Want a friend in politics? Get a dog.
Well, that’s not exactly the quote. President Harry S. Truman said that, except he substituted the word “Washington” for “politics.”
And, with the greatest of respect to the 33rd U.S. president, he’s not entirely right, either. Because it is indeed possible to have friends in politics – and in a way that helps constituents, too.
Partisans – younger ones and TruAnon, in particular – don’t get that. They see the universe in black and white, and regard any political opponent as a mortal enemy. They believe disagreement is treason and a capital offence.
The successful political folks aren’t like that. Jean Chretien, Doug Ford, for example. Olivia Chow, too.
Chretien, for whom I once worked as Special Assistant, was friends with folks across the political spectrum. Ralph Klein, Roy Romanow, Roy McMurtry, you name it: the most-successful Liberal Prime Minister of our generation had friends of many different stripes. Some Grit partisans may not have approved, but Chretien didn’t care.
In the case of NDP Premier Romanov and Conservative cabinet minister McMurtry, too, Chretien’s friendship paid big dividends. In November 1981, when a deal to repatriate the Constitution looked to be falling apart, Chretien met quietly with his NDP and Tory friends – in a kitchen pantry at the Ottawa conference centre, no less – to hammer together a deal.
The “Kitchen Accord,” as it became known, was what led to the creation of a truly Canadian Constitution, and a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And it wouldn’t have happened if those three – a Liberal, a Conservative and a New Democrat – hadn’t been friends.
Doug Ford – for whose caucus, full disclosure, my firm does consulting work – comes from the same school. The Ontario Premier famously has friends in every political party, and it has clearly benefited the province he has led since 2018.
This writer saw the proof of that, close up. When I was helping to run Olivia Chow’s 2014 mayoral campaign, Ford and I met. He was also a candidate for mayor, and we started talking regularly.
Not only was Chow okay with that – she encouraged it. Doug’s brother, Rob, had been a Toronto city council seatmate with Chow’s husband, Jack Layton. They became good friends.
When Layton tragically died of cancer in 2011, Rob Ford was bereft. “Today’s definitely one of the saddest days in Toronto, but not only in Toronto, but Canada,” Ford said at the time, adding that, when he arrived at Toronto City Hall, Layton “taught me a lot…He taught me never to take things personal. He taught me, you’re going to be surprised on who votes with you sometimes and who votes against you.”
When Layton’s casket was brought into City Hall, Rob Ford was one of the few who escorted it. On that day, he put friendship before politics.
His brother, Doug, is cut from the same cloth. Much has been made of Doug’s support of his friend Mark Saunders in the just-concluded Toronto mayoral by-election. But much of the partisan speculation about his future relationship with Toronto’s mayor-elect is misguided.
“[Chow] is someone I have had a good relationship with” said Ford on Tuesday – and it’s the truth, going back to the years Rob and Jack were both alive. “We’ll work together and we’re going to find common ground when we sit down because she’s actually quite a nice person.”
And they will work well together – not just because they have to, but because they know how to. When the political stakes are high, as they too often are these days, letting rabid partisanship get in the way is just plain dumb.
So, yes, when in politics, get a dog. Sure.
But get some friends across the aisle, too. It helps – everyone.