What’s that old line? That “the better part of valour is discretion”?
Something like that. The author of said line was William Shakespeare, naturally; Falstaff uttered it after pretending to be dead on the battlefield, in Henry IV. It reminds us that Bill remains, hands-down, the originator of all the best political truisms.
It also demonstrates that “discretion,” in this context, can be synonymous with cowardice. Cowardice is arguably what comes to mind, this week, as we survey comings and goings (mainly goings) on Parliament Hill.
All three political parties are guilty of putting discretion before valour, in recent days. The NDP (in particular) and the Liberals (to a far lesser extent) for their half-pregnant position on the war against ISIS. The Conservatives, meanwhile, look like cowardly lions because a record number of their caucus are waddling towards the exits to, ahem, “spend more time with their family.”
“Spend more time with my family” ranks right up there with the three other great all-time whoppers: (i) “I’ll respect you in the morning” (ii) “the cheque’s in the mail” and (iii) “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.”
A score of Conservatives MPs, their gold-plated Parliamentary pensions now secured by six years of sterling service as trained seals, have decided to depart before the next federal election. In total, 21 Conservative MPs – including a third of all Alberta Tory MPs – have chosen discretion over valour. For those who ponder such things, that’s a whopping 15 per cent of their caucus.
That’s a lot, considering that only four New Democrat and four Liberal Parliamentarians aren’t running again.
Asked why he was hitting the road, Perth-Wellington Tory MP Gary Schellenberger invoked that hoary old chestnut, spending more time with his family. He’d “missed a lot of birthday parties,” Schellenberger told the Stratford Beacon Herald. Gotcha.
Actually, truth be told, a lot of us are wondering if Gary wants to avoid another kind of “party” – the hanging kind. You know, the one taking place at or around the time of the next general election, when Justin Trudeau may be giddily eviscerating the Conservative Party, as Jean Chretien did in 1993.
To be fair, however, it’s not just craven Conservatives who are choosing discretion over valour. Some New Democrats are looking decidedly spineless, too, in another context: the necessary war against the serial murderers who make up ISIS, now raping, murdering and beheading their way across Syria and Iraq.
“It’s hard to see how we can support the government,” said the NDP’s foreign affairs critic, Paul Dewar. “We couldn’t get behind the kind of ill-defined combat mission these guys are talking about so far.”
If that sounds rather like Neville Chamberlain to you, you’re not alone. The timorous Dippers are being sophists. Military action against ISIS – which no less than a unanimous Security Council has agreed! – is what is needed, and needed now. It is not a case of “supporting the government,” as Dewar disingenuously suggests, but actually a case of joining the civilized world in opposing organized barbarism on a historic scale.
And is war “ill defined”? Yes, of course. Wars, typically, are not mapped out in neat sequential steps. They are messy. And the NDP is engaging in the worst kind of dishonesty to avoid, you know, actually making a decision.
The Liberal position on the war against ISIS, fronted by an actual decorated former military man, Marc Garneau, was not nearly as gutless as Dewar and Co. “Let’s see what the government actually proposes…and then we’ll make a decision,” Garneau said to CTV on Sunday.
That’s fair, but it shouldn’t be construed as an actual position. Some day soon, the Liberals will need to stand with either the Tories or the Dippers. They can’t equivocate.
In the meantime, however, it is Fall in Ottawa – where the leaves are red and yellow.
And, where not a few of the MPs are looking a bit yellow, too.