Michael Ignatieff’s campaign is a magnificent triumph! Canadians are seeing a side of the man that they did not know existed and they are excited about what they see. This is according to the people who work for Mr. Ignatieff and whose future employment prospects are tied directly to his success or failure.
The joy permeating out of the Liberal camp in week two reminds me of the joy my parents experienced when my final Grade 8 report card came in. Eyes darted past the C’s and B’s, the F in gym, past the multiple “needs improvement,” past the “still owes $60 to the chocolate almond fund,” and finally settled on the most reassuring words any parents could read: “advance to Grade 9.” They could not have been happier. After a year of lowered expectations, it seemed like a miracle. He doesn’t have to go to summer school! Clearly the boy is a genius. Likewise the Liberal refrain: “Iggy is on fire.”
Low expectations are your friend. I learned that lesson in junior high; Ignatieff is just figuring this out now, but it is working for him. So far he has held his own, hasn’t fallen off the podium or wandered down any strange roads pondering in public about “anticipatory hypotheticals.” While this is good news for Liberals, low expectations will only take you so far. It may be a good strategy if you are trying to avoid being grounded, but it’s a hell of a way to become prime minister.
On the Prime Minister’s tour the word is that the Harper campaign is a disaster! The Prime Minister’s photo ops are coming across as stiff and scripted. This according to people who, I am guessing, haven’t watched a Harper campaign before, because this one is no different than his others and oh would you look at that—he keeps getting elected Prime Minister.
Sure, he doesn’t look comfortable sitting at a piano listening to a child serenade him with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way. Can you blame him? Who put that together? “Prime Minister, are you familiar with Ms. Gaga? Good news: turns out she is not a hermaphrodite, that was a wooden phallus she was wearing… anyway she has written a gay anthem and this little girl is going to sing it to you. Some of the lyrics are about transsexuals and drag queens, but she might skip those.”
And putting the Prime Minister on a four-wheel all-terrain vehicle? He doesn’t drive one of those. It’s not fair. That’s almost as ridiculous as putting him on a stage surrounded by guys doing exercises and having him announce that in five years you might get a tax cut if you join a gym, golf club or bathhouse. Oh wait, he did that too.
Personally, I would ditch these awkward staged moments. Harper’s happy place is on stage, talking to the party faithful about all the horrible things that will befall the nation if he is not elected. There he shines and there he connects with Canadians who are sitting at home watching TV and I guess being afraid. Ignatieff, on the other hand, is standing on his stage but has yet to connect. The polls reflect that.
But these men, Iggy and Harper, are the superstars. They are used to seeing their pictures in the newspaper. They are used to the highs and lows of being on the national stage. But there are many races happening in this country, and for those who toil in the backbenches this is their moment.
It’s not very often that you find all members of Parliament and all candidates in agreement, but they agree on this. They view the job of MP as a great public service and they like to remind us it is a noble one. They also agree that campaigns are a tough slog, but it is a sacrifice they are willing to make.
Personally, it’s the families and friends of politicians I feel bad for because God forbid you are related to one, or friends with one, or happened to go to school with one, or even made eye contact with one. They are a needy bunch. It’s like having a drug addict in the family.
They want money from you constantly. And on top of that, they demand your time and energy.
A politician’s hand is always out, especially during, before and after a campaign, and also before the next one.
Imagine if in order to keep your job, every so often you had to call everyone in your family, every friend, your in-laws, everyone in your yearbook and say, “I’m reapplying for my job again, can I have $500? Also, can you take time out of your busy schedule to show up at some long-forgotten Knights of Columbus hall and chant my name over and over again? And when I speak, can you cheer like you are witnessing Martin Luther King recite ‘I have a dream’ even though we both know I don’t have a clue?”
Most of us go through life trying to avoid hitting up our friends and family for money, and while sure, there are times when it may be inevitable, we try to avoid it becoming a habit.
Politicians are that rare breed. This doesn’t bother them. They are missing the dignity chip. A career politician like John Baird has, in his lifetime, asked more strangers for more money than all the squeegee kids in Canada combined. This is a sacrifice he and so many others are willing to make.
So what is it that allows these men and women to swallow their pride and say: yes, I will do this, I will stand for public office? I do not know.
Everywhere they go they have to stare at billboards and posters with their faces emblazoned across them as if they were suddenly transformed into Hollywood stars. They have to do media, sometimes many interviews a day; which, for an MP used to begging to get on local radio, can be exhausting. And then there is the constant barrage of volunteers to be managed, the old and experienced hands who do the heavy lifting mixed in with the young and impressionable keeners—the ones who wear tight T-shirts with your name across the front who never get tired of listening. And yes, there is the chanting and the applause.
Politicians may very well believe in public service, but for the vast majority it is the campaigns they live and die for; it is why they are put on Earth.
It is why, when you hear Stephen Harper saying he wishes there wasn’t an election, that’s like a dog saying he has grown tired of licking himself. It’s not true, not now, not ever.