People and Places

ELECTION CHATTER (DAY 18): Mark Bourrie joins Michael Ignatieff in kicking drunken sailors when they’re down

Day 18: In which Ottawa Magazine contributing editor Mark Bourrie joins Michael Ignatieff in kicking drunken sailors when they’re down

I knew when I heard Michael Ignatieff say it that somewhere, someone would take offense.

“I’m not going to surrender the economy to this guy (Stephen Harper),” Ignatieff said on CTV’s Question Period this past weekend. “He’s been spending like a drunken sailor.”

Yes. The dreaded drunken sailor lobby. Because, like cotton pickers, who Ignatieff deliberately provoked and offended not more than two months ago, there had to be a lobby for pissed-up folk who go down to the sea in ships.

There just had to be. This is Canada.

It only took two days for the first rumblings from the marine hinterland. A poor Navy pensioner called Lowell Green’s Ottawa talk show in a state of outrage that was quite impressive, considering he was probably not applying for government funding for his cause.

“Ignatieff has insulted all the men and women who have served in the Armed Forces,” the crusty caller spat out, “especially people in the Navy.”

Well, there ya go. For all we know, Ignatieff holds secret Sunday drinking nights for old Kriegmariners, so the U-boaters can trade yucks about the torpedoing of the Caribou and the Esquimalt.

They might laugh, too, about Canada’s fleet of used British diesel subs. How long have we had those lethal old lemons? And now it’s finally come out that the torpedoes that we have in storage don’t fit. I can just see the old Nazis blowing schnapps out their noses over that.

I could easily defend Ignatieff, drawing on my extensive personal experience with drunken sailors.

There was that old great uncle of mine who rolled back into Midland just before Christmas every year, after another season on the iron boats that ran from Sept Isle to Cleveland. He would fill my grandfather’s shed with rye and the two of them would stay hammered until Easter.

(Perhaps he doesn’t qualify because he was smart enough to buy in bulk.)

Then there were the lads I drank with at a frightening establishment named Uncle Sam’s on the main drag of Fort William. A young schoolteacher friend of mine took me there to meet his brother and friends. This turned out to be a very bad idea.

We went in just after noon. These young fellas had just arrived by lake freighter. And they made it very, very, very clear that we were expected to stay until the bar closed, which, back in the Paleozoic, was at the merciful hour of 1 a.m.

The air was filled with pot smoke and the tables were covered with shells of draft and glasses of rye with various kinds of mix. I am no drinker, and the afternoon and evening were an ordeal, an exercise in looking like I was drinking but keeping the volume down, while buying my share of rounds and engaging in other diplomatic maneuvering that would make Henry Kissinger proud.

There was lots of talk about fighting and drugging and things that make me scratch just to think of them now, and a lot of seriously hostile vibe.

I was quite impaired when midnight rolled around. I summoned the courage to say, “I think I’d like to go home now.” Most of the people at the table just kept drinking, while one or two said, “take care” and waved me off. As I left, one of them offered me a job on the boats. With my luck, it was probably the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Then there were the sailors who got me drunk and put me on a Lake Erie fishing boat at 4 a.m. I came to within sight of Perry’s Monument, somewhere off Pelee Island, and I have hated boats ever since.

Still, I can understand the ire of our marine professionals. And if I say I was sick as a dog while I dry-heaved over the gunnels of that fishing boat, which reeked of rotten perch as it bobbed around in eight-foot waves, I know I should not be surprised when the Canine Healthy Living Association has its executive director fire off a letter to this magazine. And the metric enforcement folks, too.

It’s not like we have a huge national debt, a housing bubble, chronic underemployment of our youth, a gutted manufacturing base, and an aging population that is unsure whether it will have health care or will be stuck eating cat food. (Pre-emptive apologies to both the cat food industry and to cats.)

Nor should we worry that half of the eligible voters in our country probably won’t cast a ballot, that the mechanisms of democracy in this country had their gears stripped long before Harper and his Nixonian winged monkeys arrived on the scene, or that, when you turn on the TV news, you’re much more likely to hear something created by professional spinners than to be exposed to any attempt to determine truth.

So let’s raise a glass of iced tea to the men and women who conscientiously and soberly operate our boats and maintain the utmost decorum at all ports of call. We’ll toast their careful retirement planning and cautious investment strategies. Because if we don’t, eventually someone may come around to the house to make sure we do.