The Storm

May 3, 2011

Man, what a week! It started last Thursday when the wind blew Bet across a parking lot in Kingston and up against the side of the car. On our way home Mom called to tell us a limb from the huge maple outside the front door had blown over on the house. Then both cell phones went out. These combined for a tense trip back to the farm.

By the time we had gingerly winched the limb from the house and sorted out the damage, it became clear that the real problem was the torn roof on the plastic storage building. A bolt on an end support had snapped, allowing the 2X6 to flap around and puncture the roof membrane, leading to a tear the length of the structure. The repair became a race to protect the stuff in the shed from the rain.

Then came the royal wedding. As the world watched, the British people showed us how it’s done. It was a magnificent, early-morning spectacle.

Then we were back to the vulgarity of the federal election campaign with its attack ads and sleaze. A steady diet of this took us up to 9:30 Monday night when another storm swept across Canada, toppling many aged and hollow incumbents and allowing the younger and more vigorous candidates some space to flourish.

Like the storm which tore across our property, the effects of this political wind were pretty random.

I wonder what it’s like to be Ruth Ellen Brosseau this morning? Formerly a bartender at a pub on the Carleton University campus, the St. Lawrence College alumnus who barely speaks French is now M.P. for Berthier-Maskinongé, an Eastern Townships riding three hours from her home in Gatineau. She polled 40% of the vote despite never visiting the riding and spending a week of the campaign playing slot machines in Las Vegas. Her main political experience to date has involved finding homes for stray cats. Why does this sound like the scenario for an American romantic comedy?

Another NDP place-filler, Isabelle Maguire, ran her Richmond-Arthabaska campaign from France. That didn’t work. The Bloc incumbent campaigned hard and won by 700 votes, about 1%. Quebec voters don’t seem to like that kind of French. Look at the way pundit Chantal Hebert, usually a Liberal sympathizer, never missed a chance to tear into Michael Ignatieff. Could it be his spoken French was better than hers? My sister spent seven years in France and retired from a career as a French teacher, but waiters in Montreal will only respond to her in English.

Justin Trudeau survived the storm. Strong, decent candidates like Ted Hsu in Kingston and John MacKay in Toronto did well. Elizabeth May swept away cabinet minister Gary Lunn to earn a seat and at long last gain a voice for the Green Party.

But in Leeds-Grenville the Marjory Loveys campaign was no match for the combined NDP and Conservative waves. Gord Brown coasted to a massive win after running a decent and dignified campaign. In an interview in my living room I discovered that Gord’s a pretty good guy, loves his riding and his job, and deserved to win.

Last night I watched Michael Ignatieff’s closing speech. A total defeat is in many ways satisfying. It puts an end to the loose ends, the uncertainty, the persistent demands for compromise. It allows one to regain a measure of dignity that scrambling against the prevailing wind never can. Life in opposition must have been hell for Michael Ignatieff.

What was the turning point? Every pundit in Canada will offer one. For me it was that nauseating attack ad against Stephen Harper and health care. When Ignatieff allowed that ad and the others which followed, he gave up the high ground and hollowed out his party’s campaign.

Canadians rebelled at the mud-slinging, choosing the guy with the smile, the cane, and a wacko promise to cap credit card interest rates at 5%. But master strategist Guy Giorno played vote splits, micro-campaigns, and Liberal panic at the NDP rise in the polls to boost the Harper campaign to a majority.

So now we volunteers must rush out and gather up spent candidate signs. The more quickly we do this, the more relieved everyone will be to see the most visible debris from the storm cleared away.

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