He came for the opening of Pingualuit, Nunavik's first National park. Pingualuit is a crater in the middle of the tundra, some 88 km from Kangirsujuaq. It is the world's 2nd purest source of water, after a similarly prehistoric crater in China. Perhaps more significantly, it is almost a perfect circle, and really the only point of elevation change in the very flat Ungava plateau.
The park's opening, and the coming of the premier, created a massive hullabaloo in Wakeham. In addition to the Inuit and qalunaat who have been working on getting the park's infrastructure in place for this big event, it seemed that many people in town were bending over backwards to make the Premier's visit a pleasant one.
When I first heard he was coming, I conspired with a few other teachers to picket the Co-op hotel with signs like F-U Bill 142 (the bill taking away public sector workers' right to strike). Actually, the conspiracy was dead before its birth. When I told the other teachers, they just laughed at me. After some consideration about how humourous it would be for me to do it solo, I decided that the event was too large and in too small of a town for me to make some waves in jest. After my phone call to the dog catcher, and his subsequent mentioning of it over the local radio station, I decided to lay low and just take pictures like a paparazzo.
The project manager of the park's opening is a friend of ours. He said that others had come up with a conspiracy that would make my Bill 142 protest seem like child's play. Rumour has it that some people were going to stink palm Charest, film it, and put it up on You Tube. For those of you who haven't seen the Kevin Smith movie Mallrats, stink palming is defined in the Urban dictionary as "the act of wiping your ass with your hand (preferably while very sweaty or having recently shat) proceeding to shake another's hand. I haven't checked because I'm sick of trying to download video with an Arctic connection, but if anyone sees a Charest stink palm, please let me know.
As people shook the premier's hand all day, I felt little desire to follow suit. The thought of getting second-hand stink palm was too much for me. More importantly, I just don't like his politics. I did want to tell him that his visit had forced the Nirivik (school's kitchen, literally "the place where people eat") to close in order to make a feast for him, thereby depriving the school children of their "healthy snacks". I also wanted to let him know that his posse's use of the school bus had forced the kindergarten children to walk from home to school and back in the -20 weather.
However, I as the day progressed, I started to gain a newfound respect for Charest. As he stood outside in his brand new parka made by one of the local ladies (I am so jealous) without a hat for almost an hour, I could see that he was trying to show that he was tough. However, I could see past his smile and uncover the qalunaat, freezing and unable to think of anything else but what posessed him to show off his curly locks in the middle of an arctic winter and wishing that the person speaking inuttitut would speed things up so he could just go inside. Believe me, I know this thought process well. Watching him shiver and smile suddenly made me realise that I was wearing running shoes and could not feel my feet. So Charest bested me. I went inside and waited for the feast.
I went into the qaggig (local gym) and waited for the plastic bags, cardboard, and caribou meat to hit the floor. Come out it did, but not in the volumes to which we have become accustomed. It's just not the right time of year to hunt caribou. While Charest and his posse of dignitaries and delegates from Kuujjuaq sat down to an extravagant meal of local country foods prepared in the school's kitchen, we, the hoi polloi, lined up for a buffet of overcooked spaghetti and Betty Crocker cake. However, my respect for Charest continued to grow when he came out of the conference room to try some raw meat with the masses. He took a piece of raw frozen caribou, dipped it into a container of fermented whale blubber, then popped it into his mouth. I had tried it minutes before and remarked at how strong it was. Charest took it, put it in his mouth, chewed, stood up, and said "It's good". I shot a video of it (You tube?). Charest was truly beginning to seem like a likeable man.
Then, the politician in him took over. Some of my students had been practicing throat singing and dancing for a month before his visit and were very nervous about performing in front of him. As they were taking the stage, the MC announced that Charest was leaving. He could have stayed; he had come on a chartered plane. Maybe I'm cynical, maybe he didn't care; or maybe no one told him not to book any other meetings for the rest of the day because some things just take longer up here.
I'm sure the students were disappointed, but they performed anyway. They were fantastic. When one of my students nearly brought the crowd to tears with his throat singing, I felt selfishly happy that Charest didn't get to see it. He may have come in and created a lot of hype, but at the end of the day, he had missed the best part. At least that's what I, having not yet seen the crater, can tell myself.