Sunday, May 11, 2014

I miss Bill Casey

In a recent Letter to the Editor of the Oxford Journal, a neighbour asks rhetorically why we have heard nothing from our MP, Scott Armstrong, about the impending loss of passenger rail service between Mirimichi City and Bathurst, and potentially from Halifax to Montreal. She suggests that Mr Harper has not yet told him what to say.

With respect, it's not anyone as grand as the Prime Minister who tells Mr Armstrong what to say. I suspect that it is an unpaid intern working in the Prime Minister's Office who calls up our MP to tell him his position. And I suspect that Mr Armstrong says "Thank you! Thank you very much!"

Consider the circumstances of Mr Armstrong's nomination. Our previous MP, Bill Casey, had been expelled  from the Conservative Party for voting against a budget bill. The budget unilaterally amended some provisions of the Atlantic Accord, which is the mechanism that gives Nova Scotia the cash equivalent of royalty rights to our offshore hydrocarbons. Mr Casey was not satisfied that the not-quite-legal changes were in the best interests of the Province so he proposed to vote against the budget. And when the government boys could not persuade him that the unilateral changes were harmless, he did indeed vote against his own party, and was expelled from the caucus for his troubles.

Just prior to the vote, Mr Peter MacKay said that of course Mr Casey would not be expelled for a "no" vote, but I think that Mr MacKay must have been away the day that his high-school civics class discussed the whole concept of voting non-confidence in the government. It has always been so, that a member who votes against his own government on a money bill or a confidence motion is expelled. And so it was.

Mr Casey was sitting as an independent, but the President of his Conservative constituency association continued to hope that things between Mr Casey and Mr Harper could be patched up before the next election so that Mr Casey could run as a Conservative. That President was Mr Armstrong, who was also Mr Casey's campaign manager, and the president of the provincial Progressive Conservative party to boot. The rift could not be healed so Mr Casey ran as an Independent in the 2008 general election, and Mr Armstrong and many of his executive left the Conservative Party so that they could run Mr Casey's campaign. The Conservatives parachuted in a man from Ontario to run for their party, and Mr Casey won with 69% of the vote. I expect that it was embarrassing for Mr Harper.

In April of 2009 Mr Casey left his seat to work as a senior representative for Nova Scotia in Ottawa, and the seat fell vacant. A by-election was called for November 2009, and the Conservatives needed a new candidate for this safest of seats. Anyone who was nominated by the Conservatives was guaranteed to be elected.

Wouldn't you have liked to be a fly on the wall when Mr Armstrong and Mr Harper had their little chat?  The leader of the party has to sign the nomination papers, so if Mr Armstrong wanted to be the MP he had to be nice to Mr Harper. I can imagine what the conversation would have been: there will be no independent thought or word or action, you will say what we tell you to say, you will vote how we tell you to vote, and you will run around the riding passing out cheques and keeping the Progressive Conservative base happy while we run the Reform Party agenda. In return, you can fly around in a big plane, you will have a nice paycheque (much fatter than being a school principal) and you might even get to meet the Queen. Who could pass that up?

In 1980 Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr were both running for the nomination of the Republican Party in the USA. Mr Reagan was telling the nation that supply-side economics would work wonders for the economy, and if the rich got richer some of that wealth would trickle down to the rest of Americans. Mr Bush rightly called the plan voodoo economics and suggested that it was foolish. Mr Bush was right but Mr Reagan got the nomination, and then he asked Mr Bush to be his vice-presidential candidate. Mr Bush agreed, and one wag suggested that Mr Bush had "put his manhood in a blind trust for four years". And that's what has happened to Mr Armstrong: he is no longer his own man, if he ever was.

For me, the saddest incident in Mr Armstrong's parliamentary career involved asbestos. Dr Cathy Conrad, a professor at St Mary's University in Halifax, was waging a personal campaign to have banned the mining and sale of asbestos in Canada. Her father, an Air Force veteran, had died from his lifelong exposure to asbestos in the service. We don't use asbestos in Canada anymore, and if asbestos is found in building renovations everything comes to a halt until the asbestos is removed by men wearing  Hazardous Materials (HazMat) suits. But a man in Quebec wanted to re-open an asbestos mine and sell the stuff overseas, where no-one has HazMat suits or any training in working with the stuff. Mr Harper wanted to support the man with loans and encouragement, so Mr Armstrong was forbidden to be critical of asbestos. When Dr Conrad came to visit Mr Armstrong as part of her campaign, Mr Armstrong met with her but would not condemn the international sale of this poisonous mineral. He wasn't allowed to. That's sad.

On the other hand, he will probably meet Prince Charles this summer.

I miss Bill Casey.

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