Friday, October 08, 2010

History of a parliamentarian

Fascinating piece of film: Bob Rae talking frankly to a CBC camera about his life and career, reflecting on youthful depression, explaining how to succeed in question period....

Rae earned a reputation as a very effective parliamentarian, one who took instantly to the House's arcane ways and established himself as a presence there almost as soon as he arrived, age 30, in 1978.

Well, he learned fast, but he had to learn.

I happened to observe Question Period in November 1978 for what may have been Bob Rae's first question in the House. He launched in a long, convoluted question/speech, soon interrupted by shouts of "Question!" from the government side. Flustered, Rae said, "My question simply is...." only to be interrupted by "Simply? Simply?" and gales of laughter. By the time he was finished, the minister (Jack Horner, in his brief Liberal incarnation) had worked out an easy, dismissive response, and the House moved on.

I was struck then by the toughness of the House, of the ways some members command respect and some do not. Rae learned from that early experience. His comments in the interview seem to reflect the lesson.

Update, October 12: Business executive Gwyn Morgan offers a startling contrast between the expectations of politicians like Rae, who learn how to deal with criticism, and businessmen, who apparently are above that kind of thing. Morgan was so scarred by his one encounter with vigorous questioning from a parliamentary committee that he has eschewed active politics completely and returned to the sheltered workshops of Bay Street, where apparently no one asks him rude questions.
If that kind of opposition sniping ...can sustain itself, it really means that we have taken out from any kind of public service in Ottawa people who have been successful in business.
Indeed, he now believes businessmen who consider political activity deserve to be exempted from scrutiny entirely. "Business people] actually know how to run something and have shown commitment in a lot of different ways,” he says. Mr. Morgan "has faith that the Prime Minister would never again subject someone to a committee after the first experience."
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