Monday, January 31, 2011


I am not an expert on Egypt, or on democratic emergence, or on Arab politics. So, I shall just share two things. First, this video is remarkable. Second, at the start of our Cairo to Cape Town trip, Sam and I kicked around Alexandria for a week. One of those days was spent with a taxi driver who spoke quite good English. We were trying to gain access to the port at Alexandria, and he was doing his best to free us from the bureaucratic net someone had dropped on us. It was a fool's errand, which at one point involved us in a taxi with him, a harpoon fisherman, a fellow who sold knock-off leather jackets, and one other fellow. I've posted the picture above. He was a man who was very proud to be Egyptian, but very keen to leave. I can still picture the road we were on when he told us "We are good people, but we live in a jail." Maybe, no more.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Susan Millard

There's much about party politics which I don't much like. Chief among these things are the often blind allegiance to a party's line; the partisan's susceptibility to the narcissism of small differences, leaving one to think that supporters of other parties are somehow fundamentally different and less deserving of favour; and the sometimes unquestioning commitment to leaders, who are usually just as fallible as the rest of us. That I am susceptible to all of these things is probably the chief reason I've not been more engaged in active politics, despite my professional and personal obsessions.
But all citizens are not made alike. The same forces that bring out the worst in some of us bring out the best in others. At its best, engagement in electoral politics brings you together with passionate, affable, committed people. These people take up politics not because they want power, or office, or privilege, but because they believe in their cause. Just as often they do it because it is fun. Such people make politics as addictive as its less desirable elements.
My only real experience in politics was when I decamped to Nova Scotia in 2005 to help a friend's father try to win the leadership of the NS Tory Party. I believed deeply in the candidate, whatever my reservations with the party. In the course of four months there, I had the great privilege of working with Susan Millard. Susan was, I gathered, a staple of Halifax politics. With good cheer, dependability, and the right balance of idealism and cynicism, she threw herself into our campaign. She personified what was good about politics. She was not, I estimate, given to its excesses. But she was taken by its virtues. It's people like Susan who make competitive politics work in a humane way.
On Monday, Susan was killed by a car while crossing a street in Halifax. The world was better with her, and is now worse without her. Politics is a little worse, too.

Parliamentary democracy in action

For the third time in as many months, a party leader has been taken down by their caucus. As the story in today's Globe makes clear, Ed Stelmach was staring down a battle with a popular minister and by extension with his caucus. He didn't have the support to fire that minister. He didn't, in short, have the support of his caucus. This is undoubtedly sad for someone who was, by most accounts, a decent and well-intentioned fellow. But it's how parliamentary democracy should work. Rather than being tossed by people who pay $10 to join a party, he was tossed by those elected by the people. This is one more step towards restoring a proper balance in leadership election and deselection.