Tag Archives: politics

Truth, humility and righteousness

The past few months have been a less than glorious chapter in the annals of Canadian politics and government.

Even the most devoted Conservative partisans must be feeling a tad uncomfortable by now, as the list of unanswered questions and seeming contradictions in the PMO’s handling of the Senate expense scandal grows steadily longer. Yet our Prime Minister continues to refuse to take any personal responsibility for this sorry spectacle.

You may recall that not so many years ago, Mr. Harper came into office on a platform of accountability and integrity, after having pilloried then-Prime Minister Paul Martin and his predecessor Jean Chrétien for their involvement in the equally lamentable sponsorship scandal. Deceit, it seems, knows no party boundaries.

It is easy to grow cynical about the spectacle of moral failure in government. The evidence that such corruption exists is hard to ignore. Nor can it be tied to any one political party. Leaders of all political stripes are susceptible to the tantalizing lie that their positions of power and privilege give them the right to do whatever they want.

Yet there is another side to the ledger, one that is too often forgotten.

Yesterday morning I was privileged to attend the Ottawa Civic Prayer Breakfast. The purpose of the event was to publicly honour and pray for our municipal councillors and first responders (police, fire fighters and paramedics). We were reminded of how much pressure these people are under every day, and how much they need our prayers. We heard from a paramedic, a police officer, a fire fighter and two members of Ottawa’s city council. Several of them spoke of the reasons why they had entered their chosen line of work. All of them expressed their gratitude for the encouraging words and prayers offered on their behalf by people of faith. It was an inspiring morning.

I have no doubt that most of those who choose to serve in politics, police work or some other aspect of public service do so because they genuinely want to make a difference, to make life better for the citizens of their city or their nation. The vast majority of public servants do their best to carry out their responsibilities faithfully and at considerable personal cost year after year.

The stench of corruption that currently surrounds our federal government should be no cause for rejoicing by those who happen to support a different political party. Rather, for believers in Jesus it ought to serve as a reminder of our common human frailty (As it is written, “None is righteous, no, not one”), and a call to prayer. Those who enter politics are stepping into a pressure-cooker environment in which they are daily assaulted with powerful temptations to compromise on issues of integrity. Psalm 45, a poem in praise of godly kingship, depicts the ideal king as one who rides forth in defence of truth, humility and righteousness. These admirable character traits, so valuable in God’s sight, are keys to leading with integrity. Yet politicians, sadly, are expected by the party machine to buy into a win-at-all-costs mindset that is absolutely fatal to the servant leadership taught in Scripture and modelled by Jesus. Even people who enter politics with the best of intentions are flawed human beings who are not immune to these pressures.

As I reflect on the crisis of trust that is currently plaguing Canada’s government, I am reminded that only leaders who cultivate humility can walk in truth and righteousness. It is humility that keeps those in positions of power from becoming corrupt liars who serve only themselves. It is also humility that keeps the rest of us from pointing fingers when our leaders disappoint us. Our leaders – and we ourselves – will one day have to answer to a holy and righteous God. Though full of mercy and quick to forgive, His eyes search out the hidden motives of every heart and hold us all to account. That fact alone ought to drive us to heartfelt prayer for our nation and its leaders, for all public servants, and for ourselves. If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, who could stand?

Lord, teach us to pray.






What is good government?

Well, here we go.  A federal election campaign is underway here in the Truth North Strong and Free, and I feel compelled to reflect on what I believe to be the most critical issue facing our nation.  No, it’s not the deficit, or unemployment, or the environment, or the needs of the poor and the elderly, or the potential legalization of euthanasia, or the government’s alleged contempt of Parliament – even though all those issues are important.

In my view, the most critical issue facing our nation is the absence of credible leadership.

I have voted in every federal election since I was of voting age, but I have no particular allegiance to any party and no interest in persuading you to choose one of them over the others.  I do have an allegiance, but it’s not to any of our political parties or their leaders.  My allegiance is to the Kingdom of God as proclaimed and embodied by Jesus the Messiah.  I want to share with you some reflections on what Jesus had to say about leadership.  Whether or not you share my faith in Jesus, my prayer is that these reflections will help bring clarity and insight to your own thoughts about the type of government that Canada needs.

