People and Places

ELECTION CHATTER (Day 2): Is it more important that a candidate be smart or that he remember your name? Discuss.

DAY 2: Ottawa Magazine contributing editor Mark Bourrie says candidates have to be smart — and remember his name

Franklin Roosevelt had it. John Turner has it. So does Jim Watson.

I don’t have it. You probably don’t, either. And if those of us who don’t have it really want it, we can’t get it.

There’s no name for it, but it’s a very valuable thing. It’s the ability to remember names and people — forever. I’m a bit young to have known Franklin Roosevelt, but those who saw him from time to time knew that FDR could resume a conversation that had begun years before. He remembered the names of everyone he met and could point out near-strangers in a room and call out their names.

Turner and Watson have this skill. With Mayor Jim, the gift is astounding. I saw him about once every two years since his last term as mayor, yet he remembers me and our previous conversations, our mutual friends, and other stuff, as though he actually cares.

I have no illusions that I am particularly special, or that I am more important or memorable than the thousands upon thousands of developers, campaign workers, lobbyists, city staffers, city hall reporters, family, friends and neighbours of Jim Watson.

So I chalk it up to The Gift and look on with envy. Introduce me to strangers at a party, and, like most people, I’ll have to struggle to remember their names, and I’ll probably fail. That’s why God invented business cards.

Caring is a big deal in politics. No matter what happens in this campaign, it will be hard for me not to vote for Paul Dewar because he came up to me and asked how my six-year-old daughter was doing after she crushed her finger in a steel gymnasium door last year. His wife, Julia, who teaches at my little girl’s school, told Paul about it.

Strangely, all three major national parties are led by guys who have a hard time convincing us they care. But should they really care enough about Canadians to wade through dairy barns or pretend to shovel sawdust at a paper mill? Even worse, should they be “just like us”? If being like ordinary Canadians is a criteria for leadership, why don’t we just have a lottery?

I would prefer that voters choose someone smarter than me, smarter than you, smarter than anyone else. That means I can’t hold it against Michael Ignatieff that he holds a Harvard PhD, is a better writer than me, and got better freelance gigs.

I’m not sure Stephen Harper is as smart, though he has a sort of manipulative cunning that’s impressive. Jack Layton is an academic, but with a PhD from York and a short teaching career at Ryerson. That’s sort of like being the smartest kid at summer school.

And I want a smart person to be my MP. I haven’t met the people running in Ottawa’s ridings, but I’ll be seeking them out in the next few weeks. I’ll hit some all-candidate meetings, hang around some campaign offices, and make a nuisance of myself any chance I get.

I’m not sure who will win this election. In many ways, it’s like selecting the least unattractive of three very homely and strange potential prom dates. But this is an important election, like the ones of 1984 and 1993. There’s a good chance the vapour lock of seven years of minority government may come to an end.

This is a fork-in-the-road campaign. It’s the first Twitter election. Partway through the campaign, the Culture War that many on the left and right want to import to Canada will be ramped up with the launch of the new SunTV network. I won’t bet on the outcome, but I would eagerly lay cash down to back up my belief that this will be the ugliest campaign since 1988.