End of a difficult political journey
MP's career started - and finished - in obscurity
Friday, March 14, 2003
OTTAWA - Reform Party member 0002 occupies a seat brushing the rear curtains in the House of Commons. It's a death row of sorts, a line of desks shared by five independent MPs who, orphaned by their parties, await electoral execution.
Ironically, it's the same row where Edmonton MP Deborah Grey established the Reform Party's foothold in 1989. Now the first party member, after founder Preston Manning, will end her career in that obscure position with the dropping of the next writ.
While Grey announced Thursday she would leave politics at the end of this term, truth be told politics left her some time ago.
The clearest signal of her departure was telegraphed two years ago when she bought back into the MP pension plan.
Grey's strong opposition and refusal to join the lucrative scheme served as her defining political act. She released balloons to celebrate her self-sacrifice and ridiculed other MP "porkers" for feeding at the public trough.
When she retroactively bought back 12 years' worth of pension enrolment, to be immediately blasted as the "high priestess of hypocrisy" by scorn-heaping Tory leader Joe Clark, it was clear personal interests had usurped public principle.
It's been downhill ever since. As Alliance deputy leader to Stockwell Day, she claimed to have been ignored. Quitting the caucus post in protest, she became a pariah on her own benches. As the lead dissident who created a doomed coalition with the Conservatives, she was ridiculed. When she crawled back to the Alliance last April, she was humiliated.
These days, Grey rises only periodically in Question Period to show flashes of the no-nonsense temperament her students endured when this former school teacher meted out stern punishment for chewing gum in class.
But the feisty high-profile Canadian Alliance MP, who hurled clip-worthy questions at apprehensive Liberals with a voice that resonated like a load of concrete being mixed, has been missing in action for more than a year.
Given the job of Alliance deputy critic of defence -- a junior position even in times when the military matters -- Grey has been sidelined and wasted.
Still, they say, Deborah Grey is an icon. I'm just not sure what this icon stands for any more.
True, she lived in solitary Commons confinement for four years as the Reform Party's only MP, waiting for an election to prove her party wasn't a political fluke. Now that party doesn't exist.
Her self-righteous stance against pensions and perks have been compromised by her acceptance of both.
She stood for fierce loyalty to leader and party. Then she rejected Stockwell Day as the members' 2000 leadership choice and abandoned her party to craft a fragile nine-month coalition with the Conservatives.
So if Grey's still an icon, it's only to serve as party matriarch to the next generation of MPs, some of whom were in their teens when she was first elected in a Beaver River by-election, and now eclipse her in energy, profile and political currency.
Yet her legacy is assured, even as the early obits are written.
As the first Reform MP, Grey could have embarrassed her fledgling party before it took flight with voters. She didn't.
As the second leader of the party, albeit on an interim basis while Preston Manning was sacrificing his leadership to reinvent Reform as the Canadian Alliance, she kept Prime Minister Jean Chrétien squirming over Shawinigate.
And as the highest-profile dissident, Grey rammed open the door for current leader Stephen Harper to claim the crown after Day's hapless 20-month reign.
That's why it's unfortunate Grey's tour of duty ends with such a whimper.
She has never been entirely back in the caucus good books, never been given meaningful tasks suited to her considerable talent and has never entirely overcome the grudge Harper, her former parliamentary assistant, and his loyalists privately and quietly hold against her.
A year after her crawl back into the Alliance fold, allegedly to carry on her reunification dream with the Tories, there has been no movement in that direction. If anything, the two parties have never been further apart.
When her riding was eliminated by an electoral boundary shift, retirement was an easy sell.
It was a good time to leave. Not exactly on top. But hovering above rock bottom while the decision was still hers to make.
Grey will return to the back row next week to sit out what's left of her political life.
Her claim to fame in giving the Reform Party a federal foothold will quickly fade from public view. But as a footnote of Western populist history, this Grey lady will go down as a size 13 who made a large, lasting imprint.
© Copyright 2003 National Post
Ya... she will forever be remembered.