The great lessons of Mary Dawson


Without fanfare last Christmas Eve, surrounded by her family, Mary Dawson died from cancer. This government-employed woman was one of the greatest in Canada’s history in this time when too many people blame “the gov’mint” for everything they don’t like.

Mary Dawson was Canada’s first Privacy Commissioner, named there by a Progressive Conservative prime minister. Her speciality was in bringing all sides together and drafting most of Canada’s modern landmark acts. This required a skill-set uncommon to politicians, the ability to set down clearly the key points of the conflicting sides in these big national debates.

There lies her big lesson. Not that we should strive for great things, nor even that we should get outside our private tumultuous worlds once in a while.

Her lesson is that we each can do better than slipping down any of today’s rabbit-holes, complaining about everything, complaining that government is “all f’d up!” This message is then passed on by unscrupulous politicians and self-styled “rebel” mouthpieces. Dawson was a shining argument for the very necessity of “government”, for its importance in all of our lives, and for all the good it can do.

It is true that public personalities can be self-serving, true that government policies can be misguided and rushed, trying to be all things for all people, and true that governments make mistakes; but it’s also true that government’s mistakes can be corrected, and usually are, despite slow progress and arcane processes.

These complaints, mouthed by blowhards, are sometimes accurate. But what the blowhards fail to add is that mistakes are largely made by conflicted individuals and are rarely generated by the institutions themselves.

To insist that it is “government” itself which creates so many of modern society’s problems and ills is anarchism, a failed philosophy. It is wallowing in negativity, mud-throwing at every target … without grasping that government exists because we create it, day after day; that it exists because we need some sort of ordering authority whereby our complex modern society can function and provide at least some of the improvements we demand and need. It keeps us on whatever bumpy and wobbly road the people we vote into office decide will lead us to most of our goals; it keeps us from resorting to might-makes-right arguments and individualism’s oft-destructive actions.

Mary Dawson’s accomplishments show we can do better than dig ourselves into further chaos and conflict. So when reading social-media yapping and news media’s trivializations . . . think “we can be better”. We can follow Mary Dawson’s example of dedication. Ms. Dawson was not a politician … yet she managed to shape modern Canada.