Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Smart Justice Network of Canada special by retired judge Barry Stuart

Barry Stuart


by Barry Stuart -- Oct 22, 2015 (re-posted with permission)

(Today, Smart Justice Network of Canada is delighted to offer a post-election reflection from its chair Barry Stuart, retired judge and life-long advocate for a better way in the justice system, on the Canada we have missed and a few thoughts on how to restore what we have lost while moving resolutely to what Stuart describes as neighborliness.  SJNC has an excellent e-mail distribution list which you can subscribe to by writing:

My gosh… as I drove home late last night from serving as a polling station scrutineer,    the emotional, physical, spiritual and mental stress of the past several months drifted away, sending a wave of bliss through me …I never want to forget how worried I was about my country; I never want to forget how easy it had been for me to take for granted the unique blessings we have as Canadians. The greatest threat our democracy faces is not foreign invasion but apathy, failing to carry out our responsibilities as citizens. I had been apathetic. Content to let others engage in politics, I turned to my interests.   This election woke me up. Jolted me awake.

Driven by a combination of fear over this election returning Conservatives to power, and my personal shame for abandoning any significant political engagement, I threw myself into this election. I engaged in every way possible, investing heart and soul into supporting candidates in different ridings representing all parties but Conservatives. 

My primary opposition focused not on Conservatives, but on Prime Minister Harper.   I recognize and respect the many contributions conservatives have made to Canada. The conservative voice is an essential part of a healthy inclusive dialogue in Canada. In the past I voted for the best candidate in my riding every time. Over the years, that included voting conservative for the likes of the amazing John Fraser. This time I was able to vote for the best candidate in my riding, and support Greens, NDP and Liberal candidates in other ridings. My support for candidates in other ridings was driven by two factors; they were great candidates and they had a good chance to beat incumbent conservatives.

My obsession to defeat Prime Minister Harper did not sit easy on my mind. I knew better than to place all the blame at these feet … but I wanted my country back.  He dominated Conservative parliamentarians and Parliament in ways that distressed me.  Perhaps unfortunately and even undeservedly in many respects, he became the symbol of what had to change.  My fight was not so much against conservatives but for change.

I respect anyone who devotes their life to our political process and for that I respected Prime Minister Harper, but I have never been able to understand why he so aggressively undermined our essential democratic principles and stripped away the practices that made me fervently proud to be Canadian.

In this election, from knocking on doors to counting ballots as a scrutineer and every- thing in between, I became acutely aware of the indispensable contributions and sacrifices so many have made in wars, in their daily participation in communities, and in  serving as  public servants in multiple capacities to make our  country unique . Collectively, large and small, each contribution and sacrifice established, nurtured and sustained the legacy we inherit as Canadians. . Now each of us are called on to honour and respect our legacy, and make our sacrifices to pass our legacy onto future generations.

As important, our legacy generates hope around the world that a political process respecting all voices, fiercely protecting freedom and creating peaceful ways to work through our differences is a viable option for their country.  

In Canada we have built processes to work through our differences in ways that uphold individual and collective freedoms and rights and reinforce our connections to our values and to each other.

Last night was a powerful example of our legacy, of our blessings.

If only we had thought of those opposed to our views as neighbours with different views and not as enemies, the election process might have been a perfect example of democracy in action…and I may not have so readily focused my opposition on a Prime Minister.

May we now restore respect for different voices, turn back to the values of democracy and work together to meet the dire challenges we face locally, nationally and internationally. 

So neighbours, where can we find common ground, where can we work together to honour our legacy? We have much to do .We need to do this work together. Let us work to inspire and attract the very best from all Canadians in rolling up their sleeves as good neighbours to sustain our legacy.

In the very least we need change, not in the underlying principles of democracy, but change in our practices and processes to enhance  mutual understanding and respect, to open governing to all Canadians, and  to work through the complex issues we face in ways that bring us together as good neighbours sharing the gifts all can contribute . The health of any democracy depends on participation and on honouring our civic responsibilities to share the hard moral work of community. On so many levels we cannot afford to dial in experts or government every time difficult problems confront the lives of our families and communities. Good neighbours, not just good governments, are the fundamental building blocks of strong families and communities.

This election demonstrated the need to shift from a first past the post to a priority voting process. Championed by all other parties, and successfully used in many other democracies, a priority voting process significantly enhances the ability of each voter to accurately express their views and for all Canadians to create an inclusive parliament reflecting the rich diversity of Canadian cultures and perspectives. Above all other promises this change has the potential to motivate every voter to recognize their vote counts, and carefully consider how each party reflects their views.  I have faith our new government will retain this crucial promise of priority voting and even though now armed with a majority by first past the post.

In the very least I need to thank Prime Minister Harper for the sacrifices he and his family made, for his gracious departure from office to becoming my neighbour, and certainly for waking me up.  

Reaction from Glenn Sigurdson, practioner, writer, and teacher (adjunct professor SFU Beedie School of Business), is a longtime colleague and once, a “very long time ago” student of Barry

Well said, Barry ... And resonated with my own state of mind to a great extent. 

What will be Stephen Harper's greatest legacy? What was said so powerfully by many voices through votes last night is one.  He energized many in many places and generations to defend what we thought we were at risk of losing. Curiously the impact is to have restored democratic vibrancy across geography and demographics. That must be nurtured to endure. What will it take? That is the challenge.

But I believe he leaves a greater legacy.  He has revealed deep weaknesses in our democratic structures, far too many to recite here. Suffice to say the  " what will it take" challenge on this front is wide and deep - from roles and responsibilities of MPs, protagonist theater in the Commons, goofing around in the Senate, committee effectiveness, protocols around legislative " bundling", connecting the dots between public policy and giving it effect, jurisdictional turf wars, federal provincial structures, and dismantling old think with new think in ways that indigenous communities and people are engaged in governance structures.

It is a big list but we must go beyond  (" peace, order and ) "good government " to good governance - the structures that determine how we make decisions and resolve differences, and live and work together in spite of our differences 

People "play by the rules of the game" - we must change the "game" - the governance game - if we are going to change how we are motivated to behave. 

Barry, your eloquent inspirational words are appreciated.  Now we must ask what will it take to make a difference and contribute to this effort on which our dynamic and optimistic new leader has set as his course - and that of his government.  To succeed it will need more than "government." 

Reaction from fellow SJNC board member Eva Marszewski, O.Ont, of Peacebuilders: 

We have a lot of work ahead of us - by working together both locally and globally - to rebuild, to engage the public, to address  ‎massive inequities, to build public civility, to instill respect for differences, to empower collaborative models of decision-making and problem-solving,  and to enable this country to really be the welcoming, caring and equitable place that we believe it to be -  searching for and shining a light on the difficult path going forward in the belief that humans will find ways to ensure their collective survival on this planet. Where do we begin?