Boot Straps Need Boots: A Reflection

Posted: March 5, 2020 by Ty in Canadian Politics, Current Events
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Hugh Segal has had a long career in public service, both at the Federal Political level, Provincially, and in our Senate Chamber. He was called to the Senate much to his shock, by Prime Minister Paul Martin, a Liberal, and offered the ability in 2004 to sit as either a Progressive Conservative, Conservative, Liberal or Independent, much to his surprise, because usually up to that point vacancies in the appointed chamber were filled through partisan politics. Segal decided to adopt the new brand of the recently merged right at the time and sat as a Conservative, though in 2014 when he left, he was seeing it was not the Tory ship he remembered.

The Wynne government was not perfect nor Tory. Few governments in Canada are “Tory” anymore. Today when I use the word, I refer to Disraeli-like belief in “one nation” politics–a politics that sees as unacceptable the vast difference between those living happy, well-funded lives of travel and luxury and a sub-culture in which people are denied enough to eat, indoor plumbing, time for family, or any enjoyment at all. A Tory respects tradition and the rule of law but sees the reduction of the gap between rich and poor as essential to his or her mission.¬†The Disraeli administration made progress around child labour laws, breaks during the working day, a full weekend off, and other amenities for workers that reduced the pain and hopelessness of poverty. This is what I refer to when I use the word “Tory”. (Segal, 2019, p. 159)

Segal’s (2019) Boot Straps Need Boots: One Tory’s Lonely Fight to End Poverty in Canada¬†opens during his childhood in Quebec, where his toy box has gone missing and it is revealed that his father had given it to a neighbour for fire wood, and the long life journey of unpacking the idea of poverty. Of the work of community to support one another to carry one through, and the role of government. His family’s elder generation was CCF/NDP, his parents was Liberal, and through the whistle stop of Prime Minister John Diefenbaker (A Tory), a young Hugh Segal at 12 years old was converted. Why?

Image result for boot straps need bootsDiefenbaker spoke to his family’s circumstance. Even though everyone in his family supported the “natural governing order” or the incumbents in the safe seats, what is Canada’s equivalent to a British rotten burrough is a good reminder to always question the incumbents, the party, and that there is no natural governing body, but rather a coalition of citizens that need to show they are working for Peace, Order and Good Governance for all Canadians, and what that looks like at the core should be able to cast a vision, have a plan, implement and get support across parties–for opposition sometimes is about right out opposing when it is bad legislation, but on the whole, opposition should be about making governance better, more accountable and transparent.

The need to what the quote of Segal’s from the book at the time the Liberal provincial government of Kathleen Wynne had him come to pilot the Guaranteed Income project (a pilot project scraped by the incoming Doug Ford populist, in PC brand only, governance). It was one of the two interests that drove Segal’s public life. Under the PC Leader Stanfield there was a drive for using solid research and application in public policy. Segal’s writing affixes him as a true Red Tory, he stayed true to his party, in 1998 would run for leader with the party now reduced to 5th place due to the fracture of the coalition and rise of the Bloc Quebecois and Reform Party. Yet a platform to espouse the drive for the Guaranteed Basic Income Model.

A Model that lays out a pathway to prosperity for all citizens in an economic efficiency instead of the layers of government entitlements (four for seniors in Alberta, disability payments, and different income supports at a provincial level). It gears to a tax base allows for a universality of a program to ensure livability. It creates a system of hope, and replaces a system based on paranoia, and exclusion to one of inclusion, and opening up new avenues for citizens to fully participate in economic prosperity.

Aside from the memoir journey that shows his path from childhood, where at 12 years old he was encouraged to contact the leader of each party before making a decision, and sharing how it was Diefenbaker’s office that responded not with a form letter, but a letter, and speeches that centered on the questions he asked. Engagement of the youth, asking questions, seeking out the best evidenced based solutions, understanding the need for collaboration across party lines to effectively make change and positive impacts. This was seen at different points when he wrote of work in minority governments, and the shift in majority (as he was a part of Mulroney’s government)…to a return in the Senate, then stepping back and becoming principal of a college, to his work with Wynne’s government.

The echo is also seeing the unfortunate change, as collaboration dies, the ability to question one’s own movement as well as others in the discourse of ideas (the altruistic evil writers like Jonathan Sacks discourse on) to what it actually means to be a public servant. The memoir unpacks the story of a life work yet to be accomplished, and the question to the reader is, should it be? And yes it should for Canadians as a whole.

Segal, using Ontario as a case in point writes of where we are at in decision making:

Cabinet solidarity after reaching a decision is one thing; having no chance to influence the decision before it is reached is another. This goes beyond right, left or centre. This goes directly to process, inclusion,and the right of ministers to have their say. After all, their oath of allegiance is to the Crown, not the premier or his staff. (p.179).

The closing shows how one over a lifetime can have a moment that inspires to change, even in the moment it is frought with a spectrum of emotions of anger, sadness and confusion. Segal’s toy box moment was this. Anger needs to be released, or it will consume and not allow you to see beyond your own anger, for what is actually the true healthy interdependence of our communities:

I am no longer angry at my Dad. The toy box was all that he had to help a neighbour whose economic straits were even more dire than ours.  I have forgiven you, Dad. In your place at the great cab stand in heaven, I hope you will chuckle at how long it took me to admit it. My father did the right thing. We all need to do the right thing now. (Segal, p.173).

What is the right thing you need to do?

Right now…


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