Promises and oaths

Russell Wangersky
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It would be nice, in this new year, if everyone, including our provincial and federal politicians, took a little time to stop and consider why they do their jobs, and just what those jobs actually are.
Look at the very bare bones of it: here’s what our government and opposition politicians swear they will actually do.

“The obligation requiring all Members of Parliament to take the oath is found in the Constitution Act, 1867, with the text of the oath itself outlined in the Fifth Schedule. The Act states: ‘Every Member of the … House of Commons of Canada shall before taking his Seat therein take and subscribe before the Governor General or some Person authorized by him … the Oath of Allegiance contained in the Fifth Schedule to this Act …’ The wording of the oath is as follows: ‘I, (Member’s name), do swear, that I will be faithful and bear true Allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second.’ As an alternative to swearing the oath, Members may make a solemn affirmation, by simply stating: ‘I, (Member’s name), do solemnly, sincerely, and truly declare and affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second.’”

In this province, MHAs make the same oath, as well as “I do swear (or affirm) that a) I am fully qualified to hold the office of Member for the District of ____ to which I have been elected; b) I have not knowingly contravened the Elections Act, 1991 respecting any matter in relation to my election; c) I will faithfully, to the best of my ability, perform the duties and responsibilities of my office and will not allow any direct or indirect monetary or other personal or private interest to influence my conduct or affect my duties in public matters; d) I hereby affirm, subscribe to and agree to follow the Code of Conduct of Members adopted by the House of Assembly (in the case where the oath is taken, add ‘So help me God’).”

So, what’s missing in all that?

In any of it, anywhere, do you see any requirement for blind obedience to any political party?

More to the point, do you see any reference to putting the interests of your party ahead of your conscience or the interests of your constituents?

You don’t.

In fact, you could make the argument that, especially in provincial politics, putting the party first actually means you have to break the part of the oath where you either swear or affirm that you “will not allow any direct or indirect monetary or other personal or private interest to influence my conduct or affect my duties in public matters.”

But leave that aside for a moment.

The politics of confrontation

More and more, we’ve accepted that politics in general is not something as simple as government and opposition: more and more, it comes close to constant idealogical warfare between government and

government-in-waiting. No one appears interested in using the back-and-forth of the two forces to reach a middle ground and the best possible legislation and government for Canadians or Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

More and more, everything a government puts forward is blindly accepted by its own sitting party members: more and more, governments at the federal and provincial level not only refuse to free their own members to vote on issues, they also refuse any attempt to amend or improve legislation.

More and more, anything suggested by oppositions is rejected outright.

We only have to look south of our border to see the kind of legislative logjam constant conflict can create.

Governments take time in the House of Commons or the House of Assembly to laud themselves, presumably because they are not otherwise receiving the kind of plaudits they believe they deserve: oppositions, meanwhile, are more focused on positions that will make them governments than they are on serving their roles of challenging and improving government.

We have to start looking at a different way to run our governments: the bitter warfare we’re come to expect does not serve the electorate. It’s a bad model and an even worse method for reaching either consensus or compromise.

When you stand in a courtroom, before a judge, and promise to tell the truth, you do that with a clear knowledge of the weight of your oath: you do it knowing the commitment you are making, and if you choose to break that commitment, you do it knowingly and presumably with some trepidation of the punishment that awaits you if you’re caught.

Why should the oaths of our legislators not be taken as seriously? Shouldn’t they also regularly ponder the solemnity of what they’ve promised to do?

Or has service become solely self-service, and honour, nothing more than a jacket you slip on for the day you take that oath, and then hang up in a dark, closed closet and never think of again?

It would be a great thing, in this new 2014, to be able to vote for hope and for the good of a province and a nation.

It’s hard to find a party, government or opposition, that’s interested in a goal that lofty.

We are becoming a country of the self-serving and the small.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s

editorial page editor. Email:

Organizations: House of Commons

Geographic location: Canada

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Recent comments

  • Cashin Delaney
    January 05, 2014 - 13:54

    The Code of Conduct of members is an interesting document, and may not be wise to show this to people, as it may raise expectations to unreasonable levels of decorum, thereby ending democracy as we know it. We would have to invent a new blood sport, and lose our status as the MMA of provincial politics.

  • Joe
    January 05, 2014 - 09:00

    "We are becoming a country of the self-serving and the small." Is this the essence of Conservatism! The only group who trully knows how to run anything per reporters.

  • barbara
    January 05, 2014 - 05:13's not the Harper's the Government of Canada. It's not the Dunderdale's the government of NL. They are stewards of government for a period of time. Media can help by resisting their framing of the discourse. So can opposition parties. We all need a restart.

  • Kev
    January 04, 2014 - 11:28

    A few months ago, the federal opposition found a typo in the text of a government bill. They moved an amendment to fix the typo. The Harper conservatives voted it down.

  • Corporate Psycho
    January 04, 2014 - 06:51

    Hers a quote from Jerome Kennedy from a Telegram story from last year. “You use the word ‘promise.’ I’m not sure the Blue Book can be described as a promise,” he said. “It’s a blueprint or a platform as opposed to an absolute promise.” And he is wondering why his old seat went Liberal?