August 6, 1999 Halifax Herald

Britain's Tony Blair is a remarkable man

Humanity has been blessed throughout the ages with the appearance on the world stage of gifted individuals endowed with the ability to inspire people to make constructive changes to society.

Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, John Kennedy and Lester Pearson were among them and, to this honourable list, I would like to nominate Tony Blair, Great Britain's Prime Minister. His vision, courage and daring are unique traits among western leaders today.

Prime Minister Blair epitomizes for us the courage of the brave soul who set aside possible negative personal consequences and stepped out to do what good conscience demands that ethical human beings do to bring about positive changes to society.

The way he reviewed the values of British society, acknowledged dated shortcomings and set a course to modernization, is inspiration to all who advocate political reform. Among the Western Democracies such initiatives are rare; in Canada such is almost nonexistent.

The last time a Canadian government made positive political change was when Prime Minister Pearson gave us our own flag.

In the UK's case, when Blair won office on a pledge to reform the country's archaic institutions, no one can say that he picked the easy ones. Perhaps the toughest, because itís the establishment's playground, was initiating steps to democratize what I've long considered a blot on his country's democracy - the House of Lords.

By targeting this moribund relic, he demonstrated that he wasn't afraid to take on the establishment. However, with influential hard-line right-wingers such as former Prime Minister, now Lady Margaret Thatcher leading the effort to protect the status quo, his task is formidable.

In view of this, the jury is still out on how much change he will be able to make to this anachronism during his first term. Any failure he meets won't be from lack of trying.

Blair, however, has been completely successful in putting in place two other very long overdue major constitutional reforms. Today, because of his vision and determination, Scotland and Wales have national assemblies. This decentralizing of power from London would have been viewed as unthinkable by the English just a few years ago.

Thus, Blair's democratic accomplishment in a society that is still in the process of shaking off an imperialistic mentality, with London as its core, has to be rated as awesome.

And, as if he didn't have enough to do related to Prime ministerial duties and the reforms mentioned, he has waded into the Northern Ireland mess determined to find a solution. With Catholic and Protestant factions so well endowed with nut cases, one would think that he would have taken on a much easier task, for instance, bringing democracy to China, or righting Russia's economic ills.

To date, Blair's efforts have been frustrated by the biggest impediment to peace in the province. It will take all of his genius to overcome the warmonger mentality of a large minority of the population.

The prospect that both Catholics and Protestants can live together in peace, practising their faiths and politics unmolested, never crosses the minds of these bigots. Instead the minority Catholics say "to trade my guns for peace is unthinkable," and the minority Protestants continue to taunt Catholics by holding senseless parades which sends them this childish message, "because my fathers beat up your fathers 300 years ago, we are your masters and superiors."

A peaceful, democratic society cannot evolve around ethnic groups, religious sects, etc., which try to forcefully dominate one another and set themselves up as masters and superiors. All must be equal. Northern Ireland's adversaries, if the country is to ever have peace, must drop forever the archaic notion that they can use force to make the other side see it their way.

This bully thinking has not been productive and never will be. Thus, the only valid option open to them is democracy's ballot box - an option already used by the province's majority, to vote for peace. The minority, however, ignores this democratic decision and plays reckless games that, if not stopped, will insure that the province's sectarian violence will continues for decades to come.

Tony Blair deserves to be sainted for his efforts to date to overcome the centuries of sectarian hate that seems to rule supreme among many of the citizens of the historic land. He has, since shouldering the heroic task, explored many avenues, searching for a key to establish goodwill between the belligerent parties. With the help of the Great Spirit, may he soon find it!

In the case of Blair's efforts to stop the atrocities that were being committed in Kosovo by barbarians during the recent war, his conduct was impeccable. Without question, he stood out over all the other NATO leaders by his heartfelt condemnation of the uncivilized conduct of members of the Serb leadership and armed forces.

His stance that civilized people can no longer stand by and watch innocent people being slaughtered, raped, and otherwise brutalized because of their religious beliefs, racial ancestry, etc., is a stance that all true democrats must, in the name of human dignity, unconditionally adopt.

Hats off to Tony Blair. Canada would be fortunate indeed if it could find a visionary such as he to reform our archaic, undemocratic, political system.

Daniel N. Paul


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