Spirit Quest


Spirit Quest

Harper could have used lessons taught by 20-year-old teacher at Pine Ridge Public School, Bright Sand, Saskatchewan

Harper behaves as if, like King Creon in ancient Thebes, he has a pipeline to eternal truth

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

My first encounter with democratic procedures was in a one room public  school in northern Saskatchewan.  Pine Ridge School, with no pines anywhere in evidence, was about 25 km. from the nearest village. It accommodated 40 children and one pot bellied stove. The nearest power line was 20 km away. In the school yard at the furthest extremity from the schoolhouse, understandably, were two one seater outhouses. Closer to the door, and there was only one door, was a hand pump. To exercise its handle was an honour not a chore. There was also a barn on the property to house horses that transported some lucky children to and from their education.

Verna Brown was 20 years old when I first walked into her classroom. In her desk drawer was an unused strap, standard equipment in those days. Because she did not believe in corporal punishment, discipline was achieved by non violent means and it worked admirably.  

Miss Brown, as most teachers in rural Saskatchewan, organized a branch of the Junior Red Cross with her charges. We elected a president and a vice, a secretary and treasurer although we had few liquid assets. Through these means we were taught the rudiments of parliamentary procedures, how to formulate and move a motion, discuss, amend and then put the vote. Of course a majority of hands raised was required to pass a motion into action. We were also taught to listen with respect to each other’s opinions.

How different all this seems from our recently-fallen federal government, where a minority assumed a majority status.  Jim Flaherty, the minister of finance, made no bones about it: take it or leave, my way or the highway. The budget was to be passed in its entirety or not at all. Discuss it if you wish but it can’t amend it.

It didn’t come to that. The combined voices of the opposition parties had had enough of Harper’s draconian rule, read, “misrule,” misleading parliament and withholding important information. Thus, for the first time in the history of Canada, a government was held in contempt. The felon in one instance, MP Bev Oda, who undoubtedly acted under the direction of her Boss, got off scott free.

Minority government seems normal in a large country  that stretches from sea to shining sea to now unfrozen sea.  There will be many shades of opinion among its people. As in the Junior Red Cross of Pine Ridge Public School in Bright Sand, Saskatchewan, motions proposed  by the government, the opposition or private member bills need to be discussed and amended  until they are acceptable  to a majority of the members.

Political parties  strive to win a majority so that they are able to ram through their agendas without regard  to minority opinions. I dare to suggest that all parties aspire to such power. Such a scenario is Stephen Harper’s dream.

For this reason I am leery of any majority rule. Recall that the quintessential dictator, Adolf Hitler, in 1933, won a majority in the German parliament which then gave him the power to suspend democracy, to let loose his brown shirted thugs to beat up and imprison any dissident.

Winston Churchill opined that  democracy is the worst possible system of governance except for all the rest. It has also been suggested that a camel is a horse made by a committee. What is overlooked is that camels, awkward as they may appear, are in fact ideally suited for the terrain they inhabit.

Thus, I suggest that minority government and, I shall go further, proportional representation, like the camel, which at first may seem a clumsy way of doing a nation’s business, is uniquely suited for a country of minorities that prides itself on being a mosaic rather than a melting pot.

And, yes, here comes my usual punch line: I believe that there is a Spirit that engenders respect for one another’s opinions, that listens to reason and others’ opinions rather than resorting to personal attacks. Justice is more than majority dictation, it is an effort to bring about a measure of consensus. It is not a perfect tool.

The words uttered by the outgoing prime minister after visiting the governor general the morning after his defeat, were belches of venom that to my mind disqualifies him from leading a peaceable kingdom.

Patrick Langston in his review of Antigone at Ottawa’s Third Wall Theatre (The Citizen, March 26) writes, “ ... Its what the tyrannical ruler of Thebes, King Creon, says at the end of Antigone, Sophocles tragedy of pride, power and love. Like our contemporary megalomaniacs, Creon believing he has the pipeline to eternal truth, has conflated himself and his kingdom. When his wrongheaded convictions unleashes chaos, he’s also destroyed.” It has parallels in Egypt and Libya as well as other nations now in turmoil. Might it also apply to the Canadian political scene?

I believe that the Spirit is very much alive in our country and that without the movement of that Spirit we succumb to a tyranny that defies the name of Nation.

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