By the time journalists clamoured into the foyer, outside the House of Commons, on Wednesday afternoon, it was chaos.
TV cameramen lumbered from one Member of Parliament to the next. The microphone-wielding Fifth Estate wanted to know:
Did you see the finger-gun?
Reporters shook their heads. God I hope this isn’t our lead story, muttered one. Then ran to catch the next unsuspecting MP who was stupid enough to walk through the main doors of the House.
Almost exactly 24 hours later, there was a somber repeat performance. MPs stepped out, one-by-one, to share their thoughts on the late, great, Jim Flaherty.
The tributes were as diverse as they were numerous. My personal favourite, though, comes unexpectedly from NDP MP Charlie Angus:
“He looked like a little altar boy. He was so proud to be in Rome. Sorry.”
Say what you will about Jim Flaherty — and there is lots to say, though it was mostly said shortly after his departure from cabinet — he was a political animal, and a damn good one. As a finance minister, he was partisan. At times, he was crass. On other occasions, he was downright infuriating.
Take one of his last statements in the House, before resigning his post.
“I am more concerned, actually, with the Liberal leader’s idea of being able to balance the budget automatically. I know that we are taking a break and that St. Patrick’s Day is coming up, so I hope that he catches that little person, that little leprechaun.”
That inspired a few cocked heads. But the next reaction was a shrug and an “oh, that’s Flaherty.”
Flaherty’s politiking always felt more lighthearted than many others’. It felt like renaissance politics, from back before television cameras turned Parliamentarians into reality TV stars.
He was just so happy to be in Rome.
To that end, though, Flaherty also didn’t put up with crap — especially when it came to subtle undercurrents of misogyny that always perforate Parliament.
Flaherty’s last comment in the House was actually a point of order — a demand that Liberal critic Ralph Goodale apologize for gesturing at Transport Minister Lisa Raitt and suggesting she take off her muzzle. That elicited some howls from all members (myself included) and Flaherty was the first on his feet to demand an apology.
Labour and Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch drew it up quite nicely, in the foyer:
“I’ve said at many speeches in the last number of months, particularly for women, that young women need a champion at the table, someone who will take the tough questions and push forward your agenda because they’re already at the table. I was exceptionally fortunate I had the fiercest lion at the table.”
Now, I’ll dispense with the eulogy, because I’ll defer to everyone else’s infinitely more apt ability to do so, and I’ll instead pivot back to cynicism.
Flaherty’s death signalled a passing-on of one of the statesmen. As they — politicians like Ted Menzie, Irwin Cotler and Peter Stoffer — leave us, we’re left with…
Whatever this is.
We’re left with Ministers who point finger guns, and critics who find themselves offended by it. We’re left with MPs who lumber over to start fistfights, like we’re an Eastern Bloc failed state. We’ve got MPs who sling obscenities and ratchet-up rancour like it’s going out of style.
Hot-headed politicians and sailors’ dictionaries are not new — Flaherty might be poster boy for them — but it’s that we’ve hit the chasm floor of decorum. What was once a spirited chess match is now an organized bloodsport.
Where once there was a one-off drunken brawl, there is now party-backed acrimony and hatred.
Whereas respect was the rule, and disorder was the exception, it’s now inverted.
It’s sad that our Members of Parliament insist on doubling-down and constantly taking each political blow as a personal attack. It’s unfortunate that ideology and alienation in each party, from the Westerns in Reform to the marginalized in the NDP, has turned the altruists to knife-wielders.
Perhaps our politicians need to take a page from Flaherty’s book, and just be proud to be in Rome.
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