Friday, April 24, 2009

Sleeping with the enemy

Back in the day I knew public sector union officials whose spouses were on the management side--in the same department in one case. I was uncomfortable about it, to be frank. And so it was almost with a sense of déjà vue that I read of Quebec Liberal Deputy Premier Nathalie Normandeau's current romance with Action démocratique du Québec MNA François Bonnardel.

Says Normandeau:

"There is no grey area. There is public life and there is private life. We are professionals and we know very well what we have to do and that there are lines we cannot cross."

And ADQ whip Janvier Grondin commented:

Pour moi, ça n'a pas d'importance, c'est la vie privée. On a le droit de faire un peu ce qu'on veut, on est des humains. Moi, je suis un peu embêté, car je me dis: ''quand on s'en va dans la politique aujourd'hui, faudrais-tu passer chez le médecin pour se faire castrer?'' [For me this isn't important, it's private life. People have the right to do what they want, we're all human. For me I'm a bit put off [by the controversy], because I ask myself: "when one goes into politics today, must one go to the doctor to be castrated?"]

Ask any male in Stephen Harper's caucus. But in any case there are those who disagree. Says Le Soleil commentator Gilbert Lavoie:

À une autre époque, le galant devait se comporter en homme d'honneur et marier la belle, s'il l'avait séduite. En politique, c'est un peu plus compliqué... Mais si François Bonnardel veut éviter de placer Nathalie Normandeau dans l'embarras, le plus simple serait qu'il quitte le caucus de l'ADQ et siège dorénavant comme indépendant. Ce serait un geste honorable qui ferait baisser la pression sur la ministre, et qui éviterait que la suspicion ne s'installe au sein du caucus adéquiste. [In another age, a gentleman had to behave as a man of honour, and marry the woman that he seduced. In politics, it's a bit more complicated...but if François Bonnardel wants to avoid putting Nathalie Normandeau in a tough spot, the simplest way would be for him to leave the ADQ caucus and sit as an independent from now on. This would be an honourable move that would relieve pressure on the Minister, and which would keep suspicion from arising in the ADQ caucus.]

Actually, I have few problems with the politics here: I must be mellowing, or maybe I just don't have a political dog in this fight. There is no reason to doubt that both partners are behaving in a principled fashion, publicly and privately, and will continue to do so. But I do wonder about the private realm that sympathetic politicians of all stripes are at pains to wall off from the public sphere of political life.

It seems to me, speaking from experience, that a personal relationship (I hate the word, but let's put that in brackets for now) is the very last place where one would want barriers and secret compartments. It's unhealthy to build them, and it's unhealthy if they are immovably there from the beginning.

Consider: both partners in this case are passionately committed to politics and to the values of which politics is an expression. But clearly the values in this case are at odds: a cautious pragmatic humanism (Liberal) vs. a reactionary, xenophobic populism (ADQ). That alone might not be sufficient to doom a partnership, although sharing values is one of the joys of such involvement. But added to that is the vocation of each, which makes these values salient for a considerable part of their waking lives.

I'm not moralizing here: I hope they both do well, and that their romance flourishes. It's just--and this could be simply a failure of imagination on my part--that I can't conceive of a relationship in which so much of one's very self must be submerged or kept secret from the other.

It's not "bedfellows making strange politics," as the Toronto Star so pertly puts it. It's more "politics making estranged bedfellows." What, besides what we might assume is the obvious, is keeping these two together?

Rampant speculation welcome.

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