Jack Layton - Honest PoliticianTuesday, August 23, 2011
It was in Mexico, which after lengthy dictatorships by Porfirio Días and Antonio López de Santa Anna and after the Mexican Revolution of 1911, it imposed a system called "no reeleccion" for presidents and governors. The mandate was extended from a four year period to one of 6 years. The result all these years has been a government in which an elected president or governor appoints cronies and for 6 years they steal as much as they can. At the end of the 6-year term there is a clean sweep and new men are elected who in turn steal.
This is why so many countries in Latin America suffer under the malady of tax evasion. Many justify not paying taxes on the rationalization that money given to the government will be stolen. Tax evation is an art.
I remember vividly the day I read a column by Stefan Kanfer in Time Magazine that reported the fact that a criminal lawyer had driven up to the White House to consult with President Richard Nixon. The revelation made news in the United States but we in Latin America just thought, "These funny Americans actually trust their politicians. Can you imagine that?"
Since 1975 I have been in Vancouver. In Canada. I can never forget nor do I take it for granted that when I am driving I am not afraid of being stopped by the police. And I know that if I get into an automobile accident the policeman who will appear at the scene of the accident will not demand a bribe if I am not to be taken to the police station and have my car impounded.
Since 1975 I have not taken for granted that the bureaucracy here sort of works and that if I lose my driver’s license it will be replaced in a few weeks with a minimum of paper work.
Since 1975 I watched unpopular politicians in Vancouver walk on the street without any police escort.
Since 1975 I have voted many times knowing my ballot will be counted. It has been refreshing to go to my nearby school to vote and not find guards with machine pistols at the doors.
In short I believe that democracy works in Canada in spite of the fact that our Prime Minister has the power to appoint supreme court justices without any consultation to anybody. I simply do not understand what parliamentary democracy is exactly.
But since 1975 I have known a few politicians whom I have trusted. I have photographed them, chatted with them and even received thank you letters from them. I have voted for some of them.
I remember sitting on the front row of a citizen’s chat with ex-prime minister John Turner (in Quadra) complete with doughnuts and coffee. He was in town to defend the free-trade agreement. I had photographed him before. There were no guards, no shouts. It was supremely civilized. I felt privileged for the opportunity.
When you have people in your studio and you deal with them, one on one, you get a pretty good sense of what they are like. One politician stands out whom I distinctly did not trust completely. His name was Glen Clark. Even in my dealings with Bill Vander Zalm (I photographed him many times) I did not get the photographer’s warning lights that had turned on in the presence of Clark.
And then there are all those politicians of the NDP who have paraded in my studio, from David Barrett to Alexa McDonough, Carol James and the wonderful but now sadly retired Dawn Black. There was the calm and collected (and very honest) Mike Harcourt. I have always admired Bob Williams’ perceptive intelligence and business acumen.
On the top of that list of people I trusted to the hilt was Jack Layton.