Having worked in Parliament for nine years and now working literally across the street from it, it’s always interested in me how people perceive the place, the people elected there and how it works. The majority of what I hear from people usually isn’t good, as they perceive a hyper-partisan place where everyone is baying for the blood of the other while taking dirty attacks to new, low levels. Most people picture what they see in the worst of Question Period and extrapolate that over the whole place. I can’t say that isn’t a perception that isn’t earned from time to time and I surely can’t blame everyday people for jumping to that conclusion.
But the reality of Parliament is really much closer to a bad high school comedy than it is to House of Cards. Yes, there are moments and things that do happen from time to time that would make Francis Underwood tap his ring with approval, but most of it is much more subdued than that. One thing I’ve always said about working in Parliament was that in my time there, I made friends in all parties, including some Conservatives that would surprise you. But at the same time, there are people in all parties that simply rub me the wrong way and I just don’t care for, including in my own. That’s a normal thing to experience in life, regardless of if it was in school, your workplace, or anywhere out and about.
Yet still that perception of politics and Parliament remains as well engrained as any stereotype you can think of. So last year when TVOntario started a new series called “Political Blind Date”, where they took two politicians from very opposite views and put them together to talk about an issue from each of their perspectives, I perked up and took notice. To me, this idea was a great way to show a different side of Canadian Politics, one that I got to see everyday; a side where people get to know each other, talk about things in a respectful tone and keep the yelling and spittle out of it.
So recently TVOntario started to air episodes from Season Two, and it was the episode that they aired last night that I thought typified everything this idea could be. It was also an episode that touched home for me in many ways. The episode paired Indigenous Liberal MP for Thunder Bay – Rainy River Don Rusnak and Cree New Democrat MP for Abitibi – Baie James – Nunavik – Eeyou Romeo Saganash.
I was blessed with the chance to work for Romeo for five years, right after his first election in 2011. For me, it was the chance of a lifetime and an experience that I wouldn’t have traded for the world. I got to work on issues that meant everything to me, I got the chance to help make a difference and I got the chance to learn from one of the pre-eminent Indigenous leaders of his generation. With Romeo, I got to learn first hand from the man who helped negotiate the “Paix des Braves” and helped draft the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. With him, I also got to learn things that I always wanted to try to take back home, to Northwestern Ontario and Treaty Three territory, to try to make things better there.
And that’s where this episode also touched me; back home. My first job on Parliament Hill, the person who first took a chance on me and gave me the shot to live my dream, was John Rafferty, the former NDP MP for Thunder Bay-Rainy River. John was beat by Don Rusnak in 2011. But for me, being able to work in Ottawa, for someone who represented part of what I called home; my mothers’ family is from Rainy River, I did my last year of high school at Rainy River High School (Go Owls!) and I went to university in Thunder Bay. It was a chance to affect change and make things better back home from afar, and that was a chance I relished.
Through out the episode, I saw all of these places I knew so well, from all parts of my life and it wasn’t lost on me. But to me the bigger thing was watching these to politicians, passionate and with strong views, taking everything in, listening to one another and learning from each other. They took in the experiences from each others’ communities and you could see that they were trying to see how they could be used to improve their own.
And to me, that is the power of this show. It shows that more human side to our elected officials that people don’t see enough of, but it also shows that most politicians are in this for the same good reasons; to serve and make their communities better.
In these charged times, I feel that whenever possible the voting public needs to see exactly what this show shows people. That doesn’t mean that we can’t disagree, it doesn’t even mean that we must never get angry or passionate, but it shows that politics is not about living in that state all the time. Sure, it doesn’t make for the excitement of House of Cards, but real life isn’t, and that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes we need to remember that, that we can be better, and this show is a great example of what that can look like.