Benns’ Belief: Political confessions

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By Roderick Benns

Roderick Benns is the publisher of The Advocate. An award-winning author and journalist who grew up in Lindsay, he has written several books including Basic Income: How a Canadian Movement Could Change the World.

Benns’ Belief: Political confessions
Advocate publisher Roderick Benns at I.E. Weldon where political aspirations were first sparked. Photo: Erin Burrell.

I grew up in a family that voted Conservative, if they voted at all, because that’s how my grandparents had voted. Most political scientists believe voting through familial patterns is the norm and how we politically wire ourselves, often for life.

I was eight when I watched the federal election of 1979, when Joe Clark beat Pierre Trudeau in what was certainly an upset. Brian Mulroney was prime minister when I was in high school and his prolific agenda was thrilling for a young man with political aspirations. Free Nelson Mandela! Clean up our environment! Free trade! (I’m still happy with the first two.)

My I.E. Weldon yearbook from senior year was filled with hopeful scrawls from friends for a bright political future. I got involved in the party in Guelph in my early 20s and was selected as a youth delegate to the 1993 PC convention that chose Kim Campbell to be leader (although my vote went to Jean Charest).

When I moved back to Lindsay in the 1990s, I had visions of running for the PC party locally and threw my hat in the ring (at age 25) for the local PC nomination against Lorne Chester. Like Erin O’Toole today, I thought I’d run from the right and then become a red Tory. A chance encounter with a former English teacher derailed that plan, thanks to a real stumper of a question he posed on Russell Street one day. “So why are you running?”

After stuttering my way through an answer, I realized I had no clue. I was in the game for all the wrong reasons. I was in the game for the game, not public service. I withdrew my name shortly after.

I returned to journalism. Started a family. I read widely and kept learning. Eventually I watched the hollowing-out of the middle class all across Canada. Globalization, now fully untethered by the very free trade agreements I had once fought for, ran roughshod over working-class people.

My voting pattern changed to Liberal. And NDP. And Green. In other words, I started paying more attention to platforms, candidates and issues each campaign, and less to loyalty or familial tugs of tradition. I unwired myself from voting patterns and rewired myself to think about the country I wanted and how best to get there.

Over the years, I’ve learned things from all parties. From Conservatives, how to value traditions. From Liberals, how to find common ground. From the NDP, how to fight for average people, and from the Greens, how to fight for our planet.

Most of all, I’ve learned we are at our best when we entrench less and listen more, no matter the party’s colours, or “the altars at which we kneel,” to borrow from Sir Wilfrid Laurier. This is the best version of Canada I know. This is the best community we can be.

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