Due to the high turnover rate in Canadian elections, very few legislators
who were in office in 1978, when the Canadian Parliamentary Review was founded,
are still in office today. To mark the 20th anniversary of the Review we have
interviewed four long-time members. Sean Conway, first elected in 1975, is the
Liberal member for Renfrew North in the Ontario Legislative Assembly. Lorne
Nystrom, first elected in 1968, is the New Democratic Party member for
Qu'Appelle in the House of Commons. Jacques Baril, first elected in 1976, is
the Parti Québécois member of the Quebec National Assembly for Arthabaska. John
Reynolds is the Reform Party member of Parliament for West Vancouver-Sunshine
Coast. He was first elected to the House of Commons in 1972 as a Progressive
Conservative and later represented West Vancouver-Howe Sound in the British
Columbia Legislative Assembly. The interviews were conducted in February and
March 1998 by Gary Levy. The interview with Jacques Baril was done in
collaboration with Christian Comeau.
Why did you go into politics
and what were some of your initial impressions of Parliament ?
Sean Conway: I grew up in an atmosphere where
active politics was part of the family tradition. My grandfather, Thomas
Patrick Murray represented South Renfrew in the Ontario Legislative Assembly
from 1929 to 1945. It was great fun making the rounds with him. I
also worked on the campaign for our local member of Parliament, Len Hopkins. In
1975, while a graduate student at Queen’s University, a family friend suggested
I seek the Liberal nomination. The sitting member, a Conservative, had
retired. The Government of William Davis was struggling. The nomination
meeting was held in May but if it had been two months earlier, during final
exams, I never would have been a candidate. But the timing was right, and
a few months later, I found myself in Toronto as an MLA. When you are 24 years
old you do not give such matters as much thought as you would ten years later.
I was probably better prepared than
most people my age as I had heard numerous stories from my grandfather.
He was 95 years old by the time I was elected but he still regaled
visitors with stories about Mitchell Hepburn, George Drew, Howard Fergusson and
other famous members of the legislature. My first impression was very
humbling. Every party had a number of very experienced and talented
people. Bob Nixon was our leader, Robert Welch and Darcy McKeough were
very impressive members of the government. The NDP had Donald C.
MacDonald and James Renwick. One of my earliest recollections was
listening to a speech by Stephen Lewis of the NDP. He was a great orator
and listening to him made me realize that I still had a long way to go before I
could compare with any of these political heavyweights.
Jacques Baril: I went into politics for two reasons.
I wanted to defend the agricultural class because I am a dairy farmer and
was active in the Union des producteurs agricoles. In the early 1970s,
there were tremendous problems in the agricultural sector. People were
digging holes to bury their calves, eggs, milk and so on. The second
reason is a simple one. I am a sovereigntist by conviction and I want
Quebec to achieve sovereignty. I had no idea how the legislature worked, or
could work. I learned on the job.
Lorne Nystrom: In the late 1960s I was president of
the Youth Wing of the NDP. I had always been interested in politics and
planned to run for office some day. A federal election was called for June
1968. I was 21 years old at the time and Yorkton Melville was generally
considered to be a Tory seat. I ran for the NDP nomination against three
other candidates. We had a huge turnout at the nomination meeting mainly
because Laurier Lapierre was our guest Speaker. He had recently been
fired as host of the CBC programme This Hour has Seven Days and was the
NDP candidate in a Montreal riding. I won the nomination on the 3rd ballot.
The election was dominated by “Trudeaumania” and returned a Liberal
majority government. But in my riding the vote split three ways and I won with
38% of the popular vote.
I did not have many
pre-conceived ideas. I had only been to Ottawa once, in 1967 when I hitchhiked
across Canada on my way to Expo 67. I stopped briefly in Ottawa to take a
picture in front of the Peace Tower. My initial impression of Parliament
is that it was a large and rather slow moving institution. There was not
much discussion or interest in ideas that were current among my generation.
I found it a very conservative place and even found many in my own party
to be more conservative and traditional than I had imagined.
