When Reformers came to Ottawa in 1993, I was surprised by the depth of animosity towards us. Media were one of the worst offenders. Their glee and the effort they devoted to making us look foolish was unbelievable. That is why I’m so cautious in dealing with media more than twenty years on. I hardly ever give interviews; I tend to cite the truth as I see it, and sometimes that can be problematic.
We were surprised by that 1993 election, and the wholesale repudiation of the sitting government. It was a big change, for ourselves and the country. Reformers were motivated to do politics differently, but it was a steep learning curve.
Reform movements are born from deep dissatisfaction that builds up over many years. Reformers put their lives on the line and devote themselves to making deep-rooted change. It’s wearying. It takes energy and time and focus. Canadian history shows reform movements almost always have some impact, but rarely bring wholesale change to mammoth institutions. Those are big beasts.
I was motivated to get into politics by a conviction that governments have to live within their means. Parliament had not balanced its budget since 1969. Today there’s a widespread acceptance of the dangers of deficits. I think there has been a great deal of progress.
I’ll be candid; I have not been happy with our deficit. Many of us weren’t. A deep recession came along, people became frightened, Canadians were losing their jobs. The Opposition was threatening to replace us with what we believed were far more destructive policies, and we had to make a choice. We chose to run a deficit.
Someone once said that politics is the art of the possible, but there are many times when it’s simply not possible. The deficit situation is a good example of confronting a political and democratic reality that makes pure ideology an impossible goal. You try to keep moving forward.
I never lost the belief that I’m a representative and a delegate of my constituency. I owe them honest service and balanced information; I’m responsible for bringing their concerns forward into the public debate. Doing this well brings enormous satisfaction. People can respect what you do; encouragement and mentoring young people also means a lot.
What were my best moments on Parliament Hill? I don’t think in those terms. I tried to build bridges; I tried to maintain open, respectful relationships and help Canadians with real concerns. In my 22 years on Parliament Hill I attempted a daily, committed alertness to trying to work for things that benefit Canadians. I never thought, ‘Oh, I did this.’ I was always a member of a team, and every day we all tried to make a difference. I think we did.
(Editor’s note: the author is seven-term MP for Calgary-Nose Hill, and a former Reform Party chair)