Whistling in the Dark

Sylvia Shawcross

In the morning, the bobolink sings. It always heartens me—listening to the morning chorus of creatures waking up to the sun singing. Imagine. When was the last time any of us woke up singing to greet the day? Probably the mad, the newly-in-love, those who sing for a living and perhaps the children who thankfully if not hopefully know no better yet.

I’m remembering a day when people used to whistle a tune on the street as they went about their day. There weren’t that many who did but there seemed to always be one on every busy street. It seems like such a foreign concept now. Perhaps people don’t even know how to do that anymore. A dying optimism. At least here, in this fair country where things feel dark, if not in our personal lives then at the edges of the society we live in.

We have been muted and mushed into banal conversations that we might not offend or find ourselves in trouble somehow. That is, if we can have any conversation at all, traversing the cell-phone-ear-plugged-peopled landscape we live in now. When we chance on a conversation we can discuss the weather but not so much why the weather is the way the weather is. We can discuss Kate Middleton perhaps. We can complain about the high cost of groceries certainly, knowing that new reports indicate 25% of Canadians can’t afford to eat but we can’t complain about government corruption.

Well, most of us won’t, in civil society. We don’t know where the other one stands politically. We learned that from the Covid response—the harsh judgment and alienation for some and the high-handed sanctimony of others. And then of course, the naive and trusting, trying to do the right thing. It was a devastating mishmash of some of the worst and best traits of being human, those days.

Being quiet seems to be the only thing to do these days. My father-in-law, a Polish farmer, advised his children to “Mind their own business and follow the crowd.” He would know. Captured by the Nazis in WW2 for having been found using a hidden radio he was sent to a German work camp. He was hard-pressed to discuss the experience but he remembered a dream wherein he was using a plough and it was ploughing across the ice of the Atlantic to faraway shores. And that is why he arrived here to a difficult life of prejudice from others and hard work in trying circumstances. He would come to believe that it was imperative to find a job with the government; a task he would eventually accomplish. And that is how it was. Working for the government, with its high pay, retirement guarantees and generous benefit packages, was the dream of every struggling immigrant. It is not much different today. Security. Freedom from fear.

If you look at voter sentiment in Canada today you will see a sea of blue (conservative) stretching from one coast to the other. In the Maritimes there are a few pinpoints of red (liberal) and north there are a few swathes of orange (New Democratic) and there just right of centre is a splot of red… like a dollop of crimson paint artistically deliberately dropped. And that is the National Capital region of the country.

It was into this red splot that the trucker’s convoy of 2021 would arrive—a totally different world where everyone and their dog worked for or depended on government. The truckers, living in the real world, representing Canada’s majority working class dealing with real world problems would not for the most part be welcome. It would only be the National Capital region that would react this way. Anywhere else the reaction might have likely been entirely different, a reality witnessed by the number of flag-waving cheers on overpasses across the country as the truckers passed on their way to poke the bubble of those living here.

And here is where I sit myself. I’m sure quite inadvertently, but here none the less. It gives me, if not a lot of grief, then a certain perspective for both sides. I will always side with the truckers. On that I do not waiver. I recognize honesty when I see it. Yet I can sympathize with the bureaucrats to some degree. They know a different world altogether and often do not understand the struggles of those who are not so employed. It is simply not within their scope of experience or understanding. Many work very diligently and very hard for “Canadians” but do not know or understand the vast majority. They work on prescribed objectives to make the world perhaps a better place but fail to realize the starting point is very different for some. They fail to realize this because they live in a bubble of their own. It is an easy thing to do when living in this region. There are few who do not live that life and few who do not have friends, relatives and neighbours all dependant on government jobs. There are few who would criticize the hands that feed them.

Since our present Prime Minister took office the federal public service has increased by 30% and 70% of those employed make over $100,000. If a household is bringing in over $100,000 these days, they are considered extremely fortunate if they are not in a frightening mortgage situation. For them, inflation and restrictions have minor effects on their lives. Not so for the working class.

For a bureaucrat, life can and often does improve with government initiatives and very little sacrifice is required. For others, not so much. When all these green initiatives are coming out without the forethought of providing for those whose livelihoods would be immediately and irrevocably threatened it feels more like a crime than anything else. It feels like tyranny. And really, how is it not?

If you can stand outside the bubble of protection (which is what government jobs provide) and look at the various realities that people are facing and have faced across the country—the number of people using food banks, living in cars, lost in despair from a life they had no choice about: How is it not tyranny to expect them to conform to a reality they had no vote in? Even the poorest had a least that hope and expectation. It was a “good transition with opportunity” is what they were promised—when the Green Dream was sold to us all.

And is still being sold. And we are hearing now that many of the “soon-to-come green” jobs promised may actually not be going to Canadians but to the people of the country of origin who invest here… the battery factories of Quebec, the car factories of Ontario e.g. How is that possible? In a fair and democratic world? Is it possible because those making the decisions live in a red splot in the middle of a sea of blue? They never learned how to swim that sea? They continue to work obliviously in their bubbles perhaps hoping for the best? Perhaps it is not a democracy anymore?

We Canadians, reeling from the indifference, can just be grateful that there are government whistle-blowers. We have gone from listening to whistling tunes on the street to whistle-blowers. It is to these people we possibly learn why things are the way they are turning out. Those who risk it all really. They are the brave now. And to those we must throw whatever lifelines we have. Their courage to criticize the hand that feeds them is a courage of extraordinary character in times like these. We can only thank them. We can only hope they do not have to learn any lesson about “minding their own business and following the crowd.” If in fact that is what happens to any more of them, then we will know what kind of country we are living in. And we don’t want to go there. We want to hear whistling on the street again and not sirens. That is what we want.



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