Monday, 3 August 2015

Harperland, without Flora

Years ago, you used to hear stories about friendly, behind-the-scenes relationships among politicians on opposite sides of the House of Commons. On the floor of the House they sparred about policy but after hours, many got along just fine. That camaraderie among foes has been in short supply in recent years. Yesterday however, we saw a glimpse of that possibility. When Elizabeth May gave the Green Party speech to begin their election campaign, she started off by delivering a heartfelt tribute to recently deceased Conservative Flora MacDonald. In fact, she dedicated the Green Party campaign to the memory of Ms. MacDonald and advised her candidates to try to follow her example of public service. She added that she regretted not being able to attend her funeral. It was an unusual start to an election campaign. Good for her.

Flora MacDonald's funeral was held at 2 pm yesterday at Christ Church Cathedral here in Ottawa. Last week some questioned Harper's decision not to offer a state funeral for MacDonald. Not only did she blaze a trail for women in government, she worked diligently for many humanitarian causes, long after her retirement.
Folks chatting outside Christ Church Cathedral, after Flora MacDonald's funeral

At the funeral service four people spoke about her. We were left with the impression of a warm, dedicated person who cared deeply about the plight of many. Former PM Joe Clark spoke about her time as Minister of External Affairs. Two of the many events of that time were Canada's role in the escape of the American hostages in Tehran and the arrival of thousands of Vietnamese boat people. Communities across Canada welcomed these refugees, following a policy designed by MacDonald. The city of Ottawa's efforts were led by then-mayor Marian Dewar. Her son, Paul Dewar, our MP, was in attendance at yesterday's funeral. So was his leader, Tom Mulcair.

Their presence, along with Elizabeth May's tribute, is an example of what politics can be. Politicians can respect each other, even if they are from different parties.

Prime Minister Harper had his morning meeting at Rideau Hall but didn't stay in town for the funeral. No doubt the plans for his campaign launch had been set in stone, long before MacDonald's funeral plans were finalized. Harper has never been accused of being flexible - there was no way he could change his itinerary. On the evening news he was shown, along with his family, in a Montreal bakery at about the time many of us were sitting in church, paying tribute to a very important (Conservative) Canadian.

I find it hard to believe that Jim Flaherty rated a state funeral but Flora MacDonald did not. It also seems totally absurd to drag your family to a photo op in a Montreal bakery, rather than  attend MacDonald's funeral.

Harper's decision to stick to his plan yesterday reminds me of another strange decision. In January of 2013, a group of Cree youth started walking from northern Quebec towards Ottawa. They were walking in support of Idle No More and the Quebec Cree Nation. This small band grew as they hiked and snowshoed along. By the time they arrived in Ottawa there were 270 of them and the journey had taken two months. Some of them had walked as far as 1600 kilometres in sub-zero weather.

On March 25, the group was met with chants, cheers and many MPs on Parliament Hill. Again, noticeable by his absence was the Prime Minister. Another scripted event took priority that day as well. Instead of welcoming these young people, after their arduous journey, Harper flew to Toronto's Pearson airport to welcome a pair of giant pandas to Canada, from China.

Chinese pandas, over Cree youth. A bakery photo op instead of a famous Canadian's funeral. There will be much talk in the weeks ahead about the priorities of each leader. Harper has already demonstrated his.

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