John Reynolds: In 1968, the Liberals under Pierre
Trudeau were elected with quite a large mandate. However, their
popularity among small businessmen, particularly in western Canada, did not
last. In 1971, I was at a Christmas party and started talking politics
with Tom Goode, the Liberal MP for Burnaby-Richmond. A number of us
expressed concerns about the direction the government was taking and afterwards
the question arose as to what we could do about it. One option is always
to get involved. I was already a member of the Progressive Conservative
Party and I decided to see what I could do to help build up party membership
for the next election.
As nomination day drew closer,
my name was mentioned more and more as a possible candidate. I was 29 years old
and did not expect to win the nomination let alone the riding, however, I
decided to let my name stand. At the very least I thought it would be
great experience to learn how the democratic process really works. When
the votes were counted in the 1972 election I won by a small margin, about
1,500 votes. As often happens in British Columbia, the vote split three
ways and I came up the middle between the Liberals and the NDP. Two years
later I was re-elected with the biggest majority in British Columbia.
In comparing the Chamber then
and now, do you see any major differences? In question period for example.
John Reynolds: For one thing the Speaker seemed
to have more authority in those days, at least as far as recognising members
during question period was concerned. The parties gave him the names of
the first 3 individuals they wanted recognised but after that he was on his own
to recognise whoever he wanted.
Today it is more scripted by the
parties although I do like the 35 seconds allowed for questions and answers as it
allows more members to get their questions in. It seems to me that the
Speaker got more respect in the early 1970s, perhaps because there was no
television in those days. Whatever the reason, when the Speaker stood up
and called for order you would have quiet within a few seconds.
The media has become much more
important than it used to be. There were fewer scrums 30 years ago.
Now all the parties have hired media people and they have tremendous
influence over everything done in Ottawa. One thing that has not changed
is the difficulty of getting western Canadian issues on the agenda. In
the 1970s we used to have a meeting regarding question period every day. I
remember that I could not convince my colleagues that we should be raising
questions about a grain strike in western Canada. Not until the strike
made the headlines in the Globe and Mail did we get it on the agenda.
This has changed somewhat today with a western based party like Reform.
But, we still have to fight with some of our party staff who are more oriented
toward problems in central Canada.
Lorne Nystrom: Question period is definitely more
rapid and faster moving today. There was no fixed time limit and you
could have points of order or questions of privilege during question period.
That is not allowed today.
I guess the biggest difference
was that we did not have television in the House. It was introduced in
1977 and had an immediate effect on the way people dressed and behaved. I
remember one MP, Bob Brisco, who liked to wear an ultra suede suit. He
sat in the back benches and his suit was exactly the colour of the curtains in
the House. When he rose to speak all you saw on TV was a round face
peering out of the curtains. He never wore that suit again in the House.
Behaviour also changed. There were night sessions in those days and
it was not unknown for people to have too much to drink. Television
discouraged such behaviour and eventually night sittings were eliminated
Television also turned the House
into more of a theatre and theatrical skills came in very handy. It also
made Parliament more accessible and open to the people. On balance, I
think television had a positive effect. There are only a handful of
members in the House who remember what it was like before television.
Sean Conway: When I arrived at Queen’s Park, there
had been a Conservative Government in Ontario for 32 consecutive years.
The political culture was that of single party dominance. The
opposition, in their heart, never really imagined they would one day be the
government. As a result question period was a set piece and lacked
spontaneity. Today all parties have members who have been in office and
that experience has led to great changes in the atmosphere of question period.
The introduction of electronic Hansard has been a mixed blessing. It has
led to increased grandstanding and members talking into the cameras rather than
to their colleagues in the House.
Jacques Baril: There have been some small changes, but
nothing major. When I first arrived, members were noisy about making their
opinions known, thumping on the desk, banging the lid, and so forth.
Nowadays, people show their support by applauding.
What about committee work
then and now?
Lorne Nystrom: This has changed a bit but it is
evolving slower than I would like. Committees do not exercise nearly
enough power. It takes a determined chairman to really use the committee
system to take on the government. George Baker did it in this Parliament
with the Fisheries Committee and I think a lot of other committees could do
more independent work if they wanted.
My experience on committees has
been fairly positive. I particularly enjoyed working on various
constitutional committees over the years. I thought they made a positive
contribution to the advancement of public policy in this area, which has always
been one of my main interests. It is not unusual anymore to see a
committee on television but I think more could be done in this area and I wish
the media would begin to pay more attention to committee work and less to the
theatrics of question period.
