Fishing shacks dot the ice of the Ottawa River for hundreds of kilometres upstream of the nation’s capital. Open water can be seen in many places, but it doesn’t deter locals from venturing out on foot, on snowmobiles, or even in trucks to see if they can catch dinner.
Their courage in the face of such danger is astounding, especially since they bravely stand alone against it, selflessly eschewing any help from the federal government. The Canadian Coast Guard is nowhere to be seen. Ottawa Valley people take responsibility for their own lives.
To be fair to the voters of the federal Ontario riding of Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke, when their MP Cheryl Gallant famously told a St. John’s audience that Atlantic Ocean seafarers shouldn’t expect assistance from Ottawa when they run into trouble (since imperiled boaters on the Ottawa River and the Great Lakes are perfectly content with help from municipal and provincial agencies), they were as mortified and embarrassed by her comments as Atlantic Canadians were outraged and amused.
The Ottawa Valley has been settled for many generations, and local families are fiercely proud of their tenacious heritage. Less admirably, they can also be quite sensitive to suggestions that they lack sophistication.
Many think outsiders see them as country hicks and they don’t like the reputation. That’s why when their MP went out of her way to reinforce these self-perceived negative stereotypes in front of a national audience, few of her constituents who gave her her riding in 2008 with 61.1 per cent of the vote, had anything good to say about her.
Valley newspapers have been full of expressions of shame and many are lashing out against Gallant. Letter-writers and commentators describe the MP by using words like “dolt” and “moron” or, more sweepingly, as “a person with … a monumental capacity for ignorance, insensitivity and social gracelessness.”
However, while Gallant is not at all typical of the people of her riding — most of whom are very aware of the differences between an ocean and a river — she fits right in with the federal Conservative caucus. The examples of ignorance and insensitivity many of them display when they open their mouths makes Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s policy to gag his own party seem wise.
The bizarre statements they make even confound and dismay hardline Tories, and they are causing many of them to seek another home for their votes.
The tragedy of the current national political situation is that no matter how much and how many times the Reformed Conservatives — as a whole and in all their parts — prove themselves to be unfit to govern Canada responsibly and effectively, the orphaned Tory vote has nowhere to go.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is to Harper what Democrat John Kerry was to U.S. President George W. Bush in 2004: both should have won, but neither could.
The odious attack ads against the Liberal leader succeed because Ignatieff had already failed to get voters to respect him — to the point where people don’t care if they can’t remember his name. Television viewers believe the falsehoods because they never liked him anyway.
As well, New Democrat Leader Jack Layton may get a few sympathy votes because of his hip troubles, but they’re not going to come from the Conservative camp, or from the Liberals, for that matter. Even after years on the federal stage, Layton is still too much of a Toronto boy to be the best national leader he must become to win office. He simply does not seem to know how to win support from the fringes.
Sadly, it appears the best thing for Canadian democracy is a low voter turnout in the next federal election. With the opposition parties doing little or nothing to stop Harper from winning yet another minority government, about the only thing that might stop him from blundering into a majority is for the Conservative faithful to finally get sick of the incompetence, pettiness, maliciousness, ignorance and lies that spew from their parliamentary leaders.
We must hope the Tories just stay home.
Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.