Hot Tip: All politics is local


by admin on April 28, 2011

By Martti Lahtinen

“All politics is local” is a saying attributed to American politician Thomas (Tip) O’Neill, Jr., who first used it about 75 years ago. It seems a propos today, as we consider the landscape in Pontiac, where we hunger for any issue that might shake voters out of the lethargy that marks the 2011 federal election.

A woman walks into a bar, encounters the incumbent MP and asks for his take on a suitable candidate for concern. No, not health care, nix the economy, forget contempt of Parliament. It’s the proposed MRC sewage treatment plant and its effluent pouring into the Gatineau River.

The incumbent, a Conservative cabinet minister, allegedly dismisses the disaster in waiting as something he hadn’t heard about. Besides, his office points out later, it’s a federal concern covered under the Fisheries Act, mainly to protect the fish habitat, leaving the pesky problem of waste treatment to regions with provincial guidelines governing municipalities.

The minister’s perhaps careless rejoinder is recounted in the Low Down, which in turn prompts a tidal wave of views to the contrary – that the issue is a local one – never mind what the Act says.

It’s difficult to believe the MP would leave himself open to criticism and the ensuing cannon fire. Perhaps his initial response to the Gatineau sewage question was taken out of context, something we’ll never know in a she-said-he-said rehash of the incident.

But that’s beside the point. Forget wait times at the ER, never mind housing for seniors. Sewage in the Gatineau is the hot-button issue. People downriver already fear drinking shit that meets federal standards – that, too, is arbitrary – until something changes. It’s become a local concern, which could colour the choice of the Pontiac standard-bearer.

Let’s imagine another scenario. A guy walks into a bar, encounters an election candidate and quizzes him/her about another issue, not necessarily a hot topic but one that could result in self-immolation.

The region, one that promotes itself as a tourist destination, has no gasoline. Service stations in the southern Gatineau Hills are virtually non-existent. A few holdouts remain – Ryan’s Garage in Alcove comes to mind – and a previous entrepreneur – Dan Faasen at Tulip Valley fills the void here – has simply given up, frustrated by the roadblocks he’s encountered in trying to re-establish the business.

History shows that politicians bent on scoring publicity points – and votes – sometimes call for an investigation and/or a watchdog to get to the foggy bottom of gas prices and distribution. It’s safe ground for them because nothing ever happens, and they look good fighting for the lost cause.

But in the case of the Gatineau Hills, aren’t we ready for the true promised one? We need   GasMan – or GaswoeMan – a super-unleaded federal political action hero able to leap price spikes in a single bound, along with the power to force suppliers to open their books and explain price differences based on geography that fly high beyond logic.

Stepping up wouldn’t involve much, maybe only the promise of a sign at the Gatineau-Chelsea border on Hwy A5: “Fill up now. No fuel for XX kilometres in the Pontiac.” That would cover everybody’s gas. Take a federal-provincial issue and make a local case out of it.