In the present Parliament, with
five parties represented on committees, it is a bit frustrating for me.
The time for questioning is restricted and our party has only one member
per committee which makes it difficult. Committees are also difficult for the
government this Parliament. Their numbers are thin and they have to be
careful not to get caught off guard in committee.
Sean Conway: Again we have to keep in mind the
different political culture that prevails in Ontario. When I began, the
select committee system was much more active. We had wide-ranging studies
on company law, insurance, economic nationalism, and so on. It was not
unusual for committees to travel to the United States or even overseas.
We do not see such things today. In fact committees do not even get
around Ontario very much.
Another difference is in the
membership. I suspect the average member had ten years experience when I
started. There was a great deal of institutional memory. Today a member
with five years experience is considered a veteran. Institutional memory
is almost non existent among the members. Debates have become more
polarized and nastier. This is true in both the Chamber and in
John Reynolds: I do not think there has been
much change in the way committees work. I was involved with a committee
that prepared an excellent report on the penitentiaries system. There are
a few important committee studies underway in this Parliament. Generally
speaking it was easier to get a committee going back in the 1970s and they
operated in a much less partisan way. There has been no real progress in
the independence of committees to undertake studies. The government still
has too much to say about how they operate. Opposition members still have
to fight too much to get their witnesses heard.
Jacques Baril: Yes, committees have changed.
There was a major reform in 1989 when, in addition to their mandates of
initiative and oversight of agencies, committees were given the power to summon
the deputy minister and question him about his department. This was an
important step, because it always used to be the minister who answered for his
department. But now it is the deputy minister or CEO of a public body.
This gives members more latitude.
The Standing Orders allow a
committee to table its report to the Assembly, and when we make
recommendations, there is provision for two hours of debate in the House.
This is important because members do a lot of work in committee that the
public knows nothing about. This is a little known aspect of our jobs.
Having worked with Denis Vaugeois in 1984, when the Standing Orders were
reformed, I was somewhat familiar with them. When I became committee chair, I
used the authority the Standing Orders gave us. But this does not always
suit the government. When you make recommendations, it irritates the
government. With respect to Bill 188 on market intermediaries, we made twelve
recommendations based on what people told us at the public hearings. Our
recommendations jog members’ memories, and when the government introduces its
bill six months or one year later, members remember what people came to tell
them a year earlier.
There was also an important
reform one year ago. A new committee, the Committee on Public
Administration, which is similar to the public accounts committees in other
provinces, was created. This was not how they did things in Quebec City.
There was the Committee on the Budget and Administration, which mainly
examined how departments were run. But now there is a committee, the sole
purpose of which is to examine all financial commitments, and which works
closely with the auditor general. I worked hard to create this committee
because, while a committee chair must plan the work, legislation takes
priority, and the chair is bound by that. You give priority to
legislation, and put whatever other plans you had aside. The Committee on
Public Administration, however, does not handle legislation. It can
oversee and question the government on anything to do with administration.
This committee is an important step forward, an important tool that
members have acquired.
Have there been changes in
the support provided to members?
Jacques Baril: When I arrived in 1976, there was a
budget of $11,000 for riding staff. It was ridiculous. On top of that,
the newly elected member had to scramble for an office and to get a telephone
installed, buy stationery and so on. He had to look after everything
because there was no assistance. Today the National Assembly gives members an
advance of $2,000 or $3,000 to at least buy a few things to get started.
We also have a budget to hire
staff and we decide what the staff will be paid. We can have one or two riding
offices depending on density of population and the size of the riding. I
have a heavily populated riding not a large one and therefore am entitled to
only one office. But huge ridings such as Duplessis are entitled to at
least two riding offices.
When you are in opposition, you
have a whole team of researchers and you receive a lot of technical support
from the research office. When you are in power, you do not have this
support. The thinking is that members do not need it because they have
the support of the departments. But this is not always the case. We used
to have a section in the National Assembly’s library that, at one time, had ten
or so researchers. I am told there are no more than two or three left.
It is disgraceful. We used to ask these researchers to compile
various things, do bits of research. I myself cannot start doing research.
