Just before we get into full election mode, with all the name calling and accusations and all that stuff that makes politics such a classy profession, I’d like to take a few moments before I launch into 28 days of name calling and accusations to say a few nice words about two true gentlemen who are leaving politics.
The election call marks the end of a number of political careers. Some of them have been inconsequential, coming and going leaving little more than an ass impression in a legislature chair. I’m speaking of guys like Doug Elniski, Carl Benito and hopefully a number of other useless Tories (I’m looking at you, Peter Sandhu and Tony Vandermeer) who should be forced into retirement.
But the legislature will be a noticeably lesser place when two long-serving MLAs, Liberals Hugh McDonald and Kevin Taft, walk out for the last time.
I worked with both of these men during my one-term stint at MLA, and I can tell you that the constituents of Edmonton-Riverview and Edmonton-Gold Bar are lucky to have had them as their representatives, and all Albertans are lucky that there are still people who enter politics for the right reason.
Hughie (as everyone called him, even government MLAs) and Kevin could hardly be more different. Hughie is a native of Prince Edward Island who somehow managed to maintain a distinct East Coast accent (I do a killer Hugh McDonald impression, by the way) despite living in Alberta forever. As an MLA, going the extra mile wasn’t enough for Hughie; he had to go an extra 10 or 20 miles. He would drive for hours to go to an small meeting in out-of-the-way towns just to listen to people gripe, then come back loaded with nuggets of ammunition for question period. To be honest, Hughie had a streak of McCarthyism in him; he didn’t see Reds under every bed, but Conservative corruption in every contract. He tried — Lord knows, he tried — to find the scandal that would bring down the PCs, but never did. It’s not that there isn’t corruption in Tory circles — there’s no way that 40 years in power doesn’t lend itself to corrupt practices — but he just couldn’t find the one that would stick. But that didn’t stop him from plowing through damn near every government report produced, searching for numerical nuggets to give the Tories fits. I never visited Hughie’s house, but I suspect that in his bathroom, where other people might have a People or a Reader’s Digest, Hughie would have a pile of government reports.
Hughie was also one of the great debaters in the Leg. Or perhaps debate is the wrong term, since Hughie could talk and talk and get no response from the government. While I hated those pointless nights in the leg debating something like the Agriculture Subsidy Reimbursement and Redistribution Act, Hughie could debate it for hours given the chance. The Tories hated that because the last place they wanted to be was in the Legislature. And to tell the truth, I hated it, too. But he was doing his job, which was to a) dutifully debate and discuss government bills, and b) piss off the Tories. Hughie loved his job, and I think he loved being in opposition. We used to joke that if the Liberals ever won an election, Hughie would cross the floor just so he could stay in opposition.
Kevin Taft, on the other hand, wasn’t the type of MLA who could get up and blather on about something just to fill time. When Kevin spoke, he knew what he was talking about, and people listened. Kevin was probably the smartest person I have ever known, a man with an apparently outsized brain that sucked up knowledge.
There is an innate kindness to Kevin. When my brother Gary died, he came to the funeral. When he named me the critic for aboriginal affairs, he gave me an excellent book, Strange Empire, about Louis Riel. When party leaders were making the standard statements in honour of Remembrance Day, Kevin actually teared up recalling a trip to Europe with his sons. I know that Kevin and his wonderful wife Jeanette worked the province tirelessly, and, ultimately, thanklessly. (When I was running in the 2004 election as pretty much of a one-man show, Jeanette came out to go door knocking with me, even though I had never met her.) Kevin is a man of integrity, a man who was genuinely appalled by profligate government spending. He would have made an excellent Minister of Anything had he been on the government side, but he chose to join the Alberta Liberals because he was disgusted by the actions of the Ralph Klein government.
Hugh McDonald and Kevin Taft are proof positive, for all you cynics out there, that there are good people in politics, who endure the thankless chores of public life for all the right reasons. Thanks for your service, guys, and thanks for the memories.