For David Wilks, it’s been an honour just to take up space in Ottawa

A brick in the toilet tank of democracy.
A brick in the toilet tank of democracy
Everett Collection; Isaac Hockley/The Province; Reuters; Photo illustration by Taylor Shute

Until recently, I wasn’t that big a fan of Conservative MP David Wilks, possibly on account of never having heard of him.

But he’s made quite an impression of late. First, Wilks spoke in favour of Stephen Harper’s omnibus budget bill. Then he told some constituents the legislation was flawed and overstuffed—and he would oppose it, even if it meant leaving caucus. About five minutes later, Wilks ever-so-slightly altered his position on the bill once more—now he was totally for it again.

Kudos to you, David Wilks. It is said that some members of Parliament are afraid to take a stand—but here we have an MP with the courage to take several.

Is it too soon to get excited about a David Wilks re-election speech in 2015? I say no.

(Wilks takes the podium at a Dairy Queen in Revelstoke, B.C.)

Ladies and gentlemen, voters of Kootenay-Columbia:

You probably remember me from that video shot by one of my constituents—the one in which I first said: “One MP won’t make a difference.” And I’ll be damned if I didn’t prove that statement true every single day I spent in Ottawa.

Pierre Trudeau once said that MPs were nobodies once they got 50 yards from Parliament Hill. But I don’t have to walk that far to be a nobody. I can have absolutely zero impact right from my seat in the House of Commons. Me and a whole bunch of others, Pierre.

Yes, I said I’d oppose the 2012 omnibus bill because it packed in too much disparate legislation. But I also said other stuff that day! For instance, people forget I said it was a beautiful morning—although, in all honesty, I did agree later that day with a constituent who said it looked like rain.

I also pointed out in the video that, alone, I couldn’t hope to accomplish much. I said: “Me doesn’t mean anything, me doesn’t change the budget.” To which I would today add: “Me wishes me hadn’t said those things about the bill because doing so sabotaged me political career.”

A government needs leadership. But I ask you: what is the point of having a leader if there are not also followers? And not just followers but blindly loyal acolytes, devoid of all courage and commitment, hollow ciphers for the opinions of those they serve. Now that’s a good follower!

When an issue comes to the fore, I will listen. I will agree with you because you are my constituents. Then I will backtrack so quickly and so thoroughly that you’ll swear I’m actually foretracking. I know that’s not a word but I’m trying to convey the speed with which I’ll backtrack. Maybe a sound effect would be more effective: whooosh!

Some criticize me for backing down on the budget bill. But I never claimed to be a hero. I don’t adhere to a “rigid set of principles.” I don’t always “do what I say I’m going to do.” I don’t have a “spine.” I can’t “look at myself in the mirror.”

Plus, do you know what it’s like to get a call from the Prime Minister’s Office? It’s as though they’ve got those Jedi mind powers.

PMO: You didn’t mean that about the omnibus bill.

Me: Um, okay, I guess I didn’t mean that about the bill.

PMO: You support the government’s budget.

Me: I support the budget.

PMO: You’ll pick up my dry cleaning and walk my dog.

Me: I’ll also empty your dishwasher.

Folks, I’m just a regular, ordinary MP, the kind created by a system that has for decades centralized more power in the PMO; the kind favoured by a Prime Minister who treats most of his cabinet ministers like backbenchers, which means he has to treat his backbenchers like something else—usually furniture of some kind, though I like to think he considers me, at minimum, a hat rack.

For the past four years, it has been my honour to occupy physical space in Ottawa on your behalf—to serve as your representative, like one of those seat fillers at an awards ceremony, a brick in the toilet tank of democracy. All the air I displaced during my time in the capital, I displaced for you.

Voters of Kootenay-Columbia, I say to you once more: one MP won’t make a difference. Please let me continue to be that MP.