"Reputation is what people think you are and character is what you are truly. In this contact sport where there are no referees - and that distinguishes this contact sport from all others - it can be very hard to protect reputation," he said.
He, of course, being former Premier of Ontario Dalton McGuinty.
Me, I like the guy. I don't by any stretch of the imagination think he's perfect and have, on more than one occasion, disagreed with decisions he's made. Never once have I questioned that he did anything other than what he thought was the right thing to do.
Whether you like McGuinty or not - whether you like Stephen Harper or not - if you have any knowledge of how politics works, you know that the quote above rings true.
In theory, the Speaker is the referee, but they hold sway only in the Chamber and have, at best, dubious powers. Beyond the walls of the Legislative Chamber, anything you can get away with goes - including expense and robocall scandals. So what if you get caught and have to pay a fine, after the fact? If you've won, you can raise more money and offset the cost, so really nothing has been lost.
The same holds true for attacks. Whatever you can get away with, goes. Sure, there's some collateral damage; some soldiers will lose limbs and all, but hey - it's all worth it when you win. In a contact sport, you have to expect to get bloodied.
But politics isn't a sport; it's a debate, a policy-discussion forum. Democracy is about participation of many, not survival of the fittest. Can we not have civil discussion in civil society? Can we not be respectful in discourse and substantive in both our arguments and our criticisms?
Ha, yeah. Keep dreamin'.
Politics is the War Room; it's lobbing grenades, circling the wagons, etc.
That's how politics, increasingly, operates. It's a Lord of the Flies slide that is happening as our government becomes increasingly opaque in its service delivery and we, as citizens, become increasingly ambivalent to its practices.
We don't care about the operations of the Legislature, don't you know.
That's one school of thought in Canadian politics. It's the culture of conflict that McGuinty refers to, that partisans relish as they pundify and plan their next attack.
Reputation has always been fodder, but it's gotten so that one wonders why people of character would even bother. Good character almost annuls your ability to survive in politics.
As the political watering hole shrinks and the walls go up around our Common Houses, though, society still needs to function. As we're witnessing with the provinces looking to create a new federal conversation that doesn't involve the actual federal government, it's clear that we can, with effort, find ways to keep moving forward regardless.
People of good character can still find ways to be effective, just not always through traditional means. Those are going to people more worried about protecting or destroying reputations than character.
Times are changing; it'll be interesting to see where we go next.