Touching Moments of Darkness

  • National Newswatch

Our federal politics got a chance to look in the mirror this week and what was revealed wasn't pretty.  In fact, it was almost tragic.When Government House Leader Mark Holland talked about his “dark place” during committee testimony this past week, the session went silent, as though someone had let humanity into the room before anyone noticed.  To everyone's shock, he spoke of his mental health struggles and attempted suicide after losing his seat in the 2011 election.  In an instant, a committee meeting turned into a teachable moment.Holland was one of my great friends during my tenure in Ottawa.  Our offices were side by side on the fourth floor of West Block.  When I first arrived in Parliament following my by-election win in 2006, Mark took me under his wing and helped guide me through what turned out to be a highly partisan season in national politics.  That chosen enmity came close to crushing my ideals of what national service could be.  I was a fish out of water, a community activist and international humanitarian tossed into the occasional madness of a politics that had lost its sense of decency and consensus.Holland, with occasional help from MPs Navdeep Bains and Omar Alghabra, took me out for frequent dinners to help enlighten me on how to navigate the shark-filled waters.  My situation was made even more challenging by the arrival of our two adopted children from South Sudan. They had lacked a father in that war-torn land and were now barely seeing their Canadian father due to long hours in Ottawa.All of this is a meaningful context, for it turned out that Mark Holland was going through his own hell, as he reported to the committee last week.  I spotted it at times, but he was such a solid performer in the House, always on top of his files and ready for service of any kind to the party that he seemed indestructible.Sadly, he wasn't.  We had lost in the same election in 2011.  I felt suddenly liberated to return to my humanitarian activities, but Mark fell into a deep hole.  It's so personal that it's best to hear it from him directly from this link - Mark Holland revealed in those remarkable moments of clarity was more than personal.  Few people realize just how little free time an MP has for her family, for his community, for herself.  The pay is good, the perks stimulating, but the hours of isolation can lead to a life of quiet desperation that the governing system has little time for.  It's 24/7.  It's alienating.  And as Holland reminded us in his Barton interview, politics is increasingly becoming a blood sport, with little time for understanding, collaboration, or any hope for solutions other than your party's demands.Canadians are growing in understanding that this kind of politics forms a significant part of the dysfunction we now find ourselves in. We are looking for something kinder, gentler, more inclusive.  But so are many of our politicians.  In my time as an MP, I had three personal encounters with MPs who had considered suicide and many who sensed they were losing their grounding with family and community.  Is this what we want for them?  Can such blind sacrifice lead to intuitive and understanding politics?  Clearly not.Anais Nin said, “we cannot cure the evils of politics with politics,” but this is increasingly what is being done.  It's leading to separation, hatred, divisions, and the kind of stupid partisanship that no longer sees those with whom we disagree as human.  “I touched moments of darkness,” Holland confessed – a sentiment likely shared by most members of the House, regardless of party.We have seen what insensitive and harsh politics is doing to this land but often fail to understand how our politicians are being torn apart, within and without, by the same shared insanity.  For good politics, we require politicians humble enough to challenge the system, just as Mark Holland is doing.  I communicated with him yesterday, apologizing that I hadn't done a better job at recognizing the symptoms and being there for him as he always was for me.“It was on me to share more,” he responded.  “ I just wasn't strong enough then to share my weakness.”  Well, he is now, and in the moments of clarification and humility, Holland is defining a new kind of leadership befitting the Government House Leader of the House of Commons position that he presently holds.  If there is hope for our democracy, it is to be found in a newly discovered humanity that puts the needs of all above the demands of party.  Mark Holland is showing the way, and the rest of the House of Commons can no longer hide their alienation behind a sense of blind duty since one of their own stepped out from the shadows and shared his trek toward enlightenment and recovery.  They could do the same and lead the way to national recovery.Glen Pearson was a career professional firefighter and is a former Member of Parliament from southwestern Ontario. He and his wife adopted three children from South Sudan and reside in London, Ontario. He has been the co-director of the London Food Bank for 35 years. He writes regularly for the London Free Press and also shares his views on a blog entitled “The Parallel Parliament“. Follow him on twitter @GlenPearson.