Tonight the unthinkable happened in Canada: a Canadian was murdered at the scene of a political rally in Quebec. As Pauline Marois took the stage in Montreal to thank members of her Party for their victory in the Quebec provincial election, shots rang out leaving at least one dead as I write this.
Canada is not a country that was born out of violence like revolutionary countries that dot this globe. Canada is a country that evolved into the nation it is today through respectful discourse and the adoption of Responsible Government, which places the need for peaceful, deliberative consensus directly at the centre of our political system. When LaFontaine and Baldwin first campaigned for Responsible Government they stared down loyalists in the streets of Montreal, watched as Parliament burned, and did nothing as repeated attempts were made on LaFontaine’s life, as Prime Minister of what was then the United Province of Canada. They did not turn to violence themselves but instead used politics as a positive and lasting tool to counter the hatred hurled at them. And they won.
This is Canada’s legacy: a politics that does not resort to violence but instead champions peaceful discussion between rational citizens. Today is a sad day for Canada and for the legacy of a mostly peaceful political history in in our country.
As Pauline Marois was whisked off the stage by her security team, my thoughts turned to my own experiences in politics. If you’ve ever knocked on a door while canvassing, called a constituent of your riding, answered a voter’s email, or had any other interaction with the public because of your involvement and interest in the political process you will know one thing: the time, effort, and concern political volunteers and professionals put into the political process is often met with great disdain by the general public. Politicians are bloodsuckers, they often say, only in it for themselves. Sometimes politicians even turn on one another and say these things about their opponents, despite knowing first-hand the sacrifices involved in political life whether you’re simply a volunteer or the Prime Minister of Canada.
I have spent the last week knocking on doors all day and night, talking to voters about their concerns and their hopes for a better future in Ontario. I truly appreciate these conversations because for me, politics is all about that interaction and really getting down to what matters most to actual people. That’s why I’m involved in politics and it’s why I like to hear from other Canadians about politics. Every once in a while you will step up to a door where the resident will thank you for your effort and your interest in the political process. That’s when politics is the most rewarding.
But it can be a far darker place. I’m not talking about getting an earful at a door or even being exhausted after a long day of volunteering. Those are real sacrifices made every day. But many people devote their entire lives to the political process because they believe in something much bigger than themselves. It is those Canadians who will go to any length to ensure a better tomorrow for all of us, and often do. It is those Canadians who are willing to make great sacrifices on behalf of those around them so that collectively we may all leave this world better than we found it.
We have seen Canadians pay the ultimate price before in service to all of us as citizens of this country. Thomas D’Arcy McGee was assassinated shortly after leaving Parliament one night after a long day of peaceful debate. His funeral in 1868 in Montreal drew nearly the entire population of the city. In 1970 Pierre Laporte was kidnapped and murdered by the FLQ, leading to a second funeral in Montreal for an assassinated Canadian politician. With violence erupting in Montreal once more this evening, it serves as a painful reminder that politics is about service to others and sometimes those involved pay the ultimate price.
The True Gravity of Choosing to Serve
Violence in Canadian politics is uncommon which is why we are so shocked on nights like tonight. But just because tragedy is uncommon does not mean there is not a constant risk in being involved in politics. I do not say this to be dramatic, as Canada is clearly one of the safest countries in the world and perhaps the safest country to get involved in the political process. We decide political differences at the ballot box, respectfully decline or agree to support candidates and parties at our doorsteps, and do not take up arms when our political opinion is not shared by others.
Most of the time. For every rare story of Canadian political violence there are hundreds of frightening threats that never come to fruition. There are aspects about my own job in politics I usually have no interest in discussing. In my position I attend a lot of events but also receive a great deal of feedback from the electorate. It is not an easy thing to receive death threats at your workplace that are directed at your employer and sometimes even at you and still go on about your day as if nothing as happened. To still wade into crowds of people as if the threat doesn’t exist. But I have done that and so have many other people I know.
Most days I hardly think about it. When threats come in I do pause for a moment. But it’s really not until a day like today that it really hits home how very real threats can be. There are few workplaces where such threats are so common and probably fewer still where they are more likely to be followed through on. When I stood with the Premier of Ontario at an event last month, his security detail behind us, I felt no worry at all about what might happen despite knowing full well the threats we receive. This is Canada, after all. I have been present at events with heavy police presence and extremely angry protesters where violence could have easily broken out at any moment. When you choose to involve yourself in something bigger than yourself, whether you are a just a staffer or the leader of the province, fear comes second and hope first.
If we worried about the price we might pay for simply believing in something, very little would be accomplished in the world. And while the politically involved are rarely called on to pay that price, it is important to remember that risk is a serious sacrifice that those in politics make on a daily basis. If there is nothing else learned from this tragedy tonight let it be this: let us show respect for one another and the peaceful legacy of our politics because while some would knowingly sacrifice their lives for our well-being, they should not have to. Senseless violence is only the fault of those who carry it out, but we could all do a little more to ensure our discourse about the political process is constructive and respectful of the very real sacrifices made each day by every day people like you or me.