The Honourable Member

Elizabeth May
The terms for personages of achievement are called “honorifics.” I could go around calling my self “Dr. May” if I wanted, thanks to the great honour of three honourary doctorates. Ministers of the Crown are called the Honourable in front of their names, with the Prime Minister meriting the term “the Right Honourable.” Members of Parliament must refer to each other in respectful terms of “the Honourable Member” even though House decorum has of late looked more like a hockey rink than a Parliament. (The Speaker should do more to rein in the jeering and the sly way members of “Canada’s New Government” as they insist it be called have of inserting first and family names where Parliamentary tradition demands they not be used.) It is to be “the Honourable member” at all times. There was a time when the term meant something. There was a time when a person in public life (and it was usually men in those days) could be described as a Man of his word,” or “a man of honour.” And it meant something. What it means in 2007 is Bill Casey. He rises above the rest of the caucus that ejected him, not just literally, for he is tall, but figuratively. He has taken up the cause of poverty and injustice for residents of Palestinian refugee camps. Casey has advocated dialogue and peace in the Middle East. He has pursued economic opportunities for Nova Scotia business when his former colleagues didn’t seem to have the time. Bill Casey is a true gentleman. He is thoughtful, decent, intelligent and kind. He operates from the Book of Virtues: words like Duty and Honour are his code. People used to know that when such a man made a commitment he would rather die a thousand deaths than hurt his name and reputation by breaking that bond of honour. There was a time when there were many men like Bill Casey -- men for whom the thought of breaking one’s word was impossible. Increasingly, in politics, the thought of keeping one’s word is impossible. Look at Stephen Harper. He gave his word he would not tax income trusts. He broke that bond without a second thought. He committed to honour the Atlantic Accord, in no less a direct way than a door to door brochure to every Newfoundland and Labrador resident. He broke his word. Mr. Harper seems as untroubled by a lack of conscience as Bill Casey is bound by his. Peter MacKay is more likable, but has a terrible record of keeping his word -- whether to David Orchard, or the hundreds of other Progressive Conservative Party members who voted for him as Leader to avoid a merger with Alliance, or to the members of his own Caucus who may have believed his statement in the House, just last month, that his party would not expel members for voting their own conscience. What does it mean to be “honour-bound” in this crowd? What do we make of the lack of basic adherence to principles that used to dominate public life? It is clearly not only the Harper Conservatives who have broken faith with the public. Other parties and other politicians have made promises look like Canadian Tire money. So rather than list all those who bring politicians into disrepute, let’s just pause and be grateful that we still have a few honourable members. Thank you Bill Casey.