• By: Dan Donovan

“Wake up, Pretend I’m Okay, Sleep.”

Charlie Angus Would Be a Great Leader for the NDP and Canada

Charlie Angus is the embodiment of the everyman or every-person MP. First elected to Parliament in 2004 in the Northern Ontario riding of Timmins–James Bay, the former punk-rocker, alt-country social activist and entrepreneur has been handily re-elected several times by wide margins. Angus is by far one of the best performers in parliament and a tour-de-force in question period, where he has made unprepared ministers seem inept or foolish on more than one occasion. His no-nonsense, straightforward approach to issues is refreshing.

Angus is not a fan of syrupy pronouncements and feel-good talk that goes nowhere. He has a strong moral compass and a get-things-done attitude that if ever unleashed on the federal bureaucracy as a management style, could be revolutionary. He is all about accountability. When I sat down with him to discuss the tragic suicides of two 12-year-old Wapekeka First Nation girls, he was at first melancholy and then upset. Angus said that after Health Canada cancelled a suicide-prevention program in Wapekeka two years ago, parents expressed deep concern about a possible suicide pact among young girls in their community. So concerned were they that last summer, the Wapekeka First Nation wrote to Health Canada to ask for funding to help the community deal with mental health issues affecting young people. That funding was denied.

The direct result of the decision were suicides. In one of her final Facebook postings, 12-year-old Jolynn Winter had an image that read: “Wake up, pretend I’m okay, sleep.” She committed suicide on Jan. 8. Two days later her 12-year-old friend Chantell Fox, did the same. Afterwards, four girls in crisis were flown out of Wapekeka, a remote community 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay. At least 26 more students are considered “high risk” for suicide because of the loss and trauma of the others. Angus said that in some ways the Trudeau Liberals are worse than the Harper government: “With the Conservatives you knew they were not going to do anything. But the Trudeau Liberals made a big deal about Aboriginal issues and said they would be different and would fund things and do things, and then, they don’t. They just smile and do nothing.”

He said that the denial of this critical funding for Wapekeka “was a decision made by some senior faceless bureaucrat who did not sign their name on the letter denying the funding. There’s no accountability.” He added: “These bureaucrat’s do stuff like that and then go home to some suburb in Ottawa and then take their own kids out to hockey and for pizza without thinking of those children in Wapekeka. I can’t explain it”. On a shelf in his office are the photos of several young children in his riding who have committed suicide or who have died much too young of tragic consequences. Angus knows all their names, and the circumstances of their deaths.

“This keeps me going”, he said. “Something is really wrong.” After the preventable suicides, Eric Morrissette, the Health Canada chief of media relations said Health Canada offered its “heartfelt condolences” to the families and the people of Wapekeka. This is the kind of poppycock that infuriates Angus. A sterile non-response.

“The Minister says nothing. Same for the Minister of Justice and Aboriginal Affairs,” said Angus. “That is the frontline face of systemic discrimination in this country. It happens again and again. We lose children literally every single day due to a lack of services and supports that other children and families would take for granted.”

Angus said that it’s time for Aboriginal people to run their own affairs and agrees that it’s time to replace the department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and work out a system where indigenous people are running all their own affairs and managing their own budgets.

“The department is the problem.”