Sunday, 10 July 2005
On Chuck Cadman
By Joseph Planta
VANCOUVER - The news that Surrey North MP Chuck Cadman has died, offers us a moment to pause and reflect on the good that can motivate people to go into public life, as well as the good that they can do once in politics.
It was in October 1992 when we first encountered Chuck Cadman. His son Jesse was murdered, and Cadman fought a public battle for reform to the Young Offenders Act, after Jesse's killer was sentenced to but three years in jail. Speaking out publicly, Cadman's profile increased, and his son's killer was sentenced as an adult. He was motivated to run for public office, taking his considerable profile and running for the Reform Party in 1997 on a platform of criminal justice reform. He won, and distinguished himself as an industrious Member of Parliament who told it like it is and who didn't let the rancorous partisanship of politics denigrate him.
In an age when cynicism greets politicians everywhere they turn, Cadman offered a bit of hope that his colleagues would be like him, and not just spout platitudes and toe the party line. Cadman himself became a victim of politics, when in 2004 he lost his Conservative party nomination. Rather than sulk, he threw his hat into the ring, to run as an independent. His Conservative challenger came in fourth, and Cadman took the riding as an independent, a great rarity in parliamentary politics. He proved that his honesty and sheer popularity in the riding would trump whatever petty political machinations that were in play. It was during the 2004 campaign that he revealed that he had malignant melanoma, the cancer that killed him yesterday.
Cadman is widely credited with helping prop up this current minority parliament, when he voted with the Liberals and the NDP in defeating a Conservative confidence motion that came up in the House. He was widely sought after, by his Conservative and Liberal colleagues, as well as the media, who wanted to know how he would vote. He expressed his desire to canvass his constituents and vote according to their wishes. It was a great guessing game as to whom he would vote with. Would he vote with the Liberal government he ran against three times, or would he vote with his former party that denied him a nomination? It turns out his constituents said to prop up the Liberal government, and so he did. He saved the country from a summer election, and earned himself kudos from the public for a maverick-like stand.
At that point, when he rose in his place in the Commons and voted to keep the Liberals in power, Cadman didn't owe his seat to anyone, not to a party or a leader. He owed his place to his constituents, and though they probably didn't celebrate saving a Liberal government, they celebrated their guy's stand.
Observers of politics will perhaps decry the hemming and hawing that Cadman undertook. That it was his duty to vote his conscience and not necessarily represent his constituents. He didn't subscribe to Burke's idea of parliamentary representation, and made grassroots democracy all the more appealing across the country.
In April, I heard that Cadman had been told he had three months to live. It seemed like he was losing his battle, what with his absences from the Commons. Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper had even gone to visit Cadman at his home to convince him to return to the party. Cadman refused, wishing to remain an independent. Some pundits noted that with his vote to prop up the Liberals he was not going to run again.
Chuck Cadman was a rarity in political life. He was as honest as they got, and he never failed to surprise with his ability to be a maverick, or how despite some years in Ottawa, he left his life with his integrity intact. Cadman was 57.
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