Someone once said of writer John McPhee that “he buffs and polishes a fact until it reflects a greater reality”.
I have this sentence written out and taped to my computer screen. To buff and polish fact as a way of getting to what is at the heart of something seems a worthwhile goal for a columnist.
MLA Gary McRobb used a local banquet in Haines Junction last weekend as an opportunity to “consult” his riding constituents on whether he should move away from the New Democratic Party to sit as an Independent or a Liberal.
Since this banquet was a non-political event, I found it unsettling to watch McRobb drift from table to table thrusting a “score card” in front of guests enjoying their dinner and asking: “What will it be? Independent or Liberal?”
I was somewhat shocked when he approached my table.
McRobb has not spoken with me since I wrote a column supporting the Yukon Party’s stand on local business more than two years ago.
So when I was given the choice of “Independent or Liberal,” I was tongue-tied.
All I could say was that I would think about it.
Using McPhee’s approach of getting down to the greater reality, I begin by asking: Is this where we have taken our politics?
Is this the sort of behaviour we now demand or accept of our politicians?
The fact of the matter is quite simple. McRobb cannot find any worthwhile reason to sit one more term in opposition. He has been there, done that.
Party politics in the Yukon relegates opposition members to a life of utter frustration and humiliation.
Can you imagine going to work every day for the last seven or eight years with one aim in mind — to make your co-workers appear foolish, dishonest and ineffective?
Think of never being able to say to your colleagues — Good job, well done, my friend!
In that sort of atmosphere your world soon becomes clouded with a negativity that is sure to get the better of you.
It has gotten to McRobb.
As the MLA for Kluane, McRobb has served us well. I do not believe there is another member of the current legislature who has worked as hard, remained as focused, or has been as genuinely concerned about constituents as he has.
He has fought hard and endured, but it is clearly time for him to say goodbye.
Gary, as a member of your riding, I say to you: Well done. Thanks for your effort. You have served us well.
McRobb’s only serious option is not to simply defect to another party — though this is clearly the simple way out. But rather, he must find the courage and the integrity to work with his riding members to groom another successful NDP candidate to take over the challenges of the post.
The goals and the principles of the Yukon NDP are worthwhile. McRobb has been instrumental in defining and refining them to suit and to serve this riding.
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the Yukon NDP or its leader.
This riding has voted to support McRobb as spokesperson for the NDP platform for more than 10 years now and has done so because it is the platform that works for the majority of us who live here.
That is the buffed and polished reality of politics in Kluane.
The nature of political life is such that it should not — in fact cannot — be done over long periods of time.
This is not to say that once in a great while we don’t come across a stellar politician that just seems to endure.
But the reality is that politics is short-term work. The reason for this is because of what politics is and what we expect politicians to be.
Social critic Hannah Arendt puts it this way: “The public realm, as the common world, gathers us together and yet prevents our falling over each other, so to speak.
“What makes mass society so difficult to bear is not the number of people involved, but the fact that the world between them has lost its power to gather them together, to relate, and to separate them.”
Because we as individual citizens have lost the ability to care for ourselves in so many ways, we have placed a disproportionate and probably unfair burden on to those who represent us in public life.
Over time, our elected representatives assume, incorrectly for sure, that civic culture cannot function without them.
We push our politicians into believing that all business of the commons must pass through their door.
Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth.
This self-serving distortion of politics has led some politicians — McRobb included — to incorrectly assume they can fairly represent their riding independent of which party they choose to represent.
In short, McRobb feels he, as an individual rather than as a messenger of a specific party platform, is the critical link between the people of Kluane and government.
This state of affairs is not only incredible, it borders on dangerous.
When politicians take on an air of indispensability, the people suffer.
Communities and the people who live in them create one another, depend on one another, and are, according to political critic Wendell Berry, “literally part of one another”.
Because of this special relationship between individuals and collectives of people, our elected officials can serve no higher purpose than to act as mere go-betweens.
Their duty is to invest in, distribute, and interpret a party platform as a road map to which we can turn when we become lost or confused.
When the politician rather than the platform becomes the beacon we search out in a storm, we are in for a very rough ride.
The question was once raised whether we are best served by giving power to the government and its elected officials or information to the people.
It goes without saying, the latter is the engine that gives government its greater authenticity.
And the information we give to the people must have a legitimate and agreed to context: the party platform. Without it, the rhetoric of politics quickly becomes meaningless, arbitrary, and eventually destructive.
It is the “party narrative” written by and agreed to by the membership to which we hold our politicians accountable.
To deviate from this cycle of accountability is to risk tyranny.
Moving from one party to another without first resigning, standing for nomination, and then being duly elected is a certain recipe for disaster.
In an attempt to serve the wisdom of McPhee, I believe the greater reality in the latest dismissals and defections amongst Yukon politicians is a serious disconnect with the inherent value of party politics.
When one buffs and polishes the facts, what begins to emerge is the critical notion that citizens have failed to hold their representatives accountable to the ideas and concepts once agreed to.
The greater reality is that the message of party politics is important, more important than the messenger.
To think otherwise can, if left unchecked by members of a democracy, lead to autocracy, or worse.