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COLUMN: Examine the character of the candidates

The character of the candidate is the surest measure of what kind of representative he or she will be. 
Dick Nichols 0020
Dick Nichols, Western Wheel columnist.

On Sept. 6, 1974, former Conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker spoke at a testimonial dinner for a man named Arthur Laing, a longtime Liberal cabinet minister and later a member of the Canadian Senate.

After the event, a reporter asked the former PM what he was doing speaking at what was basically a Liberal fundraiser. 

“In 1957, just after becoming prime minister, I attended my first Conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers in London,” he replied. “At the end of the first day, we were guests at a formal dinner attended by the Queen. Seated in a place of honour was Sir Winston Churchill, who had led Great Britain as prime minister through the Second World War. As the shortest-serving prime minister there, I was seated at the far end of the table beside a lady whose name I could not quite catch. 

“Over the course of the evening, it became apparent that Sir Winston was enjoying himself immensely – talking, laughing and obviously taking great delight in the fine brandy that was being served. 

“‘The old man seems to be in good spirits tonight,’ I remarked to my table mate. 

“‘Yes, isn’t he wonderful?’ she said. ‘You know, if it wasn’t for him, none of us would be here.’ 

“Do you know who she was? She was Mrs. Neville Chamberlain, whose husband had been Churchill’s implacable foe; whose place Churchill had taken as prime minister in 1940, and who had died, disillusioned and heartbroken, just a few months later. 

“Her attitude reflected the spirit that guides our system of government,” Diefenbaker concluded, “and that spirit is the reason I’m here today.” 

I think back on that story as I see and read about the rancor that seems to be permeating our current provincial election campaign. And I sympathize with those who are wondering how to decide between what they consider two unpleasant alternatives.

But if – as one who has followed elections closely for more than 60 years – I may offer two pieces of advice, they would be these: First, make sure you vote. I once asked Preston Manning about this and he told me something I have never forgotten: If you don’t vote, you still have to live with the decision made by those who do. 

Second, examine the character of the individual candidates. The media concentrates on the party leaders and promises, but in the end the legislature is made up of the representatives we elect from among these candidates.

It is they who, to a greater degree than you might think, determine what the leaders do. And the character of the candidate is the surest measure of what kind of representative he or she will be. 

To paraphrase Robert A. Wilson, editor of Character Above All, this is our province and it’s up to us to shoulder the responsibilities of citizenship it confers on us.

Being informed is one of them. Understanding the depth of character of those whose names are on the ballot is another. 

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