“New York is big, but this is Biggar” boasts the town of Biggar, Saskatchewan. Further east, Melville brags that it is the smallest official city in Saskatchewan. They’re a quirky bunch, our neighbours the Saskatchewanians. And they walk among us. When I first arrived at the library in 2001 it seemed like half the staff were from Yorkton. But it isn’t just librarians. Saskatchewan has given the world a rich crop of famous folks, from musicians to sports stars to politicians. Melville alone has players Jarret Stoll, Chris Kunitz and coach Todd McLellan currently in the NHL. Senator Pamela Wallin loves her home province so much she imagines she still lives there! But the most famous Melvillian right now is St. Albert’s own MP Brent Rathgeber.
Rathgeber shot to fame when he tweeted that he was leaving the Conservative caucus, a move Michael Den Tandt called “a dagger to Stephen Harper’s heart." I’ve spoken to many people in St. Albert who applaud Rathgeber’s move, most of whom don’t generally agree with Brent on much. I think people like a politician standing on principle, speaking a bit of truth to power. It reminds me of the Terry Fallis novel, The Best Laid Plans. Angus McLintock is a crusty old plain-speaking engineer who is elected by fluke to the House of Commons and continues telling the truth once he becomes an MP.
There’s a bit of Angus McLintock in Rathgeber, for he has never seemed a natural politician. He’s a bit awkward in crowds and at the podium. Despite being elected by wide margins, Rathgeber sometimes seems out of tune with St. Albert. His frequent attacks on the CBC seem out of place in a town where CBC Radio listeners are thick on the ground. Celebrating the death of the long-gun registry rang false in this urban place. And his tough on crime rhetoric might go over better in a riding with some actual crime in it.
But where Rathgeber is simpatico with St. Albert is his focus on fiscal matters. In this he is carrying on the tradition of his predecessor, John G. Williams, who as MP led the fight on public accounts. As well, both Williams and Rathgeber are strong and knowledgeable parliamentarians. Williams congratulated Rathgeber for “having the courage to say enough is enough” and predicted that St. Albertans will appreciate having an MP “who is prepared to stand up and represent them."
I suggest to Brent that he leave the trials of Ottawa behind him and focus on what’s really important: baseball. Terry Puhl, one of the best Canadian baseball players ever, comes from Melville. This summer Brent is calling the play-by-play for the Edmonton Prospects of the Western Major Baseball League. One of the other teams in the WMBL? … the Melville Millionaires.
When baseball isn’t on, I suggest the novel, The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach. From 2011, this is a beautiful novel about baseball, about the cult of playing shortstop, about love and about what you do when you can’t do the thing you’re best at. And it is all set at a Wisconsin college obsessed with Herman Melville, including its president, a scholar of, what else, Melville.