The Very Atoms of Democracy

Rex Murphy’s UBCM Convention keynote address was an effervescent tonic of human insight and raucous humour, with a call to maintain the morality that underlies our civic institutions. He affirmed the fabric and legacy of decency that is the essential nature of local government.

Murphy characterized his two failed efforts to attain political office as “a hurricane of rejection.” Newfoundland’s political loss is indubitably Canada’s gain.

Politics in our country, he said, “is in need of some vast repair.” It is “at the municipal level in any community that cares about itself that this effort begins.”

Murphy compared the work of local governments to the spontaneously generous and compassionate hospitality Newfoundlanders extended to dozens of planeloads of passengers forced to land there on 9-11: “This automatic flow of warm, helpful, welcoming behaviour to strangers.”

If the planes had come down in BC or anywhere else in Canada, in towns or cities large or small, they would have been cared for in the same caring way, said Murphy. “The human interaction is the most important card that is laid on the table.” It is “what gives both happiness and substance.”

“Municipalities are the very atoms of our democracy, said Murphy. “Extended over time, over generations, they convey the depth of our character.”

“We should be more grateful, more conscious of what we have inherited from our parents and grandparents, and First Nations”, he said, “people with some connection with the land and the sea, schooled by a long history.”

Ours is a “huge land with a great civic polity”, and “the fundamental constituency begins in the thoughts and minds of very local things,” he said. “Tiny gestures underline a pattern of who we would like to be, the values we have chosen to make part of our life.”

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