Wiarton Willie looks skyward in order to give us his prognostication on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Wiarton Willie looks skyward in order to give us his prognostication on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Wiarton Willie looks skyward in order to give us his prognostication on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn Wiarton Willie looks skyward in order to give us his prognostication on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

The sad fate of Wiarton Willie

There’s a scandal a-brewing in Canadian politics. It involves skulduggery, cover-ups and death. Yes, death. It has a small town mayor in hot water, defending actions that are being called into question.

I speak of course of the now-acknowledged passing of a famous rodent, the groundhog Wiarton Willie. Yes, Wiarton Willie, the famous albino groundhog and weather predictor, has gone on to his reward.

This is sad news to most Canadians. You know who it isn’t news to? Mayor Janice Jackson of South Bruce Peninsula, Ontario, who has known for months, at least nine months, of the passing of Willie.

People now recall that last Groundhog Day they didn’t actually see the rodent during the annual prediction of when spring will land.

And the reason they didn’t see him is because he was already gone. But the mayor made the decision to cover it up. Not just in the literal sense. I assume the ground hog was buried with full honours, but it was done secretly. There was no formal announcement.

Why?

Jackson says she was protecting the “Wiarton Willie brand”.

“Wiarton Willie is everything to Wiarton and South Bruce Peninsula,” the mayor said. “Wiarton Willie has put us on the international map and we’re very, very protective of the Wiarton Willie brand. And we were faced with a conundrum, clearly one that took us by surprise, and we had to plot a path forward the best way that we could to protect our town.”

Now, I can’t really understand what they hoped to gain by “plotting this path forward”. Eventually someone was going to notice that the rodent hadn’t been seen in a while. Were they hoping to be able to pull off another Groundhog Day without the actual groundhog? Were they perhaps hoping to find an identical albino groundhog they could use, never admitting it wasn’t the current version?

It would never have worked. Note, the mayor said “we” were faced with a conundrum. A secret is not a secret if more than one person knows. It gets out. Even if the path forward was done in camera at the local council meeting, at some point it would get out. I would really like to see the minutes of that meeting.

“I put the motion on the floor that we pretend Wiarton Willie is still alive,” says Councillor X.

“I second that motion,” says Councillor Y.

“The groundhog er… motion is on the floor,” says Mayor Jackson. “All those in favour? Opposed? Carried. I do mean carried. Somebody carry poor Willie to his final resting place. He’s getting ripe.”

And so the plot was afoot, the brand protected. But what now? The brand is perhaps a little battered.

Perhaps a public funeral would sooth some injured feelings.

It won’t be the first time. There have of course been several Wiarton Willies over the years, for groundhogs do not live forever.

In 1999, Wiarton Willie v.3-0 was found frozen to death. The Groundhog Committee — yes there is a Groundhog Committee — chose to hold a public funeral in place of the prediction. They used a stuffed groundhog, perhaps Wiarton Willie v.2.4. It was a big deal. People there for the prediction were surprised. CBC News reported that children cried.

So perhaps, that was the situation Jackson and council were trying to avoid, in addition to protecting the “brand”.

But it does make you wonder the lengths a town council will go to in protection of their mascot.

Hmmm….. Has anyone seen Happy Hans lately?