I am about to be embedded. This week, in the employ of Maclean’s, I will be following in the footsteps of a long line of brave journalists who risked life and limb to get the real story, visiting hot spots and danger zones all over the world without any regard for personal safety. This is the week where I will follow Canada’s leaders around the country on the campaign trail. I will go where I am told, take notes and try my darndest to become co-opted by unlimited glasses of Canadian wine and deli-grade funeral meats. I am, if nothing, a cheap date.
While I admit I am not a journalist, I do play one on TV, so the thought of sitting on an actual campaign plane hobnobbing with Craig Oliver has me very excited. Like Keith Richards, Craig has been around. He has stories.
The actual process of becoming embedded, however, has left me shaken.
To get on the Liberal plane or the NDP bus, all they require is my name and my employer’s credit card number. I get the impression that the Liberal and NDP tours are like desperate men in a singles bar. Once the lights come on they have low standards. Anyone with a pulse will do.
The Conservative plane is another story. Ironically, to get on the Conservative plane one has to fill out a mandatory long form. And like Canada’s one-time mandatory census, it is so invasive it has left me shaken to my core. While they stop short of asking how many bedrooms I have in my home, they do insist on having my personal credit card number, my employment history, my passport number, my BlackBerry email address, cellphone number, height, weight and eye colour. This upsets my libertarian sensitivities.
Yes, I admit I freely give out my credit card number online and over the phone all the time. Giving my credit card information to a stranger from eBay is one thing, but I’m just not comfortable giving the government this information.
I am terrified about identity theft. What is there to stop the next convicted felon Stephen Harper hires as a policy adviser from using this information to order marital aids online or hire escorts and stick me with the bill? Or even worse, what if six months down the road I start getting robot calls from Jason Kenney’s leadership team on my unlisted cell number?
Despite these fears I will bite the bullet and fill out the form. A campaign brings new revelations every day, and I want to be there to witness history. This past week was no exception.
It was this week that we found out that the long-held Liberal claim that Stephen Harper once wrote “It’s past time the feds scrapped the Canada Health Act” is simply not true. I kind of guessed this. I happened to be in the room in Calgary when newly elected Prime Minister Harper addressed the Fraser Institute; I remember the exact moment when he said his government would continue to uphold the act, because the 1,000 people who paid to attend responded like he had spit in their soup.
It was this week that we learned that Stephen Harper is not just tough on crime but also tough on old hockey players. The most recent Harper ad features the famous footage of Paul Henderson’s historic 1972 goal against the Russians. Turns out the Harper campaign used this clip without permission. Everyone who wants to use this clip has to license it and pay for it, with no exceptions. It is, after all, someone else’s property. To make matters worse, the money raised from licensing the clip goes directly to members of the team, none of whom made the money that professional hockey players make today. When Canadians watch this clip they are filled with pride, unless of course you’re one of the poor buggers with sore knees who rely on that clip to pay the rent and you know the cheque is not in the mail.
It was this week we learned that Michael Ignatieff did vote in England even though he said he didn’t, but apparently that doesn’t matter because Canadians are allowed to do that. We also learned that when Ignatieff said he was voting in a U.S. election he was just saying that because he was talking to a U.K. paper and he figured they didn’t have Google. It was this week that he made my head hurt.
It was this week we learned that Heritage Minister James Moore attended university and a good one at that—the University of Northern British Columbia. This revelation came courtesy of the Liberal department of dirty tricks, which released a university paper written by a young James Moore in which he seems to take a decidedly anti-abortion stance.
This is awkward for Moore, because in all his years of public life he has been vocally pro-choice. He has walked the walk on this file. He is a proud member of the progressive wing of the Conservative caucus, a group that can fit comfortably in a Smart car.
This dirty trick has sent shock waves across all parties, because let’s face it: many MPs did things in college they aren’t that proud of, and in some cases they live in fear of these past indiscretions being made public.
For example, there are rumours that in second year Jack Layton once rode a bicycle three full city blocks without a helmet, a potentially devastating revelation to his base.
Likewise, voters of Canada might be shocked to learn that as a student at the University of Toronto, Bob Rae faced expulsion after he organized a Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention concert at Convocation Hall. The concert got out of control and it took two months to get the shaving cream out of the organ pipes.
Years later at the same school a young Tony Clement formed a campus political club for the express purpose of inviting a representative of the whites-only Apartheid government in South Africa to speak to students. No established political organization would invite the pro apartheid forces onto the university so Tony stepped into the breach.
We all get a pass for being idealistic in our teens and early twenties and turns out Tony is no exception.*
Hopefully this week will mark the end of the silly season, and in these last crucial days a debate over ideas will break out. I am hopeful but I won’t hold my breath.
At the very least I hope that while I’m on the road there are no more Bruce Carson revelations. I am starting to feel a tad guilty about the pile-on for this man. In fact, I find the latest revelation that he brought a former professional escort to 24 Sussex Drive to socialize with the Prime Minister endearing. At least Carson had the courage to bring the person he was dating to a social event at the boss’s house. Ask any of the multitude of gays that work tirelessly for the Conservative party if they have ever brought a date to 24 Sussex, and they immediately change the subject to something they are more comfortable with: why universal child care is a bad idea, why Canada shouldn’t send cheap AIDS drugs to Africa, or why Ezra Levant of Sun TV fame is such a dreamy crumpet.
I will say this: if the opportunity arises to ask a question, I will not. I have decided to limit myself to five questions a day and I have decided that all are too important to waste on any leader of any party.
I will instead keep those questions for the flight attendants, the drivers, the staffers, the folks around the periphery. After 20 years on the road, I have learned they know everything. I shall keep their identities secret until the death. I am, if anything, a vault.
*EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this column made reference to an invitation extended by Tony Clement to a representative of South Africa’s apartheid government to debate at the University of Toronto in the mid-1980s. Mr. Clement did so to protect the principle of free speech. Mr. Clement opposed apartheid and anticipated the ambassador, Glen Babb, would meet a hostile audience.