Unfortunately for Darrell Pasloski, Stephen Lewis is a hard act to follow.
Pasloski’s scheduled editorial board meeting came roughly 12 hours after Lewis’ inspiring speech at the Yukon Convention Centre.
Lewis spoke for more than two hours. Pasloski freed up 15 minutes.
Neither provided enough time.
But, in the short time they offered, the men demonstrated widely contrasting views of the world.
Pasloski, an oft-helpful local pharmacist, is running as the local Conservative candidate in the federal election.
Lewis, a successful international diplomat, was born to politics and will die a social democrat and feminist.
Before about 400 local people — a sellout crowd — Lewis delivered a wide-ranging speech about the plight of Africa, where World Bank policies have forced local governments to charge for education, depriving millions of children of education and their only daily meal.
Canada is the sole G8 nation to renege on its foreign aid commitments, and that failure is preventing poor nations from feeding its people, providing clean water and basic medical care.
The Canadian government’s refusal to honour its foreign aid commitments has very real and dire ramifications, said Lewis.
Millions of children are dying unnecessarily because they can’t get the food they need. Hundreds of thousands of mothers are dying in childbirth because they can’t get to a hospital or access a nurse or midwife.
The continent is a shambles, and the industrialized world is simply watching it happen, said Lewis.
His speech was suffused with horrors — genital mutilation, rape, starvation, genocide, ramshackle hospitals with HIV/AIDS patients stacked in rooms like cordwood — but Lewis, somehow, retains his optimism in the face of the senseless tragedy.
You have to keep chipping away, he said.
Throughout the world, harm-reduction programs are essential to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, he said.
In Canada, HIV/AIDS is an enormous problem among aboriginal people, and the federal Conservative government’s lack of support for programs to help curb its spread (Health Minister Tony Clement has actively tried to shut down Vancouver’s safe-injection site) threatens to create another national shame on the scale of the residential school tragedy, warned Lewis.
In the last two years, Ottawa has cut $84 million in AIDS funding, he added.
Here in the Yukon, Blood Ties Four Directions is doing great work, but funding the program is always difficult.
It’s worse in the face of federal cutbacks.
The thoughtful, often-moving discussion staged by Lewis stood in marked contrast to Pasloski.
Does he support harm-reduction programs, like those offered by the local outreach van and Blood Ties Four Directions?
“I’m unclear at this point because I don’t have enough information,” said Pasloski. “There are some issues in terms of … um, I think that, as an individual that this is a program that’s delivered by the territorial government and health remains an issue for the territory. And what we do nationally is provide them with the funding to be able to deliver the program.”
Ottawa, of course, is threatening to cut funding to such programs.
Pasloski wouldn’t say whether he, personally, supports harm-reduction strategies, such as needle-exchange programs and safe-injection sites.
“Where I stand on it right now, I support the platform of the party,” he said. “Where the best investment is.
“There are a lot of ways to create harm reduction as well. Certainly I’m supportive of looking at all the options that are available and going forward and assisting on an issue that is truly a territorial issue.”
During his interview, Pasloski talked a lot about tax reduction, shortening the capital gains timelines and the economic benefits of Conservative trickle-down economic policy.
His answers were often vague and amorphous, as if recited from a script.
It would have been nice to dig a little deeper, to plumb the depths of Pasloski’s humanism.
But it’s hard to get there in 15 minutes.
And, in the end, that’s all he was willing to give.