I can say what I want, but I do not have the time to do research.
We have fewer services in that sense.
John Reynolds: Then as now the key to being a
successful member is to have good staff in your Ottawa office and in the
constituency. I have been fortunate in that when I returned to Ottawa
after the 1997 election, I was able to get back some of the same people who
worked for me in the 1970s. One of my constituency workers now is a
former member of my Ottawa staff. I was one of the first members to open
a constituency office back in the days when Parliament did not pay for such
things. Now, of course that is covered under our allowances. The
basic services a member is asked to provide to constituents has not changed
very much but there is more demand on our time.
Sean Conway: I think our legislators have always
been well supported both in terms of party/caucus support and services provided
by the legislative library. Sometimes I think we may have too many
resources in that members seem to be happy to rely on clipping services rather
than read the whole newspaper. More significant, I see members who think
that they need one person to research their speech and another to write it.
This leaves the MLA’s role as little more than getting up to read a text
they have never seen before. The quality of debate and speechmaking has
declined due to an over reliance on staff.
When I arrived we had no
constituency offices but shortly thereafter they were established. I think we
are well served now. Even with the best staff and resources in the world
there is no substitute for the member getting out and meeting people. You have
to do your own analysis of the situation.
Lorne Nystrom: There have been great changes in this
respect. When I arrived in 1968, I had one secretary in Ottawa and no one
in the constituency. There was a pool of office staff and eventually we
were given funds to hire our own people. The way the budgets work now
most members have 4 people. Originally most members had 3 in Ottawa and one
in the riding but now it seems like 2 and 2 is the norm. Some hire an
extra person but that means everyone has to earn less and even with only 4
staff the salaries are not high enough for the long hours many staffers have to
Another change in resources has
been at the caucus level. We now have much better central research and
communications support provided centrally for the entire caucus. There
have also been tremendous technological improvements. The one that made
the biggest difference for me was the fax machine.
What procedural or other
reforms would you like to see?
Jacques Baril: First, there is the question of time
which is used so unproductively in the House. I would like to see things move
faster. But you run up against all sorts of procedures and process. You
have to go with the flow in order to be able to implement your solutions with
respect to budgets and programs. It takes time.
I do not have the
solution. I have great respect for democracy but when you have 20 opposition
members, and these twenty take ten or twenty minutes each to speak and three
quarters of them are not even going to know what they are talking about, I find
that a waste of time. I am sure there must be a way to respect the
opposition parties, while preventing the government from doing whatever it
wants. As to how a compromise can be achieved, I do not have the answer.
For an old parliamentarian like myself, it becomes annoying.
John Reynolds: The most important thing for me would
be more free votes. That is one of the policies that attracted me to the
Reform Party. I do not think the role of legislators should be to rubber
stamp the work of the bureaucracy. I think there is considerable support
for this view among the Canadian people and it is one of the things that will
help us eventually become the Government of Canada. I would also like to see
Senate Reform and think the starting point would be the W.A.C. Bennett view of
Canada as consisting of five regions all of which are unique. I think even the
people of Quebec would recognise that this better represents the Canadian
reality than either the present federation or two separate countries.
Lorne Nystrom: Two major changes have greatly weakened
the opposition during my years in Parliament. The first was the removal
of the estimates from the House. This was done to make more time
available by having estimates considered in committee, but if a committee does
not consider and adopt the estimates by a certain date they are “deemed” to be
approved. This removes a lot of incentive for serious scrutiny of
government spending by members of Parliament.
The second change is the
increased use of time allocation or closure to cut off debate. When I
first came to Ottawa the infamous pipeline debate of 1956 was barely a decade
old and governments were loath to be accused of cutting off opportunities for
the opposition to debate a bill. Today, it is almost routine for a
government to introduce time allocation.
I also think we have to do
something to improve the ability of committees to undertake constructive public
policy work and to make the government listen to their reports. I think
we need to have more free votes. We need to find a way to restrain the
power of the Prime Minister’s Office. I would favour a change in the way judges
and heads of large public corporations are appointed. We could give the
provinces a say in the appointment process as was proposed in the Meech Lake
Accord or give parliamentarians a greater role.