The various political parties all want you to think that good government begins with a vote for them.  The Conservatives want you to believe that you should vote for them because they are the only ones who can manage the economy properly, while the other parties are all irresponsible spendthrifts who would form a coalition and ruin the country.  The Liberals want you to believe that you should vote for them because they are the only real alternative to the Conservatives, who disrespect Parliament, are arrogant liars, and have lost the right to govern.  The New Democrats want you to vote for them because they are the only ones who truly care about the people.  The Greens want you to vote for them because they are the only ones who truly care about the environment, and the Bloc wants you to vote for them (at least, if you live in La Belle Province) because they are the only ones who truly care about Quebec.

So, whichever party you support, the message of each party leader – although it seems to be different – is the same in at least one respect.  Each leader says,  “I am the one you should trust; I alone can deliver good government – so vote for me.”

According to the Genesis creation account, God created human beings for the purpose of governing the earth on His behalf.  A look at human history shows that this hasn’t worked out so well.  That’s not because God had a bad plan, but because humans turned away from God and became obsessed with themselves.  Ever since our first parents fell into this trap, some human governments have been better than others, but even the best ones eventually seem to stumble over the same old stumbling block of pride, whether it manifests itself in a naked lust for unbridled power, or in more subtle forms such as the age-old human desire to impress others and make a name for ourselves.  Religious institutions are often no better – in fact sometimes they’re even worse.  Century after century, these destructive tendencies of the human heart have proven to be enduring obstacles to good government, whether in nations, religious institutions, families, or any other entity with a governing structure.

Even Jesus had to deal with politicking among the members of his team.  They were all convinced that He was the promised Messiah who would eventually rule over the whole earth,  so the members of his staff began jockeying for positions in his impending government, and started an argument about who would get to be his right hand man.

Jesus’ response was interesting.  He didn’t say that they misunderstood him and he wasn’t really planning to be a king.  He also didn’t say that wanting to be a leader was a bad thing.  Instead, he challenged his men about whether they were willing to pay the price of leadership.  He told them that true leadership involves crucifying your own desire for power or recognition, and learning to be a servant.

His message wasn’t just empty words.  In just a few short weeks, he would give them a graphic object lesson of just how far he was willing to go down the road of servant leadership.  Although Jesus could have chosen a different path, he willingly offered his life on the cross so that we could be forgiven and reconciled to God.  Servant leadership, as modelled by Jesus, does not mean being whatever people want you to be, and doing whatever they want you to do.  It does not mean doing whatever it takes to stay popular.  It means walking a consistent path of obedience to the One who has called you and to Whom you belong, inviting others to join you on that path but leaving the choice to them, loving them no matter what they choose, and investing your life – even to the point of death – for those you are called to lead and to serve.  Here is a leader who is worthy of our trust!

God cares about government.   It matters to him.  One day He will replace all the governments of this earth with a government headed by Jesus.  In the meantime, good leaders are those who understand and imitate His example of humility, servanthood and integrity.

William Wilberforce, whose life was depicted in the movie Amazing Grace (2006), was such a leader.  He’s not the only example of a democratic politician who embodied true servant leadership, but he is one of the best.  One could say that he gave his life for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire.  His political career was an expression of his Christian convictions.  He had a massive impact for good on the society of his time.  He did not seek power for its own sake, but sought to use his power to embody the values of the Kingdom of God.

This is good government.  This is true leadership.  Lord, grant us such leaders in our day.


Can you trust this man?

The huge and enthusiastic turnout for the inauguration of US President Barack Obama shows us how hungry people are for hope and inspiration.  In troubled and uncertain times, we instinctively gravitate towards leaders who seem to be able to offer the promise of a better tomorrow.

Whatever else we may say about him, Barack Obama is clearly a man of considerable skill in many areas.  He is a powerfully effective speaker who has a remarkable gift of inspiring crowds and filling them with confidence.  He also seems to work well with people, earning the trust and loyalty of those close to him.  He is apparently a very intelligent man – someone who can absorb a great deal of information on a variety of topics and quickly grasp the essential features.  He seems to have the ability to understand and analyze issues quickly and accurately.

All these abilities and many more are needed for effective leadership of a nation.   But there’s another set of qualities that are ultimately even more important.  These are not skills or abilities, but qualities of character – integrity, humility, wisdom, compassion, faith.

