Grey's fundamental decency
The Ottawa Citizen
Friday, March 14, 2003
Deborah Grey was an unknown school teacher when first elected to the House of Commons in 1989. She must have felt isolated: Dominated by the urbane Mulroney Tories, with their Italian suits and shiny shoes, Parliament was the consummate old boys' club. Ms. Grey, meanwhile, was only 35, a woman, an evangelical Christian and the sole representative of the newly created Reform party.
Don Mazankowski, the deputy prime minister at the time, dismissed the newcomer as a one-term wonder. He was wrong. Ms. Grey, now 50, is serving out her fourth term. Yesterday, she announced that she will not seek a fifth. She has no private-sector job lined up, no offers to sit on boards of directors. Her time is simply up, she said: "I did not enter Parliament with the intention of becoming a career politician."
Parliament will be the poorer without her. No matter whether one agreed with her ideas, Ms. Grey was recognized as a person of fundamental decency. And courage. As Reform's only elected member, it fell on her to mount a one-woman challenge to the left-liberal political establishment. It was she who preached the necessity of deficit reduction and balanced budgets. Back then, these were foreign, "neoconservative" policies, and Ms. Grey was attacked as a crazy right-winger. Now those same policies are received wisdom.
Ms. Grey's accessible manner was appealing, which is why her enemies thought her dangerous. A women's group once burned her in effigy. But it's hard to think of a better role model for girls than the assertive and confident Ms. Grey. To be sure, some critics thought her folksiness contrived, and perhaps it was suspicious that a woman raised in Vancouver, with two university degrees, spoke in a rural twang and dropped the 'g' from verbs so that driving became drivin'.
But even if the populist persona seemed forced at times, Ms. Grey always saw herself as ordinary folk. Once in Parliament, she spoke in excruciatingly personal terms about growing up the daughter of an alcoholic. The speech was an expression of support for tougher measures against impaired driving, and Ms. Grey drew praise from all corners of the House.
The Reform party, now the Canadian Alliance, invigorated Canadian politics, shaking up the status quo. It never would have happened had Deb Grey not come to Ottawa 14 years ago.
The most effective way to stifle democracy is to transfer decision-making from the public arena to unaccountable institutions: activist judges, human rights tribunals, parliamentary committees, civil service bureaucrats and political party hacks.