My old friend is a political blowfly. He hasn’t got time to figure out what’s really happening behind the news and doesn’t pretend to know too much. Yet as a mature lawyer, a visible minority, with deep roots in his ethnic community, and active membership in the oldest, WASPyist clubs in town, he is seen as a rare and potentially valuable political asset. However he’s conflicted on almost every issue that defines Canadian political life.
Identity politics is torture for him, given his background. He calls himself a banana – white on the inside, yellow on the outside. He likes to wear handmade English suits, silk bowties, heavy brogues, and jaunty hats. I once counted 29 briefcases in his office. Single malt scotch can always be found in his board room. He carries a leather wallet for his fountain pens. He looks affluent and professorial, yet has a youthful enthusiasm for new ideas. He’s an early adopter of technology.
He has a degree from an eminent university abroad, in addition to an MBA and a Masters in Law from the most highly ranked schools in Canada. He is a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. He is an opponent of open immigration, but is alert to injustices against ethnic minorities.
It’s lonely being a pink Tory these days. Extremists have sucked all the oxygen out of the centre-right environment.
He’s been courted as a candidate and asked to help on campaigns. He has good friends in both major parties, but isn’t comfortable in either camp.
Part of his discomfort comes from an unyielding ethical instinct. Whether everyone agrees with his position or not, he will throw himself on a hand grenade over a question of conscience. I’ve seen him do it, to the detriment of his career and at the risk of friendships. It’s one of his most admirable traits, but it’s difficult to accommodate politically.
Sometimes he says anachronistic things about women in public office and the professions. Occasionally he mutters about new Canadians who exploit the opportunities they find here without creating new ones for others. From time to time, he needs to be reminded that he is an immigrant too, which makes him laugh.
Two weeks ago, a small miracle occurred. After so many years lost in the wasteland between profligate Liberals and antediluvian Conservatives, he wrote to me in praise of Olivia Chow.
He had met her at a fund raising event and enjoyed a private conversation. He was astonished to find such intelligence and integrity beneath her campaign persona. Beyond the personal impression she made on him, he saw in her a plausible economic, and social vision.
This wasn’t a call-to-Jesus moment by any means. If you accused him of NDP sympathies, he would deny it.
What he discovered was a person who understands and respects his values, shares some of them, and who treads a narrow path through swampy political ethics. Without entirely sharing her vision, he can find the things he cares about within it.
This chance meeting had a powerful effect on him. Reversing all his social biases and predispositions, he wrote to ask if I’d help him organize an event for her.
Just as her candidacy gives him hope, his reaction to her gives me hope. At the very least, she must have said something to relieve his cynicism about the electoral process. That relief was enough to help him overlook what might otherwise be objectionable parts of her agenda.
This is the Olivia Chow I was searching for. She can’t be seen from the podium or on a television monitor, but she evidently exists nonetheless. Anytime a female NDP candidate turns the head of an mature, male Conservative, it’s a major accomplishment. I complimented him on his open-mindedness and encouraged him to become more engaged.
Now this campaign gets interesting.