The Allan J. MacEachen Annual Lecture Series Preface


In ancient Greece a state was called a polis. Our terms politics, politicians, policy, and police are all based on that old Greek word.

Clearly, politics, the management of our common affairs, whether it be at the municipal, the provincial, or the national level, is important. And it isn't easy. To rank as good a politician must be able to see what is best for all the people, and have the will to work to achieve it. But at the same time in a democracy he or she must be able to get elected and re-elected - a requirement which tends to emphasize the short-run demands of local or particular interests.

There was a time, long before Canada was founded, when political parties were denounced in Great Britain: it was argued that they divided the nation. However, those days are past. Nowadays we see politics as competitive: quite aside from advancing policy alternatives, an able opposition keeps the government of the day on its toes, and, by winning an election, can give the former government party a chance to renew itself by recruiting new players and rethinking its policies. The basic model calls for two teams: the Ins and the Outs.

The Allan J. MacEachen Lectures at St. Francis Xavier University were set up and endowed on the initiative of MacEachen's friend and admirer, Senator Jerry Grafstein. Soon after their establishment it was decided that the first lecturer should be given by former practitioners. Also, it was decided that the lecturers would not be restricted to assigned topics. The message to them was: "Say what you really want to say." As a result the lectures now published differ greatly.

Bob Rae speaks in defence of politics from its critics: from those bureaucrats who feel no need to convince the public; from those business-persons who say that they want the market to rule; from those in the media who treat political news as entertainment; and from the ideologists of left and right who, believing that they know the truth, are contemptuous of democratic politics. Any reader of Frank McKenna's address will quickly detect that he is a graduate of St. F. X. and that he is deeply concerned with the economic future of the province of which he was the premier. Dalton Camp speaks as a former national-league coach: political parties are essential to good government in a democracy - and what system is better? Alas, the teams aren't as good as they used to be - perhaps because, in the absence of major domestic crises just now, the public agenda is not seen as of vital importance.

The role of the media in a democracy is not a new topic. From the time, about three centuries ago, when cheap pamphlets and newspapers began to circulate, it has been assumed that the press exerts a powerful influence on the voters. Some political reports are seen as the work of honest, but ignorant or biased writers. Others are seen as propaganda, the products of spin-doctors. As these lectures, especially Rae's, show, that topic is still with us. The new media - radio and television - plant the mistaken idea that the Question Period is the key part of the work of our legislatures, and that our political leaders think in thirty-second bursts.
Allan MacEachen was rated as a truly outstanding player by many of his fellow politicians. Fortunately, he, too, has recorded some retrospective thoughts - thoughts on his relationships with his electors, with his cabinet colleagues, with bureaucrats. To make his essay, "All Those Years: Practice and Purpose in Politics," readily available it has been included in this publication.

In dictatorships, be they ruled by absolute monarchs by ideological factions, politics is the business of one or a few. In contrast, in a democracy such as Canada, where all citizens can participate to some degree in the management of their common affairs, we need to know how our system really works. That's why when candid experts such as Bob Rae, Frank McKenna, and Dalton Camp speak we should listen.


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