I also think we have to look
seriously at electoral reform. Several studies have come to the
conclusion that we are not well served by the present first past the post
system. In the last 50 years, only two elections have produced a
government that had the support of more than 50% of the electorate. Many
other countries have changed or are considering changing their electoral
system. One of the most popular models is the German one which combines
single member districts with members elected at large in proportion to the
popular vote. I believe such a system would serve Canadians much better
than our present electoral system.
Sean Conway: I am not sure if any procedural reforms
can help us in Ontario at the present time. The legislature and the
politics of the 1970s reflected a prosperous society where the income of the
middle class was rising and the provincial economy growing. The angry,
polarized politics of the 1990s reflects a population whose income and real
standard of living has been declining. The result has been three
consecutive electoral decapitations, each one more remarkable than its
The result is rancour in the
legislature the likes of which I have never seen. As members have become
more strident they spend less time thinking about issues and more time reading
speeches to a Chamber of empty seats.
Who are some of the dominant
personalities you have known in Parliament and what made them effective?
Lorne Nystrom: When I came to
Parliament the three giants in our party were Tommy Douglas, David Lewis and
Stanley Knowles. The Conservatives had John Diefenbaker and Robert
Stanfield. The powers on the Liberal side were the Prime Minster, Mr.
Pearson and Allan MacEachen. The Speaker of the House, Lucien Lamoureux,
managed to be a dominant force from the Speaker’s Chair.
Douglas, Lewis, MacEachen,
Caouette and Diefenbaker were great orators and whether you agreed with them or
not you wanted to hear them speak. Stanfield and Knowles had the ability
to inspire trust. They were men of principle. Pierre Trudeau
represented something new and different in politics. This novelty and his
tremendous intellect made him a force to be reckoned with in the House or on
Jacques Baril: René Lévesque was a remarkable
individual. I have never met anyone more charismatic. He was
fascinating. He could answer you nicely, but the opposition had better
not push him past a certain point because, if they did, he could be scathing.
He had respect for the National Assembly and for the opposition. He
certainly respected the role of the opposition, which is what democracy is all
Mr. Lévesque also had a deep
respect for his caucus. At the beginning of each meeting, he gave a fifteen or
twenty-minute speech. Each member took notes because it essentially outlined
the political landscape for the following few weeks. He was great at
summarizing the entire political situation in a few words, while clearly
indicating his policies and where he was headed. He motivated people and
kept the whole caucus united because we knew where he was headed. I do
not mean to imply anything about others, but the approach is not the same. He
listened to his troops and had a lot of respect for them.
In 1976, we had a team of well
known individuals. I remember Jacques-Yvan Morin, Robert Burns, Claude Charron,
Lise Payette and Jacques Parizeau. It was as though a new generation of
politicians had arrived.
Sean Conway: I have already mentioned some of the
people who impressed me when I first arrived. As to what makes a dominant
personality, I am not sure. In many cases there seems to be a family
connection. Bob Nixon and Stephen Lewis both had fathers who were famous
politicians. Pat Reid came from a very political family. His
brother John was a federal MP and cabinet minister. Other individuals
seem to be purely intuitive. Ian Deans was a fireman by profession but
had few peers as a parliamentarian. Albert Roy, now a judge, was another
one who seemed to have great political intuition.
There were also a few of what I
would call “characters.” Eddie Sargent is one who comes to mind.
Nominally a Liberal he was really an independent in word and deed.
He was a populist, a local hero whose independence derived from success
in sports and business. With this base of independence he could be
outrageous or entertaining. There have not been any like him in the
One reason characters could
survive was that there were many safe seats in Ontario. A strong local
individual could withstand a province-wide swing in the popular vote away from
his party. Now there are no safe seats and as a result many who are
elected get there because of the strength of the party. They think twice
before rocking the boat.
John Reynolds: A number of individuals come to
mind. Tommy Douglas, Réal Caouette, Don Jamieson, David Lewis and of
course John Diefenbaker. They were all great orators. In those days
you could speak for 45 minutes and when one of them had the floor you wanted to
be there to listen. Pierre Trudeau could be quite impressive in question
What are the issues that
stand out during your career?
