Charlie Angus, the NDP MP for Timmins–James Bay, believes people tune out of political speeches. So he wrote a song. And last November the Juno-nominated singer and songwriter performed it on Parliament Hill to launch the Shannen's Dream campaign.
His song – Diamonds in the Snow – is a poignant and emotional tribute to the remarkable life of Shannen Koostachin, the 15-year-old student activist from Mr. Angus's riding who was killed in a car accident last May.
In her short life, she fought for first-nations children to have safe, clean and "comfy" schools in their communities. Shannen led the charge for a school to be built in Attawapiskat – an isolated community on the James Bay coast.
Although Mr. Angus says so many children in that community have inspired him, "she sticks with me in a big way."
At the Parliament Hill event, Mr. Angus remembered there were a lot of speeches. "And I just said, can I just sing a song for you?"
"So we sang the song and it was pretty emotional, her parents were there ... people were crying," he recalled this week.
The lyrics go, in part, like this: "There was a child/she had a dream/she looked to you/she looked to me/just a chance to make your world whole/she gave you diamonds/diamonds in the snow."
He has described his piece as political. There are diamonds on the coast of James Bay that people "move mountains to get at. ... And down the road from that there are kids living in poverty without grade schools," he told The Globe in an earlier interview.
A documentary film, meanwhile, is being made about Shannen and her life. The film crew wanted to use the rendition of the song that Mr. Angus had performed on the Hill – but the musician in him wanted it to sound perfect. He decided to record it. And it grew from there.
Just after New Year's, he and his former punk-rock band mate, Andrew Cash, went into the studio and recorded the piece. Mr. Cash, by the way, is the federal NDP candidate in the Toronto riding of Davenport.
"The other irony is we were a well-known punk band at one time," Mr. Angus said about he and Mr. Cash. "We might both be in the House of Commons – you know, the only members of Parliament who opened for the Dead Kennedys are now opening in Parliament, who knows."
As the song says: "You threw these diamonds in the snow/you threw them away, thought nobody would know/So what were you thinking? You didn't know/Little diamonds, diamonds in the snow."