I don’t know how Barack Obama’s presidency will ultimately turn out, but the level of adulation being heaped on Obama gives me cause for concern.   Will he be a leader who encourages his people to trust in themselves, in him, or in the God who alone is worthy of ultimate trust?   Embedded in the midst of Obama’s inaugural address, in reference to the challenges of renewing the US economy, putting technology to work for positive purposes, and cleaning up the environment, we find these telling words :  “All this we can do. And all this we will do.”   Really?  All by ourselves, we’ll fix all the problems that past generations have created?

It is true enough that people need to be encouraged to dream big dreams and to believe in the abilities that God has put within them. Without a vision the people perish.  But what is our vision?  On what, ultimately, does our hope rest?  Positive thinking and a “can-do” attitude are not enough – our reliance needs to be on more than ourselves.  One of my favourite Psalms  puts it this way,

Don’t put your confidence in powerful people;
there is no help for you there.
When they breathe their last, they return to the earth,
and all their plans die with them.
But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.

In ancient Israel, the kings who were remembered with affection were the ones who humbled themselves and placed their reliance on God.  The ones who were impressed with themselves and didn’t think they needed to pay attention to God caused no end of grief to the nation and brought about its eventual doom.   Things aren’t so different today.  Humility, faith, and dependence on God are still the core determinants of a leader’s character.  By that standard, how will Barack Obama measure up?


The OC Transpo strike – a way forward

Most people in Ottawa are frustrated with the OC Transpo bus strike.  The refusal of the union leadership to consider any of the city’s contract offers seems unreasonable and certainly not in the best interest of the citizens of Ottawa.   What has been happening so far is that the union leaders have been rejecting all the city’s offers without giving their members a chance to vote.  It seems to me that the union leaders are not only ignoring the public good, they aren’t even acting in the best interests of most of their own union members.  Their position really only benefits a few people at the top of the union.

I’ve heard many people say that they believe the drivers should be ordered to return to work and that public transit should be declared an essential service, but that doesn’t seem likely, and it would also leave a lot of resentment in the union.  Yet if the strike hasn’t been resolved by the end of the holiday period, Monday January 5 promises to be a day of horrendous traffic snarls when commuters attempt to return to work and school.   Most of us aren’t looking forward to this. Isn’t there anything we can do?

Well, yes, there is.   In such circumstances, the federal Minister of Labour has the legal authority to order a vote of the union membership on the employer’s latest offer.  According to the City’s web site (www.ottawa.ca), on December 24 the City of Ottawa asked the federal Minister of Labour, Rona Ambrose, to exercise this authority and require ATU local 279 to vote on the city’s latest contract offer.  So far,  Ms. Ambrose has not responded to this request.   It’s not too surprising that she didn’t respond during the Christmas/Boxing Day holiday period, but today is a normal work day and this issue is important enough that the City ought to get a response to its request.

If you want to make your voice heard to someone who can actually influence the process, e-mail Rona Ambrose (AmbroR1a@Parl.gc.ca at her Edmonton office, Ambrose.R@parl.gc.ca at her Ottawa office) and ask her to order ATU Local 279 to vote on the City’s latest contract offer.  It’s only fair that the members be given a chance to decide.


What our country needs

Most of my friends seem to have firmly fixed views on who is right and who is wrong in Canada’s current political crisis.  Those of my friends who are evangelical Christians seem especially sure of their convictions.  Sometimes their absolute certainty on such at best uncertain matters reminds me of a humourous comment by Mark Lowry regarding the preachers of his childhood, to the effect that they were “sometimes wrong but never in doubt”.

Well, I confess it – I’m an evangelical Christian too.  But despite that fact, I seem to have this curious propensity to want to see all sides of an issue.

Yes, I do have my preferences as to who should govern our country.  On balance, I prefer Mr. Harper’s leadership to the other available options, despite his evident weaknesses (all leaders have weaknesses, even though it isn’t considered politically wise to admit that fact – and therein lies part of the problem).  I am relieved that the Governor General agreed to prorogue Parliament and thus save the government from defeat at the hands of the Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition, because I believe the newly-elected government should have a chance to govern.

