Peace in the House of Commons
Did you ever happen to sit in the Speaker’s Chair in the House of Commons? I got this opportunity two years ago, exactly on 3 June 2015, when my colleague Koozma J. Tarasoff and I were invited by the New Democratic Party’s MP Alex Atamanenko (British Columbia - Southern Interior) for a personal tour of the Commons. As the House was not in session, the green leather covered seats in the predominantly wood panelled Chamber on both sides of the aisle were silent. The Speaker’s Chair is at the rear and centre in the hall. Both Koozma and I had worked over past five years with Alex Atamanenko when he had on November 20, 2011 tabled in the Parliament a Private Member’s Bill (Bill C-373) to Establish a Department of Peace, this was the second time a NDP MP had done that.
After Alex had announced his retirement following nine years in Parliament, we invited him for lunch to thank him for the support he had given to our civil society initiative for a Federal Peace Ministry Department. He often met with us in his Confederation Building office. Many times, he travelled across Canada to support us at our various AGMs, and gave keynotes on the panels at our Peace Festivals. However, to our luncheon request Alex turned the tables on us insisting that since he had the privilege of using MPs restaurant, he would instead like us to join him for lunch at the Parliamentary restaurant. He wanted to appreciate our efforts in bringing this leading-edge initiative to public attention. It was an unusual get together with no requests or expectations from either side, only plaudits for our wisdom and community work.
Following our luncheon, Alex took us to his seat at the site reserved for NDP MPs. He posed for a photograph in his seat. It reminded us of the moment when in 2011 while tabling the Department of Peace Bill, Alex standing up from there had looked upwards to the Public Gallery, acknowledging our presence. Even though applause is not allowed, we were gratified that a Member of Parliament took the courage to support a Member’s Bill “to establish a Dept of Peace to help advance the cause of peace in Canada and throughout the world”. As he noted, 'The idea that all people can live in peace may seem a bit utopian, but each generation must, on behalf of the next generation, do everything to come as close to reaching this goal as possible.” Then to our surprise we heard him say: “I also thank the folks from the Canadian Department of Peace Initiative for all their hard work in advancing this cause, a number of whom are here today. I extend a special thanks to Bill Bhaneja, the co-founder of CDPI, as well as Theresa Dunn, co-chair of CDPI, Koozma Tarasoff, a Doukhobor writer, historian and long-time advocate of peace, and Laura Savinkoff of Grand Forks of the Boundary Peace Initiative, among others.”
Moving from Alex’s House of Commons seat, we walked around the House to try out the seats designated for the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, but most remarkable moment was to sit in the Speaker’s chair, placed high in the middle at the head of two aisles. Alex Atamanenko’s concluding remarks while tabling the Peace Bill were ringing in my ears: “This is truly a non-partisan issue. I urge all my colleagues on both sides of the House to join us in support of this important initiative. Let us give peace a chance.” It was an affirmation of a voice from civil society in Canada. It was a sincere desire for peace in Canada and abroad.
Balwant (Bill) Bhaneja, Ph.D. retired Canadian diplomat, peace activist, cofounder of Annual Ottawa Peace festival and the Canadian Department of Peace Initiative movement,