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Our natural capital can be managed by conservative principles (Bruce Kirkby for The Globe and Mail)
Our natural capital can be managed by conservative principles (Bruce Kirkby for The Globe and Mail)

Bruce Kirkby

Mr. Harper, come camping with me Add to ...

Dear Prime Minister,

At last, the House is out! Summer’s here, and C-38 all-nighters are behind us. With 12 weeks of holidays waiting, I’d like to invite you and your family to join me on a journey into Canada’s wilderness. It’s a getaway that I’m confident will be good for you and, by extension, good for the country.

You’re busy, so let’s keep it short – just three days, a mini-sojourn from the ceaseless pace of the job. It’s the chance to take a deep breath, feel the wind on your cheeks and the sand between your toes.

I know just the spot: a stretch of river carving through a land so primal that one cannot help but sense eternity; a wilderness far removed from roads and cellphone towers, media and pundits, polls and glad-handing spin doctors.

We’ll paddle – but save plenty of time for skipping stones, whittling driftwood and watching clouds tumble across the sky. Our tents will huddle beneath peaks and glaciers that have never seen a human footprint. When night falls, we’ll draw close to the embers, singeing our fingers on molten marshmallows and playing guitar. (Or portable keyboard?) Perhaps the stillness will be broken by the distant call of wolves. (Best leave Stanley the cat at home.)

What do you think, Mr. Harper? Can I twist your arm?

There is no hidden agenda here. There will be no pressure to wade into such thorny issues as pipelines or environmental assessments. Nor will the landscape we traverse be one mired in controversy. We can skip the media altogether – that’s up to you. I’ll even leave my pen and camera behind – scout’s honour – if such discretion puts your team at ease.


Because I trust implicitly in wild places and their ability to connect to every human heart. If there were a goal for the little venture, it would be this: to give you, the one currently entrusted with protecting Canada’s lands for present and future generations, a fleeting glimpse of this country’s wild soul.

Twenty years ago, when you first became a member of Parliament, I began leading wilderness expeditions. The PMO hasn’t responded to an inquiry about the number of nights you’ve spent in a tent over the ensuing years; Google is just as unyielding. You flew into Virginia Falls on the South Nahanni River in 2007 for a quick photo-op, but less than an hour later you were back in an air force hangar in Yellowknife. Entirely understandable – you’re busy.

But it makes me think of the movie White Men Can’t Jump. Did you see it? If so, you might remember Wesley Snipes chiding a young Woody Harrelson: “Look, man, you can listen to Jimi [Hendrix], but you can’t hear him. There’s a difference, man. Just because you’re listening to him doesn’t mean you’re hearing him.”

The same holds true for the wild. A person can read all the reports and statistics they want. They can peer out a plane window at passing wonders, immerse themselves wholeheartedly in the testimony of others, but until they actually get out there – hear the snap of a twig in the night, or watch an Arctic tern flit over the shallows in search of minnows, aware the bird will soon embark on a journey to Antarctica – the circle is incomplete.

Admittedly, three days isn’t a lot. A relationship with the outdoors evolves over a lifetime, and many will suggest my offer is a mere token, a stunt, but I don’t care. Canada’s natural capital can and should be managed by the same conservative principles that guide the rest of your tenure. The common rhetoric of the day, suggesting that one is either for the economy or the environment, but never both, may be one of the biggest dangers facing our country. There is more than enough room for both under the Conservative tent, and you are the only person, in the short term, who can change this course. I can think of no truer way to serve my country – the Canada we both love – than to take you camping.

The journey, of course, is on me. We’ll eat like kings and find comfort in any condition – rain, sunshine, howling wind or heavy fog. The kids will love it – they always do. Rumbling rapids, stately moose, eagles, salmon, garter snakes, wildflowers and Northern Lights: It will be a grand time. My invitation is deeply sincere. I trust you’ll consider the offer similarly.

Sincerely, Bruce Kirkby

P.S. The last time I took a federal leader on a wilderness expedition, the party won an additional 66 seats in the following election. Coincidence? You never know.

Bruce Kirkby is an author and travel writer.

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