His name was Thunderbird, he told us later. After he hobbled toward us, trailing fumes of cheap alcohol.
He was trying to get to a shelter at Main and Hastings. My parents and I were on our way to dinner, far from Main and Hastings. I pointed him toward the nearest bus stop, gave him directions and turned away.
My parents surprised me. Without hesitation my mom gave him a bus ticket and offered to walk him to the nearest stop. He accepted. I followed.
On our way to the stop, he asked if we might also have some change. My dad promptly passed him a toonie.
Thunderbird smiled. He thanked us as we helped settle him on the bench to wait for the bus. He told us that he’d seen much in his lifetime, enough to kill him twice. My mom wished him a better life in round three. He laughed out loud, fist-bumped us all and wished us a good night.
“I was just trying to impress you,” my dad said as we walked into the restaurant moments later. “Normally, I’d just kick him in the shins and take his cane!”
Not true. I wondered why I had never really noticed my parents’ generosity before. I wondered why their compassion hadn’t fully rubbed off on me.
“I learned this lesson at Bell,” my mom said, hearkening back to the beginning of her career. “When someone comes to you with a problem, you become responsible for them until their problem is solved.”
Not always feasible, especially in the bigger picture of Thunderbird’s life. But where I would have simply pointed him toward help, then left him to fend for himself, my parents actually helped him take the next steps.
This, to me, illustrates the difference between the NDP and Liberal party platforms.
The Liberals seem determined to help society as a whole by fostering economic growth. Premier Christy Clark has said repeatedly that her party’s goal is to grow the economy. The greater the general prosperity, the more all British Columbians will benefit.
I’m all for it. I’m long past the days of my stridently socialist youth, where I demanded a more equitable distribution of everyone’s income at any cost. These days, I support more jobs, a thriving economy and a prudent approach to deficit spending.
And yet. As I flipped through the Liberals’ glossy platform, I felt like something was missing.
The NDP platform was equally uninspiring, with its seemingly similar plans to nurture job opportunities. Then I read their promises to reach back for the people likely to be left behind even in a potentially thriving economy. And I woke up.
Even if we assume for a moment that both parties are telling the truth and making promises they actually intend to keep and presenting their records accurately and without spin – we are ultimately faced with two perspectives on what kind of society works best.
The kind of society that injects energy into the economy, provides incentives for all to thrive and expects everyone to step up and participate.
Or the kind of society that injects energy into the economy, provides incentives for all to thrive, yet knows that not everyone can step up to participate – and refuses to leave those people to rot.
Under all the spin, lies, accusations and counter-accusations, I think that’s what this election is really about. Do we hope the benefits of economic growth trickle down to lift everyone up? Or do we nurture economic growth even as we reach back for those people who can’t partake in the growth without assistance?
My mom says she’s voting NDP. But she also says that’s not enough. Who you vote for matters, she says, but so does your willingness to engage every day with the people around you who reach out for help.