02 February 2006

The dark side

Newbie members of parliament are busily getting their bearings in Ottawa in anticipation of taking up their new responsibilities within the next week.

Congratulations to them on all getting elected.

But there is a dark side to politics, as Steve Paikin described in his book of the same title.

One of the statistics thrown at the new MPs in their orientation is chilling: fully 70% of them will be divorced or have done serious damage to their relationships by the time their political career ends. The long hours, frequent travel and prolonged absences from home, partners and children take a heavy toll on politicians and their families. For those who take up cabinet responsibilities the stress and pressure is even greater.

Political staff often suffer the same pressures. Divorce is all too common. Young children often miss out on the support of the political staffer parent whose job demands much of his or her time and energy. Scott Feschuk joked about it on his blog during the campaign, but it is all too real a problem. My son was four before I actually got to spend any serious amount of time with him; it's time I'll never get back, but more importantly, our relationship was profoundly affected for a very long time by my lack of involvement with him from the very beginning.

Paikin argues at one point that Canadians should be more forgiving of politicians who take spouses along on business trips, at taxpayers expense. He builds the case by profiling politicians who have suffered relationship problems not by any of their own sins of commission but simply by virtue of the demands we, as constituents, place on our political leaders.

The book is readily available in both hard cover and paperback versions. For those of us whose only political activity is voting, check around for Paikin's book. Read it, and give it some thought.

And for all those newbies in Ottawa these days, it's a book whose message is worth serious contemplation.

You have nothing but our best wishes for success and from those of us who have read the book or who have some direct experience with political life, you can count on our understanding.