Epiphanies can come in strange places. They can arrive in an orange kayak, bobbing in the warm waters of Bonne Bay.
They can arrive while you’re watching hundreds of conners working over the seaweed beneath the clear, warm water, the mist rolling thinly down the shoulders of Gros Morne hillsides, when you suddenly wonder about the wasteful way you spend your work days logged onto the effective but unblinking leash of a computer when there are so many other things that need doing and seeing in the world.
And they can arrive on a sunlit wharf outside a sharp little coffee shop on Woody Point, delivered pointedly and spontaneously in two words by an author from British Columbia.
Richard Wagamese is an unlikely author. Except for his incredible attitude, he should probably be a hopelessly bitter man, focused inwardly on the wrongs that have been done to him: the harsh world of street life, limited formal education and a childhood that included an abusive foster home.
Instead, Wagamese is a remarkably optimistic man, absolutely clear on a central theme that reverberates in his work: we are all people who belong to, live in and love this country, and we can go a long way towards addressing our differences by simply getting together and talking about them.
Talking about what our hopes and dreams are; talking about what is important and needed to make this country a better place — just plain talking it out, because you can often come to at least an understanding of someone else’s point of view through the back-and-forth of basic conversation.
The wharf was filled, sun beating down, when there was a simple question: how do we get our politicians to buy into that conversation? It’s pretty clear now that politics depends on dividing and isolating Canadians, and on choosing to play the fear banjo’s string over frank and honest talk.
Wagamese’s answer? Quick and direct, without even a moment’s wait.
The bluntness of the response stilled the audience for a moment.
Then Wagamese went on to argue that politicians don’t need to get the idea of starting the discussion. By their very nature, they shouldn’t be in on the ground floor of the debate unless they have something specific to add.
If enough Canadians work together, he suggested, we create a critical mass that the politicians not only can’t ignore, but actually will seek out.
If they know there’s something we want (and might want enough to vote for), politicians will eventually tailor their behaviour to meet it.
It’s an easy concept to see in action as we trundle our way towards the October election, seemingly knee-deep in provincial government cash.
Why are Kathy Dunderdale and her fleet of suddenly summer-active cabinet ministers traipsing the province, handing out fistfuls of money?
Because they think that’s what we want them to do — because that’s the message they’ve been told, because that’s a method that has worked to elect governments in the past.
Why are they lying about the reasons behind the cash-fest, a staple for governments of all stripes in this province?
Once again, because they believe that is what we want to hear — in other words, we want the pre-election bribes, but we want them with plausible deniability, so that we can vote for the promise of money in our pockets and still take the tenuous high ground of claiming that no one could ever buy our vote.
You can complain about their methods, but when you do, you forget that Dunderdale et al are only pandering to what they believe are the electorate’s expectations. If the electorate clearly had other expectations, Dunderdale’s crew would seek out different methods to address them.
That’s a cold, hard fact.
So what was my Wagamese-
When we feel we can’t do something without politicians getting behind it, we’ve really put the cart before the horse.
Should we be looking for the political path (among the very limited ideological choices available) closest to our own and join it, warts and all, or should we make our own positions clear and force our politicians to meet our bar?
We have built ourselves a very wooden system, one where instead of telling politicians what we want them to do, we settle for trying to align ourselves with someone else’s view of the world.
Is Wagamese hopelessly naive? To a point — he’s not taken into account the fact that politics has become a structured industry far beyond what it was in the past, one that has institutionalized greed for power or money to point that the end justifies any political means.
That doesn’t mean Wagamese’s way isn’t attractive.
Truth is, I’d rather be hopelessly naive than spend the next few decades being an election-day pawn in someone’s else’s high-priced political game.
We expect our politicians to lead us.
Maybe it’s time they were forced to wake up and follow our lead.
Wagamese is right: they’ll hear that message the second they have to worry that their jobs are on the line.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.