Friday, November 16, 2012

We've all blinked

By Jim Mosher

Life is transformative, if we allow it to be.

I have lately confronted the enormity of our apathy in the general unwillingness to meet the edge.

The edge is a metaphor, of course. It’s a turning point at which we choose. It may be fight or flight, but either way it may define us. We have biological impulses that may be impossible to avoid or quiet.

But there are times in our affairs when choices are not framed in life and death — when choices must be based on moral and ethical grounds: ones which will not sink us, not immediately.

Our democracy, the one most of us see as a given that distinguishes us from ‘lesser’ nations, is in peril. It is being transformed by a Conservative majority government that is acting as if it is truly all-powerful. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government does not listen to parliamentary opposition parties nor does it listen to non-partisan Canadians who simply want the best for themselves, their families and the environment.

Our country is being destroyed by Mr. Harper and his ilk. His agenda is unambiguous. He is right — end of story.

There have been other majority governments in our country’s past but they have been distinguished, usually, as willing to accommodate — precisely because they knew that their majority status was at the leisure of Canadians of all political stripes.

Mr. Harper has no such misgivings about his national hegemony. He will prevail. Or, at worst, he will be awarded generous stipends from the multitude of corporations that already fall at his feet.

But it is not only the transformation of Canadian government about which we should be concerned. The general reflex of the citizenry is also being slowly transformed. Canadians, as we have long known, are no longer fully engaged in their democracy. We accept our strong democratic tradition as a given. No one would ever dare mess with that, many naively believe.

The transformations of Canada are many; that much is certain.

My transformation began Aug. 2, 2012 at a press conference in Gimli, 15 minutes north of my home in Winnipeg Beach.

Prime Minister Harper was there, in a room a stone’s throw from ecologically-challenged Lake Winnipeg, to announce funding for lake research.

Mr. Harper wasn’t sure at the time but he thought the new funding was, oh, something like $18 million. (He bent to whisper to one of minions to assure himself he was close enough. ‘That’s about right, sir.’)

Arrayed in the room, aside from a gaggle of media, were members of his cabinet and backbench — all flushed with the chance to be in the PM’s august company.

Oh, it was a memorable time.

The PM, bodyguards everywhere, was not there for an announcement — one about which he had not been fully briefed in any event. It was all a pretext for a fundraiser to be held later that day in Grosse Isle.

(Many people assembled at the barbecue in Grosse Isle, MP James Bezan later enthused in a ‘press’ release about that so-memorable event.)

The trick was that we taxpayers paid the bill for his presser and the rest because it was ‘government business’. (Perhaps someone could check next year when the PMO files its financial reports. But, no, that waste of taxpayers’ money will be another forgotten event, as other issues collide and effervesce, as doubtless they will.)

I did not write about all of this, though I was keen to point this all out to my readers. I did not write about it because my niece died three days after the Harper farce.

Lisa Aileen Mosher and friend Alyssa Bernardin, both just 21, died in a house fire at my youngest sister’s home in Winnipeg Beach Aug. 5.

Thus began my transformation.

Lisa, ‘My Little One’, was a fisher. She had only recently obtained a Lake Winnipeg fishing quota. She was, irrevocably and determinedly, a young woman full of life.

She did not suffer fools. But she had a kind heart and a searing need to understand the human condition. Alyssa was much the same: she loved horses and rides with friends along the trails near her parents’ rural home.

I wrote about our special relationship [See page 6 of PDF] but it would never be enough to limn the special connection I had with my niece.

There was no turning back. I had changed. It was a change induced by the transforming force of Lisa and Alyssa’s deaths.

I had been asleep all along. Lisa renewed my passion for principle. She gave me a revivified reason to be the person I once was.

Lisa and Alyssa’s deaths changed my community, too. The deaths of two young women, so pure of heart, touched us all.

What struck me was how stupidly and ineptly the ‘story’ of their deaths was pursued by Winnipeg media.

I lost a great deal of respect for a profession I had chosen — a profession that had chosen me, really.

Journalists wrote much that was patently false. They seemed to enjoy the ambiguity. They wrote and broadcast things that were based on off-hand comments of passersby who could not have possibly seen or understood.

It was, charitably, the pressure of the moment. Be the first at the post. Be the first to get the story. Modify, as the truth emerges, in the next news cycle — but, for gods sake, get something we can hang out for the supper-time news or the front page of our websites.

I recalled a time when, as the founding and only editor of the Kenora Enterprise, I wrote about an Indian fellow who died on the side of snowmobile trail at a local dump.

The man, I’ll call him Anon, had been found frozen to death in the middle of a pristine ‘nowhere’  — a place local snowmobilers loved to speed along during their excursions through the untouched wilderness near Lake of the Woods.

We ran the press release from the Ontario Provincial Police. It was scant and dismissive. I had decided earlier to go the dump after our newspaper was put to bed. I wanted to understand. I would meet a man who chose to live at the dump. He lived in a hovel he had constructed of other people’s waste: heavy cardboard, abandoned sheets of plywood, two-by-fours, shingles, black roofing paper.

In all, it was an impressive, commodious structure built to protect and be home to a man who, though penniless, retained a pride many can never muster.

This builder of hovels was in his own heaven. He knew the man who had died — the young man who had, broken and drunk, breathed his last boozy breath at the edge of a trail people rode in their high-priced toys, during the breaking edge of winter evenings, themselves pushing the legal drinking limit.

I learned about the dead man. He had been recently released from prison. There, he had, many told me, become a leader and beacon in his prison community: an Aboriginal person who had been working to understand his roots — and what how could help his brethren and friends.

I went to Shoal Lake First Nation to speak with his family. I learned more about this theretofore anonymous person than the OPP release would ever have told.

Under the front page headline which blasted “A home of his own” was the man at the dump who had befriended Anon. Beneath that picture and the lead-in piece was a banner advertisement heralding the arrival of swanky waterfront condominiums for the deep of pocket.

‘Anon’ died at the breaking point of a life that was showing great promise. He would have been remembered as a ‘loser’, a ‘drunk’. But we worked to ensure that did not happen.

Journalists need to do that stuff. (And forgive for touting my decision as an example — because I failed more often than I succeeded.) Press releases from cops and courts should never take precedence.

Lisa and Alyssa deserved better, too.

The nub of this piece is my grave disappointment with media in its present form, though I hope for its revival and rejuvenation. The ‘moment’ that is being so savagely sought for the dinner-hour news is a speck — one without import or true meaning; it is disconnected from the big picture all of us crave.

My transformation as a human continues. Let’s hope others choose the edge of choice before it is too late.

No comments:

Post a Comment