Goodbye Keith, hello change-maker

MP Keith Martin (Liberal) quit federal politics because he was tired of banging his head against a brick wall.

A Liberal dominated House of Commons trashed Martin’s bid to legalize small-scale marijuana. He didn’t have any better luck persuading a Conservative regime to invest in a money saving, traffic thinning local rail and bus systems.

But Martin kept plugging away at smart, people friendly causes (plus his own offbeat view of health care) under four successive party flags, until his patience ran out.

Is there an Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca candidate who can squeeze through a hole in Ottawa’s Liberal-Conservative brick wall?

I think there is. Sharp-witted politicians, operating from back benches and provincial governments, have engineered far-reaching social change.

While I stood in line for an hour and a half at the advance poll, waiting to cast a ballot for that kind of candidate, I eased my discomfort by reflecting on some change-agents of past years.

One was the NDP’s Tommy Douglas, who balanced Saskatchewan’s budget before he pushed public health care on the federal Conservative and Liberal agenda.

Another was A.P. Herbert, a rebel Conservative MP who reformed the British divorce law.

In the U.K., most people disliked the law that clamped couples into painful marriages for a lifetime, unless one partner conspicuously cheated on the other or faked a sexual encounter.

But Parliament and people were so emotionally conflicted they couldn’t stir themselves to rewrite the law. They half-believed yet half-denied that marriages were made in heaven.

Herbert gave them what they secretly wanted. He cut through the conflict with a private member’s bill that humanized the divorce law, powered by persuasion and a book entitled Holy Deadlock.

Canada could now lubricate and set in co-operative motion Canada’s rusted federal-provincial machinery, which is our own holy deadlock.

Would Prime Minister Stephen Harper oil the frozen gears? I wondered about that, as I rubbed my sore leg muscles in the advance-vote lineup.

Harper said the federal government’s role in solving the harmonized sales tax puzzle is limited to the federal share of the tax — nothing more.

I thought he thereby drew an implied map of feds and provs confronting one another like sovereign nations, each defending its turf. But feds and provs are not separate nations. Their voters are the same people.

When I put on an undecided voter’s hat to see how it felt, I knew the search for tax fairness demands federally co-ordinated brainstorming to connect all levels of government from national to local.

Harper scored debate points with his cool unruffled manner, level voice and repressed smile. That exercise in impression management was good theatre, but it had little to do with policy or managerial competence.

It will take a determined agent of change and the combined work of like-minded colleagues to generate rebuilding and repair of taxation, public health care, transportation, social services, job creation and the position of Quebec within Canada.

Conservative Troy DeSouza promises a looping McKenzie Avenue junction, but many of us don’t want that. Liberal Lillian Szpak promises several useful things, but she is new to the federal scene and hasn’t had a chance to deliver.

I rambled through Randall Garrison’s record as a Esquimalt councillor, his most recent public-service activity. (He lost narrowly to Martin in the 2004 and 2006 federal elections.)

I found that Esquimalt lacrosse enthusiasts are Garrison fans. They wanted to host a B.C. Junior B tournament, but arena management said “impossible, the ice stays on for a week past your tournament dates.”

Lacrosse people say Garrison learned the ice stayed on because it had always been done that way. He and council colleagues changed that and cleared the arena a week earlier. The tournament went ahead, to Esquimalt’s pleasure and profit. Small stuff can have big consequences.

—G.E. Mortimore is a Langford-based writer. Think About It runs every second week in the Gazette.



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