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Tabatha Southey. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)
Tabatha Southey. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

TABATHA SOUTHEY

A prime minister and his bear walk into a bar... Add to ...

A guy walks into a bar with a grizzly bear, pats the bear on the head and introduces the people gathered there to the bear – many of whom are alarmed because it’s a bear; it’s able to fit a human head in its mouth and they just wanted to have a quiet drink.

The man talks loudly about the bear to the bar’s patrons. It becomes obvious that he’s spent a lot of money – not his own – maintaining this bear. He’s been feeding and grooming that beast a while now, often in the courts, and he’s very proud to have brought the bear into the mix.

He’s in that bar and he’s owning that bear and it’s clear that parading a bear about is one of his top priorities and he plans on riding that bear straight back to Ottawa from whence he came.

The man takes the bear’s leash off and sits down at the bar. The bear certainly gets attention, which is in short supply, so some other things don’t get attention. Things like why so many of the bear-bringers’ compatriots, appointees and employees are under, have been under, or might soon be under criminal investigation, for example.

Some people say, “Oh, come on, a bear? Why did you bring a bear in here?” at which point the man’s friends, who crowded in after him, start whispering, “Hey, let’s move on now, people, he’s not here to talk about the bear. He’s about so much more than that bear he brought in here.”

Which is odd because that guy, whom I’m going to call Stephen Harper, is still going on about that bear, which I am going to call Wedge Bear. He’s pretty much talking up the bear, and much to the dismay of many of the bar’s regulars, this talk is playing very well in certain corners of the establishment.

“Could there be anything more Canadian than this grizzly bear?” Stephen Harper says, feeding the bear someone else’s pretzels, smearing honey on some woman’s hat, as the bear knocks over a table.

This is greeted by some cheers from the darker parts of the bar. The bear starts to follow one unfortunate waitress slowly around the room.

“That bear is dangerous!” someone cries. “It could hurt a lot of innocent people!” But sadly, many on the left and the right side of the bar, having largely got over the initial excitement of the bear, respond “Nope, the bear is just a distraction. We as a bar have so many other issues we should talk about.”

“Ask Harper about Mike Duffy!” cries the left hand side of the bar.

“Ask Harper about the Trans-Pacific Partnership!” cries the right hand side of the bar.

“Ask him about the environment, because bears are no particular threat to me,” some on the left rejoin.

“Everyone shut up, there’s a game on,” people on both sides pipe up.

No one can hear much of any of this, however, because the bear is now standing on top of the pool table, roaring loudly.

That bear is really sucking the air out of the room,” says the bartender. “People are going to lose faith in this bar as an institution if we allow bears to be casually brought into it, and I have chicken wings to move.” These, the bear is eating.

“Oh, not the bear again!” Stephen Harper’s companions have begun to sigh when anyone brings the bear up. “Stephen Harper really wants to talk about the economy,” they say, as though people demanding that the bear be removed are being churlish.

There are people in that bar who have basically had to factor threats from the wild kingdom into everything they do on some level all their lives. But most of them had quite reasonably assumed that in 2015, in Canada, while the odd bear might slip into town – you’d see it on the news mostly – the nation’s leaders knew better than to introduce a grizzly into the room, for their own political benefit.

These people nurse their drinks quietly and wonder how, after living peacefully in Canada, studying engineering or nursing or whatnot and raising a family, they’ve suddenly ended up in a goddamn Werner Herzog film.

The point to my ursine tale is that once someone has chosen to introduce into a situation something as menacing and potentially harmful as a grizzly bear, or xenophobia in the form of a pointless, trumped-up niqab debate topped with a promise of a “barbaric practices hotline,” no one in good conscience can just decide it’s time to move along.

We have an obligation to get “distracted” here, to focus on these things – because a bear, which I’m not pretending is not a native species, has been unleashed into one of our most important public spaces and has shown no sign of leaving on its own.

Once something like that happens, it doesn’t matter how much you like or dislike anything else the guy who did this says or does or says he’ll do. It doesn’t matter how many rounds of drinks he promises to buy for your part of the house – the guy who introduced that bear, this Harper fellow, should only and always be known as “That guy who brought a grizzly bear into the bar,” and he should forever be asked why he chose this particular distraction. Why was this tiny minority considered fair game?

Because it’s entirely reasonable to wonder: If we’re complacent about this one group being fed to a bear today, who will get thrown to the wolves tomorrow?

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Follow on Twitter: @TabathaSouthey

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