Lorne Nystrom: The first issue that really caught my
attention was the civil war in Nigeria. I was one of those Canadians who
went to Biafra in 1969 to see first hand what was going on. We got caught
in the cross fire and saw incredible scenes beyond the comprehension of most Canadians.
Other memorable moments would include the invocation of the War
Measures Act in 1970 and the sight of armed soldiers on Parliament Hill.
The oil crisis of the mid 1970s and the Crows Nest Freight Rate debate
are other issues that come to mind. The entire 1972-74 Parliament was
very exciting. The NDP held the balance of power and can take credit for
much of what was accomplished in those years.
The greatest issue was and
continues be the National Question. The two referenda in Quebec, the constitutional
committees, repatriation of the constitution, the debate over “Les gens de
l’air” and so many other issues related to national unity stand out in my mind.
Our party has not always done well on these issues and our failure to
develop an effective answer to the National Question has kept us out of office.
I firmly believe that a majority or close to a majority of Canadians are
sympathetic to the Social Democratic message but elections keep being decided
on the National Question.
Jacques Baril: There were many issues. The
legislation on political party funding was very important, as was that on the
referendum. Car insurance, the French language, and agricultural zoning
are a few areas that come to mind. This has been a time of reform.
There was so much it was wonderful but a lot still remains to be done.
John Reynolds: The issues in the 1970s were not that
different than they are today. We were debating the role of the Wheat
Board, railway closures, illegal immigration, national unity and taxation.
Even capital punishment, a very significant issue and one where I played
a leading role for the Tories during my first term, is still an issue
when we talk about crime or law and order issues.
The big difference is on the
issue of national unity. We used to have some very strong Quebec
nationalists like Réal Caouette and on the other side some pretty outspoken
critics of bilingualism policies like Jack Horner of Alberta. But the debate
was always under the assumption that Canada would remain a united country.
Now we have a large group in Parliament who are calling over and over for
the separation of Quebec from the rest of Canada. It gets a little frustrating
for some of us to listen to that day after day.
Sean Conway: The economy is always the dominant
issue in Ontario. Almost everything else can be related to the impact on
the economy. For example there was a serious energy debate in the 1980s
but the underlying issue was the potential impact on the economy. Even
when the NDP was in office and they pushed the equity agenda, they did it in
large part because they viewed that as being good for the economy of Ontario.
Other issues tend to be
cyclical: municipal reform, educational reform even hospital closures were
hotly debated in the 1970s and are still being debated today. National
Unity can be an issue. I was part of a government that did not adequately
understand that constitutional deals like the Meech Lake Accord have to, first
and foremost, be acceptable to the people in your own province. We
suffered greatly for our mistake in this area. Mike Harris, to his
credit, seems to have learned from our mistakes.
Without a doubt, the most
dramatic moment occurred in June 1985 when, after 42 years, the Conservative
Government was defeated in the legislature and a new government took office.
We all knew that theoretically in a democracy, a government does not stay
in office forever. But things had become so stultified that many people could
not envisage Ontario as anything but Tory. They called us the Albania of
the free world. Then suddenly it changed. Ontario politics has been
changing ever since.
Another dramatic moment was in
1997. For a period of several weeks the legislature was besieged with
angry demonstrators. There had been demonstrations before but I had never
seen such anger against a government as we saw during that time.
A more pleasant moment was in
late 1978, the night Stephen Lewis gave his final speech and walked out of the
house for the last time. I remember that as he walked out he was
accompanied by Bill Davis. That picture encapsulated for me the consensual
nature of Ontario politics that used to exist. We had the leader of
the socialist party and the leader of the centrist Conservative party able to maintain
good personal relations although they debated and disagreed about the direction
of Ontario politics.
Aside from being an MP or
MLA, what other positions have you had during the last 20 years?
Lorne Nystrom: After 25 years in Parliament and
at age 47, I found myself out of office after the 1993 election. Over the
next four years I gradually built up a public affairs consulting business.
Some of my major accounts included Crown Life and Alliance Pipeline.
I did some work for aboriginal groups and served on one United Nations
mission in South Africa. I also did a lot of public speaking on national
unity issues, particularly on the Canadian Club circuit.
