A primer in political rhetoric was on full display last week, revealing the trickery and knavery to which politics too often sinks.
While on a photo-op swing through the Far North, Primer Minister Stephen Harper announced funding for the continuing efforts to find the remains of Sir John Franklin’s Arctic expedition, specifically his sunken ships Erebus and Terror.
Nothing wrong with that; anyone who still subscribes to the notion that Canadian history is dull need only read a few pages about Franklin and his 1845 effort to find the Northwest Passage to Asia, his failure to return to Britain and the subsequent years of searching for him and his men.
They all perished, of course, their ships never to be found.
One of the most fascinating and harrowing aspects of this epic tale is that oral stories were passed down among the Inuit for several generations about a group of kablunet — white men — pulling sleds laden with gear across the snow, heading south.
The Franklin expedition remains an unclosed chapter of history, even after 167 years.
The pursuit of knowledge, as millions of parents are reminding their children this week as another school year approaches, is a good thing.
But Harper has a horrible talent for tainting almost everything he touches. (Looking forward to reading his upcoming hockey book? You hate hockey? It figures.)
Searching for Franklin’s ships is worth spending $275,000 of public money on simply in the interests of history and archeology.
But if there are points to be scored, politics will inevitably get dragged into it.
Besides the fascination with Franklin’s legendary journey, there is the accompanying proposition that finding his ships will help reinforce Canada’s claim to sovereignty over the High Arctic.
This is where politics and propaganda step in to exploit a worthy endeavour.
Someone should point out to the federal government that Sir John was English, not Canadian, and that when he set sail, Canada was still 22 years away from becoming a country. They’re not going to find a Canadian flag stamped on either of those ships. I stand to be corrected on this, but I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a single Canadian among the expedition’s 129 crewmembers.
Logically, the sovereignty argument could backfire. Since Sir John was English, and his expedition ostensibly established England’s claim over the Arctic, perhaps the U.K. can rekindle its rightful rule over the region.
Preposterous? Of course. But it’s no more ridiculous than the assertion that finding the Erebus and Terror will somehow strengthen Canada’s claim that the Northwest Passage is Canadian, not international, waters.
The commander of an American or Russian submarine isn’t going to tell his crew, “We can’t sail through there — the Canadians found Franklin’s ships.
”Naturally, it didn’t take long for Harper’s critics to point out the hypocrisy and inconsistency of his announcement. Spouting support for science and the pursuit of knowledge is fine, but more than a few people pointed out that the government’s support for same suddenly stops in regard to research into climate change and global warming.
The oilsands and their residue aside, at the eastern end of the country residents could legitimately wonder whether Harper’s supposed interest in science might translate into a restoration of the funding and jobs that have been cut from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Unfortunately, too many Canadians — some Newfoundlanders (and Labradorians) among them — don’t care two bits about fish.
Interest in the Franklin expedition, on the other hand, has endured for a century and a half and counting.
In political terms, it is an easy calculation to determine on which issue points can be scored.
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.