Franke James is a Canadian political and artistic phenomenon. A wicked thorn in the side of Stephen Harper; a woman fiercely passionate about the pressing need to address climate change; a witty and imaginative artist who would not acquiesce to having her work silenced and censored by the Harper government; and an activist and educator working to empower citizens and galvanize progressive change in our society.
Beyond our shared commitment to addressing the issues of climate change, working to achieve political and electoral reform, and the enormous potential of art to puncture the balloon of political pompousness, we are also fellow alumni — swamp rats who spent some of the most memorable years of our youth at Mount Allison University on the Tantramar marshes — absorbing knowledge, debating fiercely, and hanging out at Mel’s Tearoom in equal measure.
So, after years of friendship and electronic correspondence, it was an enormous pleasure for me to finally meet Franke James and talk over drinks with her and husband and fellow James Gang partner, Billiam about the many pressing, distressing, depressing, and ultimately uplifting and inspiring opportunities for social, political, environmental, and artistic change in Canada.
Harnessing the challenges of climate change to rethink our values and build a better society will not be an easy task. However, despite the difficulties — environmental, economic, and political — we cannot afford to fail. As I told the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development when I testified before them about the potential impacts of climate change, “The costs of not taking action will certainly greatly exceed those of doing so.”
What I’m now certain of, having had the opportunity to meet Franke, is that she will irrepressibly, enthusiastically, and hilariously be at the forefront of such action — asking difficult questions, refusing to be side-tracked or side-lined, pricking the consciences of decision-makers, deflating inflated egos, and underscoring the hilarious absurdity of the contradictions she finds along the way.
In the late 1970’s when I was studying Russian history and language at the Pushkin Institute in Moscow, I used to lament that, despite the privations of Soviet life and the absence of virtually all material goods, one thing the Russians did have in spades was political humour. In crowded Moscow apartments over black bread and vodka (with the blinds drawn and the telephones unplugged from the walls to ensure the KGB was not looking or listening in to our gatherings), we would laugh ourselves under the table recounting biting and hilarious political “anecdotes.”
At the time, despite our comparative material affluence, Canadian society was in desperately short supply of political humour. Now, I’m delighted to report, that thanks to a vastly increased supply of ineptness, incompetence, and idiocy generated by the current federal government, and the abilities of humorists and artists like Franke James to see these follies and absurdities, the Canadian landscape has become highly fertile ground for political humour, rivaling in every way the absurdist contradictions of Soviet life.
It’s my hope that, like the Soviet gerontocracy, which withered up and blew away, rendered hollow by accumulated ridicule, that the current Canadian governmental emperors will be revealed as having no clothes through the work of artists like Franke James, and will flee naked and bereft of electoral cover, to vanish in the black-fly invested political muskeg of the Canadian outback. And I won’t be supplying the bug spray ….