new angles, and what is lost is the story of a man who stood by his principles. Using a dead man for partisan gain is below contempt. Reporters are forced to write about it, of course, but it’s unfortunate. Why dignify the nonsense with a response? Cadman is the kind of MP that deserves a monument, not ignorant relegation to political Ottawa’s Flavour of the Month.

The situation is made more grim by the relative absence of any foreseeable replacement for Cadman, Broadbent, or Blaikie. There are plenty of decent people in the rows, but none are as loud as the most obonxious and influential MPs. Somebody will have to step up their game, and soon.

Canadians are increasingly identified by pollsters as cynical — disappointed by politicians and the general condition of Canada’s democracy. Given the political establishment’s recent widespread ignorance, is anybody surprised?

POST-SCRIPT: Bill Blaikie has since re-entered politics, this time on the provincial level in Manitoba. Chuck Cadman’s wife, Dona, has won a seat in the House of Commons, representing the Conservatives.

And as for politicians who can fill the void of their venerable former colleagues: Well, has anyone stepped up? I have some ideas, but what are yours?


One Response to “Ignorance aplenty: the rampant immaturity of political Ottawa”

  1. 1 Jen P

    Peter Stoffer, baby!

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