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Photo by Carolyn Pogue

Babes in the House of Commons

Where’s Nellie McClung when we need her?

By Carolyn Pogue

In “Civility begins at the top” (Jan. 19), I blogged about sending little old ladies to the House of Commons to end the bullying there. Reader Marika Ince, who works in the expressive arts, has another idea. She wrote, “In my daydream, hundreds of sleeping babies are each lowered onto the lap of a sitting MP. The MPs must endeavour to not wake the babies. Their behaviour, their debate and their ultimate decisions must be carried out with full consciousness of these newest citizens and their future well-being. Perhaps it’s time to bring in a program like Roots of Empathy or move Parliament to a seniors’ home so each member can have a moderating ‘grandparent.’”

No doubt the politicians could benefit from Roots of Empathy, a program created by Canadian social entrepreneur Mary Gordon and now used in hundreds of schools. Over the course of a year, a mom takes her new babe to a neighbourhood school for weekly visits. Students observe the growth and progress of “their” baby and learn what babies need to thrive. This helps develop empathy. Teachers report an overall kinder classroom atmosphere and note that there are fewer incidents of bullying.

Babies bring to mind Raffi Cavoukian’s passionate call for a child-honouring society. He asked himself a new question this year: How do Don Cherry’s rants on Hockey Night in Canada affect kids? Raffi answered his own question by using his tweet button. You may wish to join his campaign to “mute” the bellicose broadcaster (#mutedoncherry).

Efforts like these are about creating a culture of peace and not losing ourselves or our sense of humour while we’re at it. This is why I love Nellie McClung, a Mother of Confederation if ever there was one, and yes, I know she wasn’t perfect.

“Never explain, never retract, never apologize. Just get the thing done and let them howl,” she famously declared. My favourite McClung story is of how she and her friends performed a parody of the Manitoba Legislature when they debated whether to allow women the vote. They created hilarious entertainment, demonstrating how ridiculous the arguments against suffrage were. (“Nice women don’t want to vote.”) Their funny show was a serious tipping point. In 1916, Manitoba became the first province to grant women voting rights.

The press was often nasty to McClung; politicians scorned her. She was bullied in many ways, but she made her mark without lowering herself to the level of her attackers. She used several tools: intelligence, faith, self-esteem, wit, creativity and her conviction that she was right. She was blessed with financial security and a supportive husband. But I think it was her sense of humour that kept her going.

I await the likes of Nellie to help us figure out how to transform belligerent politicians. Could a McClung-esque drama help? If so, perhaps the annual Peace Consortium’s Uprising National Playwriting Competition: Peace, Politics and Society awaits your entry. The deadline is September. Babies? Politicians? Grandmas?

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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