But I also hope that the government and the opposition parties profit from their 7-week recess to take stock of their attitudes and come back with a determination to actually work together for the good of the country.  That, after all, is why they were elected.  I would like to see our Parliamentarians – especially the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and the leaders of the Bloc and the NDP – grow up and learn to behave with humility, dignity, civility, integrity, statesmanship and grace.   Our country needs real leaders – not just people who are good at outwitting one another in backroom deals, and coming up with effective put-downs and sound bites to make themselves look good and the opponent look bad.

Our Prime Minister did not win a majority government, no matter how much he might regret that fact.  He can only win the support of the House if he is able to convince at least one other party that his government has worthy policies to offer.  That task will require him to overcome his legendary stubbornness enough to actually follow up on his recent offer to receive constructive policy suggestions from the other parties.  And the opposition parties, who haven’t been very convincing in their claim that their coalition was born out of the purest and noblest of motives, need to make up their minds to treat the resumption of Parliament as a chance to make a  positive contribution, not just as another opportunity to grab power.  If they play the same game again when Parliament resumes in January, they may find that they pay a heavy price at the polls in the election that is almost certain to follow.  Canadians seem to be saying pretty clearly that they are tired of all the game-playing.

Well, that’s my take, anyway.  I think it’s time to move beyond partisan approaches and seek a more collegial approach.  We are in a crisis, and no other approach will do.   In closing, I’d like to encourage you to read this excellent article by Bruce Clemmenger of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.  Feel free to post your comments.


Where change has to start

Like many Canadians, I’m very concerned about recent events in Canada’s Parliament.  Many people are shaking their heads and saying, “What on earth is going on here?”

What is going on here ?  Arrogance and hypocrisy – that’s what.   It’s that simple, and no-one is innocent.

Let’s step back from the rhetoric and flag-waving, and look at what really happened.  No matter what anyone says to the contrary, the government’s decision to withdraw the subsidy from the smaller parties is the real issue.  That’s what triggered the reaction from the Opposition.  Now they’re into a spat, and no-one wants to admit that they realize they’re jeopardizing the stability of the country over something so trivial, because that would mean admitting they were wrong.

And let’s face it, everyone is wrong in this scenario.

The government is wrong because of its arrogance and hypocrisy.  The government’s decision to withdraw the subsidy is like saying “we won the election, now we’re going to rub your nose in it”.  No matter what anyone says, it was an unnecessary slap in the face to the smaller parties, and the amount of money saved wouldn’t even have been that large in the grand scheme of things – only about a dollar per year per Canadian.  And now that they’re in real danger of losing power, they are trying to say that all they are concerned about is the good of the country, when the truth is they just want to protect their own kingdom.

The coalition is wrong because of its arrogance and hypocrisy.  While they too are claiming to have only the best interests of Canadians at heart, their real agenda – a grab for power and a chance to get back at the hated Tories – is obvious to anyone with eyes to see.   A party that got its lowest share of the popular vote in 141 years is going to save the country by banding together with a party that wants to destroy the country and a party that hasn’t won a federal election in its 75-year history, and the Prime Minister is going to be a man who was so soundly defeated in the last election that even his closest supporters told him it was time to step down?   Come on, let’s be honest.  This is not about the good of the country.  It’s about a chance for the Liberals and the NDP to put Stephen Harper in his place.

But ordinary Canadians are wrong too.  We’re just as arrogant as the leaders we condemn.  Their cynicism and opportunism are just a reflection of our own.  We get the government we deserve.  We act so shocked that our politicians are behaving this way – yet I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone say “All politicians are crooks”.  Maybe it’s not so surprising that they behave like crooks when that’s all we expect of them.

It’s easy to point the finger at someone else – after all, both sides in the House of Commons are doing it, so why not follow their lead and point the finger at the lot of them – but what about us?  Most of us have lost our vision for a better country, a righteous country, a country of high ideals.  We’ve forgotten that a country can be no better than its citizens.  Maybe It’s time for us to take a cold, hard look at what a cynical, self-interested, short-sighted people we have become.  We need to expect better of our Parliamentarians, yes – but we also need to expect better of ourselves.   If I want my leaders to live by high standards, standards of integrity, trustworthiness, truthfulness, compassion and vision – do I expect the same things of myself?   That’s where change has to start.