My life as a consultant was not
all that different from that of an MP. I spent a lot of time travelling
and talking about public policy issues. When it came time to decide
whether to continue with this life or take a stab at returning to active
politics I did not hesitate even though returning to the House meant a
significant loss of income. Like many in this profession I am addicted to
I thought it was extremely
important for the NDP to regain its status as an official party in the House of
Commons. I am glad I was able to help to do this. I felt the right wing
agenda being pushed to various degrees, by the Reform, the Conservatives and
the Liberals had to be balanced by a stronger NDP presence. I am very happy to
be back after my enforced sabbatical.
Jacques Baril: In 1985 I decided to leave politics.
I did not see eye to eye with the new Parti Québécois leader, Pierre-Marc
Johnson. I did not agree with the direction he was taking. With
Pierre-Marc Johnson, it was no longer sovereignty, but “national affirmation”.
We were headed nowhere with national affirmation. What we need is
A second reason for leaving was
my farm. I had been away for nine years and what I was earning as an MNA was
not enough to keep it going. My son had finished agricultural college and
was interested in taking it on, but it was in bad shape and unproductive. I
also had two daughters whom I did not know well enough. So there were
economic as well as family considerations. Also I was tired, worn out, and I
wanted to leave before I started having family problems—I have always had quite
a strong sense of family.
I had about four or five months
of peace and then all sorts of organisations came after me with offers to sit
on their board of directors. In the fall of 1987, I was approached to run
for mayor in my municipality. I served in that capacity from 1987 until the
1989 election, when I returned to the National Assembly. I was never really out
of politics, but at least I was home every evening with my family. We
also managed to rebuild the farm. I formed a company with my son and my wife.
My son is the fifth generation to hold the farm. It is rather rare
to see a farm stay in a family for five generations.
Why did I come back in 1989?
I was happy at home, but there was pressure on me to return. I am a
guy who has trouble saying no. As well, I had not given up on the idea of
Quebec’s independence. When I left, a Liberal MNA was elected. Not
everyone was happy with him. I was even urged to run by Liberals in my
riding because one thing they could be sure of was that I would be a better representative
in opposition than the government MNA. I won by almost 5,000 votes.
John Reynolds: I had supported Claude Wagner for the
Leadership of the PC Party in 1976. When he lost to Joe Clark I decided it was
time for me to leave federal politics. I returned to British Columbia and a few
years later ran for a seat in the provincial legislature.
I served for eight years from
1983 to 1991 including several years as Speaker and later as cabinet minister.
I thoroughly enjoyed both jobs.
I was not a procedural expert
but when I was asked to become Speaker I sat down with the Clerk and he gave me
some good advice and some books to read on the subject. I also tried to
model myself after the federal Speakers I had known, Lucien Lamoureux and James
Jerome, both of whom had impeccable reputations for impartiality. I had
very good relations with the House Leaders of the two major parties, Mark Rose
of the NDP whom I had known in Ottawa and Garde Gardom of Social Credit.
I also found, perhaps because of my physical size, that when I stood up
in the chair I tended to get people’s attention.
There is also a big plus in
being Speaker as far as your constituents are concerned. If I needed something
for my constituency, I could get to see the Minister immediately and usually
get a favourable response since no one wants to antagonise the Speaker.
I moved on to the Cabinet at the
request of the Leader because the Government was in trouble. I went down to
defeat with the rest of the Government in the next election. I still think that
if I had remained Speaker I would have been re-elected because my constituents
appreciated the good job I was able to do for them.
The big attraction of being a Minister
is that you are able to get things done. I had always been interested in
environmental issues and when I was named Minister for that portfolio I had a
chance to bring some of my ideas to fruition. The down side is that
sometimes I had to take actions that hurt me politically. For example one
of my biggest campaign contributors owned a pulp mill in my riding. This
particular plant failed to meet our environmental guidelines and we had to
order it closed. As Minister responsible I lost a good supporter.
Sean Conway: I have been in office continuously
since 1975 but have held a number of different positions both in government and
in opposition. Certainly being in opposition is more fun. You have more
independence. However, it is very hard to be a good opposition member if you
have never been in government. Once you have sat around the cabinet table you
really understand how government works. You can tell when a minister is giving
you the run around and when he or she is simply talking about the opportunities
and restraints that go with governing.
