Libby Davies says goodbye with poetry

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Photo: Libby Davies

There are well over 40 sitting members of Parliament (MPs) who will not run again in October.

Last week, Justice Minister Peter MacKay was the latest and most prominent of those when he announced his retirement from politics -- at least for now.

For the Official Opposition New Democrats, the list includes veteran MPs Jean Crowder from Vancouver Island, Alex Atamanenko from the British Columbia interior, Chris Charlton from Hamilton and Joe Comartin from Windsor, Ontario.

Perhaps the best-known NDP MP leaving the House is Libby Davies, the MP for Vancouver East and Deputy Leader and former House Leader of the party.

Davies will leave parliament after 18 years and six consecutive election victories. She is known as a strong and persistent advocate for evidence-based reform of drug laws and the rights of sex workers.

She had many other interests, however, including affordable housing, and peace and justice in the Middle East.

There will be time allotted in the House for retiring MPs to say goodbye before the end of the session, but Davies will be away from Ottawa then. And so, she decided to take her leave just before Question Period on Tuesday. This is when MPs get to make short statements on subjects of their choice.

Davies chose to say goodbye to the House and to her voters in Vancouver by quoting poetry.

She selected a work by the late Sandy Cameron, a well-known figure in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

According to his obituary, Cameron, who died in 2010, was "a logger, miner, prospector, teacher, writer, mentor, poet, humanitarian, athlete, grandpa and surrogate grandpa, storyteller, gentle soul, and strong anti-poverty, housing and human rights activist."

The poem Davies recited for a somewhat surprised House, on Tuesday, is called 'We Need a New Map' from the book Being True to Ourselves.

Here it is:

The map we inherited
isn't any good.
The old roads mislead
and the landscape keeps changing.

People are confused
and drift from place to place,
clothes scorched by fire
eyes red with smoke.

The old map tells us
to look for gold
in the city,
so we go to the city
and find the garbage dump.

We need a new map
with new roads
and a new destination.
Some people fear a new map, and
they cling to the old one
like flies to fly paper....

I don't have a new map,
so I write stories.
The stories draw lines
dig holes
and above all, remember....

...And in this harsh world draw your breath in pain
To tell my story.
Hamlet said to Horatio.
"I seem not to speak
the official language," the poet
Adrianne Rich said, so
she created an unofficial language,
the language of the heart.


Davies then said, simply: "It has been an honour to serve the people of Vancouver East and the NDP for the past 18 years."

Throughout her long political career -- which began as a community activist and in Vancouver city politics -- the MP for Vancouver East has always been more focused on results than on political ego and partisan rhetoric.

She took her leave of parliament in the same dignified manner in which she conducted herself as a grassroots politician. 

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