Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s bus convoy pulls in for an afternoon rally at a Kitchener, Ont., Conservative candidate’s storefront headquarters. It’s in a strip mall anchored by the winning combination of Stop ‘n’ Cash cheque cashing and The Bettor Club off-track betting.
The idea of grabbing some quick cash while one can and playing a hunch has a certain appeal. Financial wire service reporters climb off the media bus talking agitatedly, their BlackBerries vibrating with the news that the Canadian dollar is plummeting, the TSX again digging itself a new basement.
Just this morning the Prime Minister was assuring journalists that the federal government’s decision to buy $25 billion worth of mortgages from the banks isn’t a bail-out, or even a lifeline, it’s a “market transaction that will cost the government nothing.”
Over at the Bettor Club they also like a risk-free sure thing.
I watch a young mom with a toddler stroll into Stop ‘n’ Cash. They look like they’re enjoying the unseasonably hot and sunny October weather, dressed like it’s July, unencumbered by bulletins from the markets. Maybe the misery won’t trickle down to them. Here’s hoping.
There’s a loud CAW protest going on at the curb. Stereo speakers set up outside the Tory riding office blare new country, then switch, as the PM’s big blue bus pulls up, to Harper’s theme song, Collective Soul’s “Better Now”: “Break the news out/ I’ve got to get out/Whoa, I’m feeling better…”
Harper shakes hands on his short walk from the bus to the campaign office’s side door. I can’t bring myself to follow him in, so I listen outside as his stump speech replaces the power pop on the sound system. “Friends, make no mistake, this is a close election…” He says Stéphane Dion is “telling everybody there’s going to be a recession, and then he tells everybody he doesn’t have any plan to deal with it.”
Beside the door of the claustrophobic, windowless room where Harper delivers his speech, a gray-haired, well-spoken man tells me he’s voting Conservative because the Liberals are led by one academic, Dion, who has never met a payroll, with Michael Ignatieff, another impractical university type, waiting in the wings. The man says he’s worried about his pension fund holding up as the markets tank.
Then it’s time for the Prime Minister to leave, and they crank up Collective Soul again. I take in some of the lyrics for the first time, and given what’s in the air, they don’t sound all that convincing. “The world’s done shakin’,” goes the refrain. “The world’s done shakin’ me down.”