It Seems There is an “I” in Politics
I meet many Canadians who are cynical about politics. So many people become so disillusioned that they no longer vote and that troubles me as both a parliamentarian and an ardent promoter of our parliamentary democracy. There are many reasons for this cynicism, but I have found that the largest contributor to this malaise is often public figures themselves. Whether it is improper conduct or broken promises, the actions of elected officials often turn people off politics. This week a political story emerged from a part of the country that I follow closely that I believe fuels this cynicism by demonstrating that some politicians lose sight of why they stand for office.
This story comes from the political scene in Nova Scotia. While I am proud to be the MP from Ontario representing my hometown area in Parliament, Nova Scotia also has a special place in my life. I met my wife in Halifax while I was serving in Nova Scotia with the RCAF. We started our life together as I attended law school at Dalhousie University. Our family and friends in Nova Scotia remain important parts of our life and my time and experiences in that province forged the person that I am today. I also got my political start in Nova Scotia volunteering for one of the finest Canadians to ever stand for public office; Dr. John Hamm. I was involved in his election and served on the volunteer executive of the PC Party for Nova Scotia for a few years, where I saw firsthand the passion and dedication of Nova Scotia Tories from across the province.
I met Bill Casey in 1999 when I was involved in the Nova Scotia PC Party. He was well known and respected within the provincial PC Party as an MP for the traditionally Tory riding of Cumberland-Colchester. Casey owned an auto dealership and had recently regained the seat he had lost in 1993 after just one term on Parliament. He supported the provincial and federal parties, but more importantly, these people supported him for many years, including in his efforts to regain his seat. Casey clashed with the Prime Minister in 2007 on an issue related to Atlantic Canada and became an Independent MP. He was re-elected as an Independent MP and many of the local volunteers stood by him out of personal loyalty as his friends even though many did not agree with Casey’s position or the actions he took. Five months after his re-election to the Commons, Casey quit politics to accept a job offer from the government of Nova Scotia.
One of the most ardent supporters of Casey through this unusual period was Scott Armstrong. In fact, Scott helped run Casey’s campaigns including his independent bid. I met Armstrong while campaigning for Premier Hamm after he returned to Nova Scotia with a PhD in education. Smart and affable, Scott became a good friend and we were not surprised that he remained involved even after becoming the Principal of one of the larger schools in the area. Scott ran for office in the by-election caused by Casey’s sudden departure in 2009. All of the people in the area who had previously supported Casey got behind Armstrong. I now have the honour to sit with my friend Scott in Parliament after my by-election win in 2012. He is one of the most Honourable members of the House. He is well regarded on all sides of the Commons and comes every day well researched and with the passion of a proud Nova Scotian. He is a tireless advocate for his riding and is well known for following the progress of hundreds of young people in the riding and sending notes of encouragement and recognition.
An elected official needs to balance a range of loyalties in their role starting with being a loyal servant to your riding and its people. In our parliamentary democracy, Federal and Provincial members are elected under a party banner, so you also have to balance a range of loyalties to your party, the leader, the policy positions you take, as well as to the volunteers and supporters who helped you get elected. With the news that Bill Casey will return to politics to run against his friend Scott Armstrong, he becomes the first politician I know who appears to demonstrate loyalty only to himself. Many MPs over the years have quit politics causing an expensive by-election, but Casey appears to be the only one I know who wants to come back after the job he left for ends. While a few MPs have switched parties over the years, I don’t know of any who are willing to actually change fundamental positions they held on a variety of issues to the edict of their new party’s leader. I don’t know of any MP who has placed their own ambition ahead of personal loyalties and friendships in the way Bill Casey appears to be doing. Casey’s desire to return to office, in the way he has chosen, is an example of what fuels cynicism of Canadians in Nova Scotia or Ontario. I look forward to returning to Nova Scotia to assist my friend Scott Armstrong who remains dedicated to his community and possesses the strong principles and character that Nova Scotians respect.