Monday April 10, 2017

Pat Carney shares the beauty of her coastal community

Pat Carney is a former Canadian senator and cabinet minister.

Pat Carney is a former Canadian senator and cabinet minister. (Touchwood Editions/Nancy Angermeyer)

Listen 13:44

Pat Carney is a trailblazer in Canadian politics. The former Member of Parliament, cabinet minister, journalist and senator carved a path for female politicians as the first woman to hold a series of influential posts in government. Carney can now add "fiction writer" to her prodigious list of credentials with the release of her book, On Island: Life among the Coast Dwellers, a short story collection that offers snapshots of life in small coastal communities. Carney is a coast dweller herself — she lives in the southern Gulf Islands of British Columbia on Saturna Island, a remote community with a population of 350 people.

It's not all tie-dye and tweed

I was motivated in part by the fact that a lot of stories about the coast represent us as tweed or tie-dye. We're stamping along with our canes, or we're climbing trees in our black stockings to look at eagles' nests before running for the Green Party, or we're a hangover from the hippie days. And we're not. We're very ordinary, very talented in many cases, people who have a resourcefulness and a huge sense of community. People say, "Why do you stay on Saturna? What is it that attracts you to an island that has really very little attractions?" It's the incredible sense of community that you need to be a coast dweller. I wanted to convey the sense that we're not all rich people who live in our multi-million-dollar homes, but that we created this society. We created this interdependence. And we have, in many cases, a simple but very meaningful life in communities that nobody cares about except us.

Why she loves her community

On Saturna Island, we enrolled Millie the Goat to keep the enrolment up. I'm sure that it's not the only four-legged animal which has been enrolled in schools to keep the enrolment up. We are very innovative and very inventive. Things like schools are vital to small communities because if the schools close, then the young people leave the island and there's no way of them the community surviving in the long term. It's a very warm, community-based life. If I'm sick, I can always phone up the store and ask someone to drop off supplies next time they're down the hill and put it on the store bill. That kind of thing doesn't happen in town. I think that will continue, mainly because not a lot of people will give up the pleasures of town life, which are very real for this kind of community. But I'm again impressed by the number of young people who are giving it a go. On Saturna, we have young people who have told me quite seriously that they are planning their babies to keep the school open.

Pat Carney's comments have been edited and condensed.