Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
January 19, 2004
Step forward and be counted
Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson has pointed out that political parties are finding it difficult to recruit estimable candidates to run in a federal election expected to be held this spring. This should not be much of a surprise given the extremely difficult life of the politician.
It's a wonder that anyone would want to pursue such an avenue of endeavour, really, given the disdain with which politicians are viewed and treated by the general public, the media and even their colleagues. Too many of the public believe politicians are driven only by ambition and self-aggrandizement. Yet the job requires endless hours of work, a loss of privacy, too much time away from one's family, generally unremarkable financial rewards, no job security and pariah status once you lose an election and have to find something else to do with your life.
In his recent book, The Dark Side: The Personal Price of a Political Life, TVOntario host Steve Paikin writes, "For most Canadians, a new election just means a new cast of characters to complain about."
Paikin quotes former Ontario premier David Peterson who says, "It's not politically correct to criticize anyone else today. But you can criticize politicians. People blame politicians for virtually every evil."
So, why would anyone want a job that involves such sacrifice?
Paikin believes, contrary to popular opinion, that most people who go into politics do so because they genuinely want to be of service to the community.
Whether he's right or not, Canada genuinely needs competent politicians with strong values who want to serve the common good.
If no one comes forth, who will defend the unborn and the dying on the political level?
Who will defend the institution of marriage?
Who will defend the dignity of the poor and forgotten ones?
Who will work to create a clean environment with a sustainable economy?
Who will ensure future generations are not saddled with a burden of government debt?
Well someone will hold office, but it may not be those with the vision and ingenuity to protect and enhance the common good.
Pope John Paul, in his 1988 statement on the laity, said the cynicism directed towards politicians "does not in the least justify either skepticism or an absence on the part of Christians in public life." He went on to quote the Second Vatican Council's judgment that those who undertake the burdens of political life are "worthy of praise and consideration."
The pope said it is "a pressing responsibility (that) the lay faithful must bear witness to those human and Gospel values that are intimately connected with political activity itself, such as liberty and justice, solidarity, faithful and unselfish dedication for the good of all, a simple lifestyle and preferential love for the poor and the least."
Politicians will never be above criticism. The nature of democracy is that there will be differing visions and opinions and those who make decisions will be subject to passionate rebuttal.
There will likely always be politicians who fall into sin by making the institutions that should serve the common good instead serve their personal good.
But if we want greater integrity in government then good and dedicated people must offer their talents, knowing they will be criticized for the approaches they take.
Those of us who do not come forth can still help the democratic process by refraining from cynicism, thanking worthy politicians for their efforts and contributing our own opinions to public debates.
Democracy can be a great system of government, but for it to achieve greatness, all of us must shoulder our share of the responsibilities.
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