Let’s play a little name recognition game. Don’t use a search engine, that would be cheating. Look at the following names.
June Westbury, William Bayley, George Little, Albert Smith, Norma McCormick, George Palmer, Duncan Lloyd, William Short, Donald Smith, Curtis Bird, Hugh Armstrong, Henry Clarke, George Coldwell, Dwight Johnson, William Sexsmith, Walter Clark, Ivan Schultz, Wallace Miller, David Harrison & Thelma Forbes.
Did any ring a bell? Any idea who they are or were? Don’t feel bad if you don’t. Until I looked up the club they belong to, I didn’t have a clue either. I suspect only the most avid students of history would have recognized the list to be of former Members of Manitoba’s Legislative Assembly, including a couple of Premiers. Their tenures date back from a couple of decades to well more than a century.
During their time, they were well known. Men and women, but mostly men, of significant influence. They helped make decisions that shaped Manitoba’s future. Right or wrong, they would have believed theirs to be good judgment and hopefully, they would have served well with public interest at heart.
Yet whatever they did and for whatever motivation, their names are now lost in the pages of history. That they existed, that they held influence and power, that they made important decisions; these are all equally forgotten and now insignificant. In Shakespeare’s immortal words, they had their hour on the stage with their lives full of sound and fury signifying nothing.
These are not the only names on that list; there are hundreds. And save for a few like Roblin, most are also forgotten. Give it enough time, and the more recent ones we may still remember, will also be forgotten by coming generations. Amongst the forgotten many, the few names that do live on in our collective memory, have something in common.
And that common element is having done something that transcended time and became an enduring legacy. A legacy that is founded in courage, conviction and reaching for something greater than most would have dared. They used their brief time to do something that continues to impact our lives to the present day. That is obviously a rare trait for so very few are given the great honour of an enduring place in our collective memory.
As Manitoba heads to the polls on September 10, those who are given the privilege of serving would do well to remember that their time on the stage will also be brief and for all their sound and fury, the odds are it will amount to nothing. They too will serve out their time with most of it consumed by the trivial and the mundane.
Yet each day, those we send to the Legislature will think theirs to be a more important place than those before them and a few, if any, will do their work conscious to the reality that they are just the latest actors on that stage. That their time will also pass. As will our memory of their time and before long, their stories will be added to countless ones long forgotten. Most will lack that humbling realization.
We the electors no longer dare the optimism for greatness and our expectations are tempered. We are conditioned to expect the ordinary and we only hope that we won’t suffer a great harm at the hands of those we elect. Cynicism prevails and we are resigned to an expectation of mediocrity bolstered by a long record of having experienced the ordinary. That is reflected in steadily declining voting rates in Manitoba elections. Once again, many of us will head out to the polls with the most meagre of expectations.
But I hope I am wrong. I hope we are all wrong. I hope that the crop of legislators who take their place on September 10 will earn the greater honour of our memory long after their time is served. I wish them a legacy of having made greater choices that yield a legacy that will live on as Roblin’s does.
As citizens who will elect these people to serve the greater good and pursue our hopes and aspirations, we can only hope that their time will be memorable. That what they do will endure as a great pursuit of something greater. That future generations will enjoy what this group will have built.
In the end, our job is to give them the opportunity. It It’s their choice what they do with that opportunity. They may proceed tell another fool’s tale or be remembered for doing something worth remembering. We give them our confidence. Let’s hope the recollection of their hour on the stage will endure long beyond their time.
Originally published in the Manitoba Post.