There is a lot of pressure on
ministers. I was 33 years old when I joined cabinet yet I was tired all
the time. You have to learn time management. However, I do not
think it is all that much more demanding than the role of a private member who
is expected to participate in local activities and deal with constituent
Have you participated in
activities of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association or other parliamentary
Lorne Nystrom: I have not been a major participant in
CPA although I have found them useful when I did participate. I have also
gone to a few AIPLF and Canada-France meetings. One only has so much
Sean Conway: In my early years I did, but not recently.
I think these are useful for new members.
Jacques Baril: I have not participated a great deal in
CPA activities because I am not fluent in English. I would like to
participate but as long as I am unable to communicate with others the way I would
like, I would prefer not to get involved.
I have, however, often taken
part in the activities of the AIPLF and built up friendships with various
parliamentarians, which was great. It is very interesting talking to
members from other countries. The last such meeting I attended was in
John Reynolds: I participated in numerous CPA
activities both as a private member and during my term as Speaker of the BC
Legislature. At the international level I think participation in the
Association helps us to overcome our own regionalism. I think the
dominant feeling of everyone who goes on an international delegation, no matter
how interesting it may be, is that it is great to get back to Canada. When we
go to some of the developing countries we are able to put our own problems in
perspective. I think we also have a responsibility, as Canadians, to help
countries that seek our advice about how to establish democratic forms of
government. While our system is far from perfect, it is still looked upon
with envy by many countries in the rest of the world.
The CPA also operates on the
regional level and it brings Canadian legislators together and increases their
understanding about the legislative process. The Reform Party has, from
the beginning, been reluctant to participate in these interparliamentary
activities which are viewed largely as junkets and a waste of public money.
My feeling is that we should take a closer look at some of these
activities and not write them all off automatically.
Would you recommend a career
in politics to someone thinking about running for office?
Jacques Baril: If you want to go into politics, you
have to like people. If you are just doing it for the glory, don’t
bother. You will get hurt and you will be bored. You also have to be
willing to make yourself available. It has to be a family decision, and
your partner’s support is essential. It is not always smooth sailing in
politics. Even if you have all sorts of friends, when things take a turn
for the worse, you often find yourself alone with just your wife and children.
That is hard. You have to be thick-skinned and strong enough to
rise above adversity. So, you must have goals. You must have
beliefs and be able to defend them. Every time there is an election, I
stop and ask myself whether I want to run. Am I still interested, do I
have goals I want to achieve? Am I sure I am not sick of it all?
What is most gratifying is
people’s appreciation. I feel I have really succeeded in doing a lot for
my riding. I have worked hard to help the less fortunate, the average
person. What motivates me is knowing that there are people who have no way of
John Reynolds: Generally I have made many more friends
than enemies in politics. When I ran for the Leadership of the Progressive
Conservative Party I found myself with a rather large debt. My wife
suggested we hold a “Roast” to help pay off the debt. We managed to get
high profile politicians from all parties to attend. Even Jean Chrétien,
who was then in private practice in Toronto, agreed to participate. It turned
into one of the largest political dinners ever held in British Columbia up to
that time, with something like 1400 guests. Friendships made in politics tend
to be long lasting and cut across party lines.
Sean Conway: I am less likely to encourage people to
enter politics today than I would have been ten years ago. There is less room
for moderates in Ontario now. We seem to be infected with some of the worse
aspects of US politics. Money is always a problem in politics but even
worse is the proliferation of lobbyists and the attitude that if you want to do
business with government you have to hire someone to lobby for you.
On the positive side there is
great satisfaction in working for constituents. The Ottawa Valley is a very
special place still rooted in old fashion politics. I enjoy it.
There is still some scope for
debate and disagreement over the role of government, the appropriate nature of
federalism, public funded education and the role of Canada in the world.
Needless to say, I hope we see a return to more moderate politics in Ontario
after the next election.
Lorne Nystrom: I see three major reasons for going
into political life. First it offers an opportunity to participate, even in a
small way, in the elaboration of public policy. Secondly to help my
constituents particularly when they are having problems dealing with the
government bureaucracy. Finally I guess I still see politics as the best
way to make our country a better and more progressive place to live.