I still remember Mr. Moore’s high school English class and learning to define such literary terms as tragedy, comedy and wit. And I remember the controversy over the word tragedy. A 16-year-old girl falls from her horse and is killed. Is it a tragedy?
In my idealistic teen years, I argued that it was not. The word tragedy is so overused in common language. Almost every night a newscaster somewhere in the world tells us that “a tragedy was narrowly averted.”
This could mean a terrorist bomber had been stopped, or that a moose wasn’t hit on a highway.
Yet, for the people personally involved, an unexpected death, especially of a child, is always a tragedy. In this, it approaches the common meaning of a disastrous or devastating event. But in literature, a tragedy must involve a fatal weakness. In fact, for a tragedy to end in death of the tragic character is uncommon. Instead they are brought low because of moral ineptitude, lack of coping skills, or some tragic flaw of character — often hubris. (Did I get that right Mr. Moore?)
For his family and his community and many of us that heard about it through the media reports and coverage, Burton Winters’ death was a tragedy — a seemingly preventable and senseless accident that has devastated a community.
But for the province’s government, their inability to deal with the aftermath of this personal disaster may be their tragedy. And I’m not just talking about Dunderdale’s government either. The Liberals are as deep into this anyone in the ruling party. The difference being that not being the ruling party, they have much less to lose.
While our politicians waste time squabbling over inquiries and responsibility, with our premier see-sawing from trying to assign blame federally to insisting that an inquiry is not necessary, the people of this province grieve and wonder what can be done.
At first, the premier said that there “are a number of questions that I don’t believe we have had satisfactory answers to. The family needs them, the community needs them and the people of this province need them.” (CBC’s On Point, Feb. 4).
Then on Monday’s open line program on VOCM she said that she “truly (doesn’t) believe that it serves the interests of the people of the province” to have an inquiry. This, coming after the federal government has indicated that it will co-operate with any such inquiry.
It seems our premier is not quite sure where she stands. And the constant barrage of criticism from Yvonne Jones and the Liberals as well as our media is putting her off balance and backpedalling even more.
But for the family of Burton Winters and the people of this province, we don’t care about political points scored on this issue. And laying blame after the fact will not do any good. Political posturing is not healing for anyone. Between the opposition trying to blame the province, the province trying to blame the federal government, pundits trying to blame Dunderdale for mishandling it, and Dunderdale trying to blame anyone who accuses her of mishandling it of not understanding the situation … we’re hearing a lot of accusations but few recommendations.
And that is why I believe an inquiry is necessary. Not to lay blame. From having read the reports as thoroughly as possible, I’m not sure that there is any one group that deserves blame. Yes, mistakes and lapses in judgment were made. But those are seen much easier with hindsight.
The only truly incredible and relevant mistakes have been made since, in communications, by both parties. And now, the entire issue has become a political bone of contention rather than a chance to find answers and create solutions so that this kind of tragedy doesn’t occur again.
Why were we using privately contracted aircraft without the proper equipment in search and rescue? Heat seeking handheld cameras can use thermal imaging, in this case only available in military helicopters.
The province has since addressed this by providing search and rescue groups throughout the province with these cameras. Too little too late for Burton Winters, but perhaps helpful in future incidents. Those are the kinds of changes that can come about from an inquiry where all shortcomings will be addressed.
Why are we not legislating that snowmobiles sold in this province be equipped with GPS tracking devices and emergency beacons? You can purchase such items as an add on for about $100, as well as an annual connection fee for the GPS. Would it not be better to require that all snowmobiles be sold with these as standard devices?
Why was one Goose Bay aircraft in deep maintenance without insuring that the other one was fully capable of flying? Does protocol for maintenance checks on these aircraft need to be changed so that we are never surprised by another fuel line leak? What about the adverse weather conditions? Are there certain areas of this province that will continually be cut off from rescue equipment due to weather patterns? Should we perhaps assess whether some resources need to be moved to make those areas more accessible?
These are the kinds of questions an inquiry could, and should, answer.
And there are plenty more like it. Whether Dunderdale was wrong to cancel the meeting with Burton Winters’ family is not the kind of public inquiry we need. We all know it was wrong. And as a parent I would be incensed if she had done the same to me. But what would make me angrier is knowing that while I’m fighting to prevent such tragedies from happening to any other parents, my government is fighting, just plain fighting, instead of getting anything done.
That’s a real tragedy. And it’s one that only our leader can “narrowly avert.”
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