One woman’s ‘Tory Trash’

One woman's 'Tory Trash' Open letter to Leona Aglukkaq, member of Parliament for Nunavut and Minister of Health: As fellow northerners, we share common experiences and challenges. When you were given a cabinet post as Health minister, I was happy for you

Open letter to Leona Aglukkaq, member of Parliament for Nunavut and Minister of Health:

As fellow northerners, we share common experiences and challenges. When you were given a cabinet post as Health minister, I was happy for you. I’m not an admirer of the Harper Conservatives. But I saw you as a sincere person who would spend her time and energy working on behalf of Canadians.

Therefore I was shocked and dismayed to find the ugly piece of taxpayer-funded Tory propaganda festering in my mailbox with your name on it last month. There was never any reason to suppose you weren’t a principled person, more focused on your responsibilities than on nasty partisan politics, until now. Leona, Leona, what were you thinking?

Are you tied up in a closet somewhere with your evil twin doing dark deeds in your name? Have you been associating too much with Lisa Raitt or Helena Guergis? Speaking of Helena, I notice that her husband, Rahim Jaffer, got a slap on the wrist in his trial for speeding while impaired and for possession of cocaine.

How ironic is it that the garbage that you put in my mailbox has to do with crime? In this piece of Tory Trash, on one side is a picture of Harper in a heroic pose with the words “Tough Laws” underneath. Beside it is a demeaning photograph of Michael Ignatieff with the words “Weak Laws” underneath. On the other side, the inventive folks in the Conservative marketing team have smeared the Ignatieff Liberals with the claim that they “gutted laws that would protect children from drug dealers.”

Are we to assume from this that Rahim Jaffer is a child? His wife certainly behaves like a child. Also, the flyer asks, “Who are the Liberals protecting?” Right now, Canadians are asking themselves who the Conservatives are protecting. Leona, is there an equivalent in Inuit culture to the adage about the consequences of mud-throwing to the thrower?

Dealing with garbage has special challenges for northerners. Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet have had their popular pilot recycling program extended. Both of our communities are committed to keeping our beautiful home in the North clean. Northerners appreciate how expensive it is to recycle up here because it means that the recyclable have to be shipped out.

The Yukon has been bombarded with taxpayer-funded Conservative party propaganda and attack ads since 2008. Many of us refer to these always low missives as “Tory Trash.” Really, there isn’t a better descriptive. Most of them, and up to now the nastiest of them, were from Chuck Strahl. Peter MacKay sent us one massive mailout in which he libelled our sitting MP, Larry Bagnell, accusing him of supporting the gun registry.

It must have been an embarrassment for Peter to know that the fliers were being distributed long after the gun registry vote. Chris Warkentin from Peace River sent us one mailout. John Duncan from Vancouver Island North has sent four since January 2010. Now there’s your contribution to the growing garbage heap.

Canadians pay for the printing and postage of these flyers. An additional tax burden is the cost of garbage retrieval and removal.

According to the 2006 census, your riding has 7,855 households. The Yukon has 12,610 households. The House of Commons rules that allow you to send trash to the Yukon state that you may not send more flyers than 10 per cent of the number of households in Nunavut. That means that you are only allowed to send us 786 “Tory Trash” fliers at a time unless you find a sneaky, underhanded way to get around this rule.

Up until now, every mailout sent to the Yukon has had different versions of the block of very small print on one quarter of one side. Sometimes it is an identical message with just the arrangement of words moved about. Sometimes there is a slightly different emphasis. Through this unscrupulous maneouvre, Conservative MPs have avoided the 10 per cent rule altogether and sent Tory Trash to most, if not all, Yukoners. Have you checked to see how many versions your office sent to the Yukon? Leona, I will be counting.

Speaking of costs to taxpayers and northern issues, CBC announced that organizations providing necessary individual counselling for residential school survivors will be denied funding. Apparently, Health Canada will deal with the treatment, sending counsellors north periodically. Residential school survivors here have let it be known how bad this will be for them. Having some stranger from Health Canada come north to talk to someone who has struggled very hard to work through the abuse won’t cut it. I’m sure you know this in your heart.

Also, funding to a climate change research station on Ellesmere Island has been cut along with funding cuts for other groups doing environmental research and scrutiny of the resource sector. It’s more than short sighted. Northerners need to know what is going to happen in order to survive the changes that will come with a warmer climate. Even those who plan to plunder the Arctic need to know the effects of this research.

Thinking about these budget cuts, I can’t help but notice that your government added $5 million to the stimulus package advertisement budget, taking it to $39 million. The “Ten Percenters” sent to Canadians from MPs outside their own ridings, the lion’s share from the Conservative party, have cost us $10 million this year. This doesn’t include the cost of postage for the Ten Percenters which is hidden. Taxpayers will pay for partisan political propaganda to an amount in excess of $49 million in the 2009/2010 fiscal year.

You must be asking yourself why I’m so familiar with these mailouts. I am an artist. In September of 2009, I asked Yukoners to give me their “Tory Trash” so that I could use it in an art project. A local bookstore kindly allowed me to put a specially marked trash can in its foyer and Yukoners supported me. By mid January, I’d collected approximately 700 pieces of “Tory Trash.” I’ve even received “Tory Trash” from Winnipeggers who are furious enough to mail it to me. (Steven Fletcher crossed the line when he sent fliers that smeared Liberals with anti-Semitism.) The upshot is that I’ve had lots of time to look hard at the “Tory Trash” that you and your party have been sending.

Leona, my show, What is Trash? opened at the Cadence Gallery in Whitehorse on January 28th. The show ran for three weeks and was well received by Yukoners. I invited Chuck Strahl, Peter MacKay, Chris Warkentin and John Duncan but, unfortunately, they weren’t able to make it even though Parliament was prorogued at the time.

I’ve promised Yukoners that I will continue to collect and to make art with “Tory Trash” as long as you and your colleagues send it. I haven’t quite decided what kind of image I’ll make with the piece that you sent us. But you can be sure that your name will appear on it. When I have enough collages for another art show, I’ll make sure you get an invitation.

Linda Leon