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Learning from the Past


“Politics has lost its attraction to a lot of people.”

This is something that former Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark, one of the most respected politicians and statespersons in Canadian history, said during an interview on a CBC Radio program “Q”, a couple of weeks ago. The interview (which starts at about 17:00 or so) is well worth checking out:

For anyone who hasn’t been reading between the lines of my various posts that deal with politics, public policy, and rights issues, I’m a pretty liberal kind of guy. I like my healthcare and education heavily funded, my human rights as complete as possible. As such, the word ‘conservative’ in politics, particularly Canadian politics, tends to signal me to be a little bit wary. However, I have always enjoyed listening to Joe Clark. He’s a self-described ‘Red Tory’ which is a way of saying something along the lines of: “I’m a bit on the right/conservative but I hedge everything towards the centre for the greater good.”

This interview serves up some real gems that I think hold immense value to how we deal with each other as societies. Here are a few of my favourites…

“Our tone is now almost adolescent…” – Clark on how Canada is acting lately in international circles.

Here, he was referring to the increasing tendency to loudly proclaim things without doing an incredible amount. As an elaboration on this, I would argue that this typifies a great deal of the international wrangling I read about in the news. Nations sniping at each other over agreements, refusing flat out to go along with anything that isn’t looking out for Number One… the list can go on.

Of course, you can also make this argument about many people as a whole. “It’s not fair that [x] happened”, “It’s the economy’s fault, not mine”, and a host of other complaints reflect, at least in the developed world, a very entitled populace. As a teacher this definitely rubs me the wrong way, as I try to do my best to instill a sense of responsibility and maturity in my students, and sometimes have the way blocked by adults who address some scenarios like it was recess and someone else is taking ‘their’ blocks which are really the school’s blocks, and a tantrum develops.

“The purpose of foreign policy is to encourage as much stability as possible in the world.” … “[Our] national interest… depends a great deal on having a world that works.” – Clark on the purpose and end goals of national foreign policy.

This really hit home for me. I studied Political Science as a minor in university, and when looking at International Relations, it was all framed by this question of national interest. Clark’s take on this is part of the reason I respect him so highly in spite of our political differences (well, that and the fact that he is old enough to be my grandfather). He managed to crystallize in a couple of simple sentences why I feel there’s so much tension and struggle in the world.

Just like in a classroom when you have Billy complaining that the questions are too difficult and Sally complaining that she is bored, you have nations that aren’t thinking of the bigger picture. Billy might find the questions hard, but their purpose is to be hard, to stretch his mental muscles and leave him a more complete understanding of the world and his own abilities. Sally might be bored for a variety of reasons, but if boredom strikes, one has to learn how to fight through it and discipline the mind to complete the required tasks anyways. Nothing can be 100% interesting all the time, and the world does not care one fig for your boredom if you refuse to do an essential task for such a subjective reason.

I sometimes chuckle to myself at the similarity of teenaged students to kindergarten students. Now, I can make the comparison even broader and wonder at the kindergarten-type behaviour of national policy-makers.

This is all conditional, and more than a little tongue-in-cheek, of course. The issues that these people deal with are incredibly complex, and determine the well-being of many more people than I touch in a day with my teaching. But I can wish that a few more of them saw the world like the Right Honourable Joe Clark.

Thanks for a great interview, Mr. Clark, and I am very grateful for your continued efforts to make the world that little tiny bit better, and help us all to learn from your past.


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