Mr. Parliament (re-post from Feb. 5, prediction Mubarak would leave)

Posted on: February 5, 2011

The last time I smoked tobacco was years ago on an Alberta plain sitting cross-legged in a semi-circle with members of the Alexander First Nation. The tobacco was in a long, decorative peace pipe. The ceremony was solemn- I was not allowed to take photographs. To my left was the then local member of parliament, John Williams, also sitting, suit jacket off, on the plain of dry yellow grass under a hot sun burning down from a cloudless blue sky. After puffing, I passed the peace pipe to him, or it could be the other way round.

I ran into him again yesterday in a doctor’s office waiting room. I was in for a check-up, he as well, but his woes were serious- he had fallen off his roof shoveling snow and he was using a cane, just promoted from walker minutes before. He had not fallen into a soft puffy snowbank, but instead onto his frozen wooden deck, (he calculated how fast he had hit the deck from the roof: 15 feet per second) broke his hip, dragged himself to his car, somehow got in it, and drove himself to the hospital. He was there four days.

He stood, leaning on cane, declining a seat in the semi-crowded waiting room. We talked politics, of course. A third gentleman, very pleasant, whose name escapes me, unfortunately, was knowledgeable about both politics and real estate, and so we passed the time in talk until our names were called.

Williams was born a Scott, as was Canada’s first prime minister. He is also an accountant, starting in 1962 in Scotland, perched on a stool at a tall angled desk before a thick ledger, ink well, and nibbed pen where he added up 50-column sums without a calculator. It was closer to the era of Charles Dickens than Facebook.

Williams has aged a little, as have we all. But he still has it. He still has the fire, stoked by indignation over unfairness. His right hand still grips his right lapel when on a verbal roll before a rapt audience. His bugbear since he left parliament has been corruption, and how it’s fostered by a lack of accountability and therefore  is corrosive to democracy.  He travels widely to that end, speaking to that issue. (A mention: Speech notes were tossed aside  when he was taken by an over-charging taxi driver in some foreign country. His speech instead started with that example. Who is accountable? Who can a person overcharged go to? If you can’t end that corruption by going to an accountable official, even a police officer, or his superior, or your member of parliament, corruption is systemic.)

We talked about the recent upheaval of Alberta politics, his memories of parliament, international politics, and, of course Egypt, and he drew parallels of politics of present in Alberta and Egypt.

He knows I’m a writer, and he has too much good perspective not to record what the experienced political war-horse had to say about leadership.

“Once you say you’re gone, you’re gone,” he said. Alberta Premier Stelmach had announced in recent days he is leaving, as has President Mubarak of Egypt. Both want to hang on until about September. It is not a secret Stelmach and his finance minister had a disagreement over the budget coming down. The finance minister quit, Stelmach will have to support the budget (“Or what was the disagreement for?” Williams said, hand gripping his lapel,) and members of the legislative assembly will line up behind who will best lead the party. (Another Williams pearl: “You never know the support you have in politics from politicians. Someone could promise you the strongest support and it could be gone in an hour.”) Lining up behind Stelmach is a line to oblivion, as he’s announced he’s leaving. Likewise Mubarak of Egypt. If you are not a power, you are a lame duck. Politics abhors a vacuum. “Once you say you’re gone, you’re gone,” said Williams. Politics is like that.


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